Vintage Dolls happy to play

Published August 14, 2006

NEW YORK - The New York Dolls never cared much about fitting in, only strutting to their brand of down and dirty rock 'n' roll.

With the release of their first new album in 32 years last month, the Dolls are back - sort of - and looking to rock just as hard as they did after bursting onto the scene shortly after forming in 1971.

Don't let the self-deprecating title - One Day It Will Please Us To Remember Even This - fool you. The album has as much confidence, fun and swinging, R&B-charged rock as the band's classic 1973 debut and 1974 followup, Too Much Too Soon.

"I think it's a really good record," lead singer David Johansen says through a puff of cigarette smoke. "Otherwise, I wouldn't have been involved in it."

Fellow surviving member Syl Sylvain politely declined an interview, but Johansen, even more gravelly voiced at 56 and still sporting skintight hip-hugger jeans, is elated to talk about the new record and not dwell too much on the groundbreaking, yet tragic legacy of the original Dolls.

"I've been talking about that all day," he says, sighing.

But the band will never escape its volatile history.

Largely dismissed as a novelty act during its heyday, the Dolls' stripped-down, androgynous rock was a major influence on punk and helped jump start a New York scene that spawned the Ramones, Kiss and Blondie, among others.

"I've always taken it as a great compliment," Johansen says. "That it gives validity to what we were doing, because when we started, we didn't go around wondering what they were playing on the radio and what was the acceptable sound. We just had this passionate idea about rock 'n' roll, all of us, and we put it together."

When the albums failed to sell, Mercury Records dropped the group. Then drugs and infighting led to lead guitarist Johnny Thunders, drummer Jerry Nolan and bassist Arthur Kane leaving by the end of 1975. Johansen and Sylvain carried on until officially calling it quits two years later.

Sylvain, 57, and Kane fell into relative obscurity. Johansen gained success in acting and as crooner Buster Poindexter, whose '80s calypso hit Hot, Hot, Hot has become a pop culture staple.

Thunders and Nolan formed an on-again, off-again band, the Heartbreakers, but both died within a year of one another, Thunders of a heroin overdose in 1991, Nolan after a stroke early the next year.

The band's cult status has grown as time has gone on.

It wasn't until 2004 that a reunion of the remaining members became a reality when former Smiths frontman Morrissey, who was organizing the Meltdown Festival in London, extended an invitation to Johansen, Sylvain and Kane to perform.

"It was really good because everybody came to see us," says Johansen, who was initially hesitant to sign on. "I don't think they were coming to throw rocks at us."

Kane died of leukemia shortly after the reunion.

Despite burying another fallen member, the reunion's warm reception led Johansen and Sylvain to agree to more performances and head back into the studio.