Sensualistic, Polytheistic

Miraculously, after 32 years, the New York Dolls do it again

Fools may wonder why Johansen needs dead-end kids to write like this. Where's the party? But the Dolls were dead-end kids in transcendence mode. Their goal was and is the unbounded, humorous humanism apparent in Bob Gruen and Nadia Beck's circa-1973 All Dolled UpDVD, a far more vivid memento than any concert bootleg. Their summum was Too Much Too Soon's future Guns N' Roses text "Human Being"; their big drug slogan was "I need a kiss not a fix." They were anti-hippie only insofar as hippies were passive (the Dolls rocked nonstop) and pretentious (David and Syl rail at 20-minute guitar solos as if they just tuned one out on WPLJ). Heterosexuals all, they believed in universal love the way disco utopian David Mancuso believed in universal love—with a sloppy touch of the Cockettes. "I've been trying to convince Syl that what we had in the '70s wasn't sex," Johansen explained at Randalls Island in 2004, and again at Irving Plaza in 2005. A Monica Lewinsky joke, he couldn't resist. But think of it this way—maybe what they had in the '70s was love.

One attraction of Johansen's newfound Buddhist rhetoric is that it doesn't shy away from the carnal. The knowledgeable lust of "Fishnets & Cigarettes" and the pussy-worshipping "Running Around" counter the lived despair of "Punishing World," "Maimed Happiness," and the hope- deprived "I Ain't Got Nothin'." And that draft for a suicide note leads into a redemptive earthly-love triptych that dovetails plausibly, if not definitively, with what is known of Johansen's personal life, in which a long marriage to photographer Kate Simon was followed by his relationship with Leah Hennessey, whose teenage daughter designed the 10-page comic that comprises the notes. He remains a votary of l-u-v.

That is, he remains a New York Doll. "This is the most fun way I can think of right now to not work," Johansen told me, but he has big plans for his lark. No "bar band" or "preaching to the choir" for this mature professional entertainer who began his career believing he was about to take over the world. "This is going to be a big record. It's like there's no rock and roll records out there. It's a fait accompli."

They won't be pretty in pink forever.
photo: John Scarpati
They won't be pretty in pink forever.

It isn't, but don't tell the folks at Roadrunner. Tell them they've underwritten another desert island disc. Because it's quite possible they have.

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