The New York Dolls’ 1973 appearance on BBC TV’s The Old Grey Whistle Test undoubtedly sowed the seeds of the UK punk scene, but the band’s influence was far broader than that – from Aerosmith to The Smiths, Hanoi Rocks to Guns N’ Roses.
Sylvain Sylvain (guitar): “Every generation that came about post-New York Dolls was either borrowing or influenced. Everybody that bought the first album started a band and we spawned a lot of stuff, and that has not changed. Every generation has kept our legacy alive. Like Morrissey, who (through a love of the band) announced himself as the self-appointed president of our fan club. We didn’t have the money to pay him, but he did it. How can you manifest love in a better way than that?”
David Johansen (singer): “When we first started out, there were all these different genres that people tried to slot us into, and we were like: ‘We play rock’n’roll, we don’t play cock.’ We always used to joke, I’d say: ‘Syl wants me to be a glitter rocker and I want to be a glam rocker’, just to show the ridiculousness of the whole thing. Now it seems like music’s been split into all these demographics where you cut people off and isolate them in all of these different generic groups, which is totally what I’m against. I’m into diverse pools of people. I’ll play for anyone.
“They say that the Dolls influenced the punk rockers and the hair-metal bands, and those two are like sworn enemies. It’s like having spawned Cain and Abel. It’s amusing if you don’t take it too seriously.”
So what is it about the Dolls’ legacy that unites such wildly disparate tribes?
Johansen: “We made the music that we wanted to make. It wasn’t made to sound like anything else or fit in with any prevailing musical trend, we just made it because that’s what we wanted to make. We didn’t know or care what was on the radio. So that helped make it something unique, because it wasn’t tainted by any influences. So it was fresh, a spontaneous thing that stood out from the crowd. Certain people would hear that and recognise it as being better than the contrived, demographically targetted dreck on the radio.”
Sylvain: “We were a pretty fine fucking band, wrote some great tunes, started so many things, and we were really living it. We weren’t doing it because we read somebody did it, this was the real deal. At first we were number one, we were running well ahead of the pack in the Kentucky Derby. But we fell down, broke our leg and that was it. Everybody behind us, and even behind them, got to the finish line before us. I hate heroin so much. It destroyed one of the most beautiful musical bands in the world: my band, the New York Dolls. Without heroin I like to think we would have been fucking ten times bigger than the Rolling Stones…
Fuck them, anyways… We’re The Beatles of attitude.”