New York Doll shares wisdom
David Johansen's Rock And Rules

Punk pioneers New York Dolls are thriving in their second life. Their resilient frontman David Johansen reveals the secret to their endurance...

We were attracted to each other initially because of the way we looked. We were in this milieu where everybody was expressing themselves. It was like a hotbed of revolution, the East Village in those days, of liberation movements and this, that and the other thing. There was a lot of synergy like that. We had seen each other on the streets, checking each other out, and then when we got together we pretty much already had a look. So, it wasn’t like we got together, took our ties off and said, ‘Okay, let’s get this look going’. It was there already.

We had some pretty good songs - they were unique and original. For rock and roll songs they had the right kind of alchemistic combination of stupidity and intelligence and seriousness and jokiness, and everything that you need to have for a good rock and roll songs. Most of our songs had those elements, so people dug us just as much for our songs, because they were saying something - without being too specific, they were heralding the scene in a sense.

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We’re not the kind of people that can be ‘produced’. We have to sing our own songs and do our own thing, which is more important to us than widescale acceptance. To me that would be like having a job. We have definite ideas about how rock and roll music should be, so we want to do that. I think that comes first and foremost above everything else. It’s like, ‘Okay, here’s the song; take it or leave it.’ We have to entertain ourselves. I mean, there have been times in my life where I’ve made certain concessions, and I find that when I do that, not only do I feel bad about it or have this lingering feeling of discontent about it, but also nobody wins.

Every time I do a musical exploration - I get fanatical about something and immerse myself in it - it kinda nourishes me and makes everything else sound new and fresh. Sometimes you can hear a song that you’ve heard a thousand times, and then go through some other musical adventure, and then you come back and listen to that song again and it’s like you never heard it before; you’re hearing it from different ears.

The most important thing is you have to feel like this is what you want to do, because it’s probably the only thing you can do with passion - as far as a career is concerned. A lot of people come in and dip a toe and might have a certain amount of success, but once the success isn’t happening or if there’s a dry period, they will go back and become the dentist or accountant that they were meant to be. But if it’s like, ‘This is what I do because it’s really the only thing that’s gonna work for me’, you’ll be able to survive the slings and arrows and continue.

Words by Simon Harper

‘Dancing Backward In High Heels’, the new album from New York Dolls, is out March 14th on Global Music.


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