Friday, July 16, 2004

Arthur "Killer" Kane, New York Dolls Bassist, Dead at 55

I became a New York Dolls fan when I was fifteen years old and I bought their self-titled debut album.

The original line-up was: David Johannsen, Johnny Thunders, Syl Sylvain, Arthur Kane, and Billy Murcia. They were often known by the monickers David Doll, Billy Doll, etc. They were wild.

The album, "New York Dolls," had a picture of the five of them cross-dressed and seated on a sofa with a can of Schlitz at their feet. In all the pictures of them in drag, only Killer Kane looked uncomfortable one-hundred-percent of the time. The others took to show biz with the verve and elan you would expect from professionals, but Kane never looked at ease as a drag queen.

The Dolls entire routine was subversive, in all the right ways. Their songs were edgy, their music was fast, their show was provocative. They were the precursors to so much of American rock.

In fact, I will go so far as to say that if it wasn't for the Dolls, you wouldn't have gotten Aerosmith! After all, David Jo's girlfriend of the time was the late Cyrinda Foxe, (who with Bebe Buell, were the East Coast's foremost groupies) and she was quite active in building the Dolls' image through wardrobe, style and appearance. I was watching from a distance as a teenager in Boston and knew nothing about the nuances of creating a band and an image, etc. But, a couple years later I learned that when Foxe left David Jo, she hooked-up with Steven Tyler, lead singer of Aerosmith, whose entire appearance suddenly became less "rock guy" and more "drag queen"! So, Foxe took that drag show sensibility with her from the crumbling Dolls and revitalized it with the up-and-coming Boston band. I see a clear connection, many don't.

Billy Murcia was the first casualty of the Dolls insanity and he died of an overdose during the band's very successful tour of London in 1972.

One of the future rock gods who witnessed the Dolls' tour in London and went on to memorialize them in at least two songs was David Bowie. His song "Time" pays homage to Murcia with the verse:
Time, in Quaaludes and red wine
Demanding Billy Dolls
And other friends of mine
Take your time

Bowie is believed to pay homage to the still-living (even to this day) David Johannsen in the song "Watch That Man" from the same album.

I see a clear connection between the Dolls act and David Bowie's eventual successful inclusion of drag in his act, many don't.

Anyway . . . the Dolls finally split in '75 when Malcolm McLaren's failed management of the band included Maoist imagery and the band dressed like pop communist soldiers. Johannsen and Sylvain continued a Dolls tour through Japan, while Thunders and Kane returned to London with McLaren to take up residency as the first glam-to-punk crossovers.

When McLaren was forming the Sex Pistols, he handed them the two Dolls LPs and told them to learn every note. Any cursory comparison of "Never Mind The Bollocks" and the two Dolls albums will convince the most skeptical critic that the entire Pistols sound was just a copy of the Dolls, and any examination of the drag career of David Bowie's storied climb to success will show that he would have remained a long-haired hippy-type had he never met the Dolls.

So, does this mean that Arthur "Killer" Kane is a godfather of Glam? The godfather of all Punk bass players? Yes!

Without the Dolls and their tours and LPs, music of the seventies would have been very different, and not as exciting. Glam would not have been as glamorous and punk would not have been so punky.

As we mourn the loss of Kane, I wonder if the surviving members of the Sex Pistols, if Malcolm McLaren, if David Bowie, if Steven Tyler and Aerosmith, if any of them will ever acknowledge the important influence Kane and the other Dolls had on their own successful careers.

Godspeed Killer! Rest in peace!

From Billboard Magazine:
New York Dolls bass player dies
Thu 15 July, 2004

By Jonathan Cohen

NEW YORK (Billboard) - New York Dolls bass player Arthur Kane has died in Los Angeles due to complications from leukemia, the pioneering '70s glam rock group's manager has told Kane, who died on Tuesday night, was 55.

The reunited Dolls were fresh off a well-received appearance at Morrissey's Meltdown Festival in London last month and had also opened some of Morrissey's concerts in May in New York. It is unclear if the David Johansen-led group will still perform next month at Little Steven's International Underground Garage Festival in New York.

The Dolls are scheduled to release an album for Morrissey's Attack imprint in September, but no details have been revealed. Johansen is understood to be in Paris and is preparing a statement on the group's future.

Kane is the fourth member of the Dolls to pass away, including guitarist Johnny Thunders, who died of a drug overdose in 1991.


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