Interview with David Johansen: New York Dolls Turn Dirty 30

New York DollsIt’s their 30th anniversary, and their uninhibited joyride of pure American glam rock-n-roll is far from reaching an end, firmly declares the New York Dolls’ frontman David Johansen. “Yeah, we are going to make another record! Or get songs out some way, I don’t know how the hell we are going to do it, because everything is different now. We might give it away…I don’t know, we are trying to figure out.” The outlandish frontman who has gone by other names and guises, like Buster Poindexter, and acted in films like Scrooged, spoke to The Aquarian Weekly amidst a flutter of globe traversing tour dates just prior to their doubleheader at The Fillmore@Irving Plaza in NYC. Johansen seemed unaffected and even isolated from the fact that the holidays are battering down our doors. “It just occurred to us. We have been on tour ever since we got back together, so… We just got back from Spain, it was nice, we were in Spain and we were in China…Russia.”

Amazingly enough, one man was the catalyst for the Dolls’ reunion, although some would argue that it must have been the same alignment of constellations which governed so many other successful and monumental rock reunions recently, i.e. Led Zep, Alice In Chains, Rage Against The Machine, The Police, Van Halen, At The Gates, etc… The man in question is only human, and he needs to be loved just like everyone else does. “Initially Morrissey asked us to do a show. We decided we would do that and we had so much fun, and we started getting offers to play. Then it just kept going. We were close to year when we decided we should make a record. We went down to South By Southwest, and announced that we were looking for a record deal and somebody from Roadrunner came backstage…”

The record One Day It Will Please Us To Remember Even This launched in 2006 and, if time hasn’t already done so, it certainly plants the Dolls dead smack in between contemporaries like the Rolling Stones and Areosmith. There is a line in their song “We’re All In Love” that personifies what principle has driven the lipstick, lace and sliver bangle bracelet laden band to that legendary hilt. The lyrics read, “You go to work, we go to play.” Johansen maintains, “If it was like a job, I wouldn’t even want to do it. That’s the thing that has kept us going, and the reason why we are here now is because we have fun doing it. It’s really a great thing to be in a band where everybody is playing for the sake of what we want to hear, what we think good rock-n-roll is. It’s kind of always been the ethic of the Dolls.”

Sadly, several of the original Dolls have passed away, and once the reunion was set in motion, the only thing left to do was bring in some new players. The daunting task of filling the shoes of the late great Johnny Thunders, Jerry Nolan, Arthur Kane and Billy Murcia actually as fluid and as from the gut as the Dolls’ sound itself, explains the man who, like fellow flamboyant music pioneer David Bowie, will always be associated with their hairdos as much as their creative efforts. “Well the drummer [Brian Delaney], I was in a band with him…Harry Smiths. He is just really a genius drummer. Then we needed a guitar player and I asked around and everybody said, [Steve] Conti. It’s interesting, because if I had thought then that we are making this band and we are going to be around for years and years, I would have probably been much more neurotic about it. But being that it was just really for one show, it was really all on instinct. You just go on instinct, which is probably your best trait anyway… Before you start second guessing yourself. When Arthur passed away Syl [Sylvain, original guitarist] was like, ‘Let’s get Sami [Yaffa] in.’ That’s how we got Sami, so everybody is just the right person.”

One Day It Will Please Us To Remember Even This comes accompanied by “a making of the CD” DVD and if you pick it up, you can discern that David is truthful about how swimmingly the music flows for the New York Dolls despite the tragedies, controversy and years that they have weathered. “Everybody who is in the band knows what they are doing and we got all the parts in place so there is not a lot of talking going on as far as music is concerned. When we write, we sit around in a space with amps and drums and somebody starts playing something, and people play along with to it. Then I put words to it. It’s not like I sit at home and then we show them to each other, we make them up together.”

The performer who also brought a similar level of spontaneity to the “Saturday Night Live” stage emphasizes that composing in that manner is his personal recipe for victory. “I think it’s a good way to do rock-n-roll music. You could do like, rock music on a computer, but rock-n-roll, it’s got like a human foible element to it. To me, if it’s too perfect, I don’t even want to listen to it. I like to listen to things that have screeches and a real push and pull to it. The musicians are commutating to each other— if one person makes up the whole thing, it’s kind of like a person talking to himself, which is all well and good, but this is just different.”

Johansen expressed his satisfaction with his current station in the outfit that first got him on the national entertainment act map, and the cherry on top is that if anything, time has only strengthened the group’s popularity. He told AW what he sees from the stage. “Well, there’s a lot more of them [fans]. I think when we first came out, there weren’t as many people who got it. We all like to travel and play for all types of people and stuff like that, and getting our little subversive point across, and it’s fun to do that. There are more people who get it now. I think it’s because things have progressed as far as rock-n- roll is concerned.”

Producing sonics that blur the line between organic punk liberation and riveting rock crescendos with a raw, well… New York finesse is what the Dolls are praised for and what keeps them pumping while turning dirty 30. “I think the ethic of the band, if there is one, is that we make the music that we want to hear. We don’t try to fit into any kind of demographic. The reason we are making music is really to entertain ourselves,” states the singer who encompasses the swagger of Mick Jagger and the boyish sheen of Hanoi Rocks’ vocalist Michael Monroe. And of his lyrical methodology, Johansen says that little has changed in that regard as well. “When we started, we were singing about a neighborhood, and now we are singing about the world, but it’s still our impression of it. It’s filtered through the same person, just now we have been around the world a couple of times and you have a bigger neighborhood to sing about.”

The master of ceremony on Dec. 28 and 29 closed the discussion by promising that the New York Dolls will definitely play every song they know over the course of those two nights at Irving Plaza, and fans old and new can expect to see a summer 2008 release.

The New York Dolls will be performing at The Fillmore@Irving Plaza in NYC on Friday, Dec. 28 and Saturday, Dec. 29. For more, visit

Photo Credit: Tony Nelson