David Johansen of the New York Dolls
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For better or worse, David Johansen—frontman for seminal ’70s hard-rock/glam-punk band New York Dolls—is credited for helping make punk popular. The band was largely unappreciated in its own time, but guitarists Johnny Thunders and Sylvain Sylvain, bassist Arthur Kane, and drummer Billy Murcia were major influences on groups like The Clash, The Smiths, and Hanoi Rocks. After the Dolls disbanded in 1977, Johansen went on to an inconsistently successful solo career: He scored as lounge singer Buster Poindexter, found fans with his folk-blues outfit David Johansen And The Harry Smiths, starred in the film adaptation of Car 54, Where Are You?, and now hosts his own Sirius Satellite Radio show, The David Johansen Mansion Of Fun Show.
But the Dolls have had a resurgence—they reunited per fan-club president Morrissey’s wishes to play his Meltdown Festival in 2004, which both initiated and solidified the band’s reunion (even if original bassist Kane died of leukemia shortly thereafter). They’re now on tour behind 2006’s One Day It Will Please Us To Remember Even This. Before the Dolls came to town, The A.V. Club spoke to Johansen about his ego, his band’s reunion, and Dr. Phil.
David Johansen: I’m watching Uncle Phil.
The A.V. Club: You mean Dr. Phil?
DJ: Yeah, Dr. Phil. I’m watching Dr. Phil. Actually we’re sitting around imitating Dr. Phil. He’s got some people on and they’ve got some problems. But we like Uncle Phil. We like to confront our problems and have them resolved and wrapped up in one nice ball. One nice package.
AVC: When Arthur Kane died after Meltdown, did that encourage you to stay together?
DJ: I don’t know. I mean, we got together to do one show, and then we just kept going. When Arthur passed away, we had about five shows to do, so we decided to fulfill those obligations, but more opportunities to play just kept coming up. We were picking up so many shows as they came along, in Spain and Germany and all over, that I think eventually we all kind of looked at each other and said, “You know, this is what we’re doing all the time now.” But we never planned a reunion. I think this whole thing just kind of occurred. If someone had said, “Let’s get the band back together and put out a record,” I think I would have thought it couldn’t happen. It would have been silly.
AVC: Will there be any more records?
DJ: Yeah. We always get together and say we should make another record. Then usually what happens is, we’ll find a record company and tell them we’re gonna do one. And the record company will say, “You should write some songs.” And we’ll say, “We will.” And then later, they’ll say, “Can we hear some songs?” And we’ll be like, “Shit, we better get some songs together.” But I have this theory that we all have tons of songs in our heads just waiting to be written down. Like, a million.
AVC: When other bands credit the Dolls as an influence, what does it do to your ego?
DJ: [Laughs.] I don’t know if it’s possible to affect my ego any more. There’s no room left. For us, I think we make music like the way we think it should be made, like what rock should sound like. It has nothing to do with the current marketplace. And so from that state of mind, it’s gonna sound different from anything else out there. And when something sounds different, I think that can be inspiring to other musicians.
AVC: Do you get tired of critics comparing you now to how you were then?
DJ: I would probably drive myself crazy if I worried too much about it. Yeah, people say a lot, why can’t we sound just like we did then, or something. And I always think, well, if you want me to play with Johnny Thunders, that’s going to be a little hard, cause he’s like, not around.