Sylvain Sylvain was the visionary eye of the New York Dolls storm – The Guardian

The guitar player who never lost his bold streak brought solidity and swashbuckling design to among the 70s wildest bands

Fri 15 Jan 2021 14.24 GMT

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There is a story that Sylvain liked to inform about his arrival in New York City.” Sylvain Sylvain, showboating guitar player of New York Dolls, dies aged 69On one level, its a grim story about bigotry. On another, its tempting to suggest that Sylvain made exceptionally excellent usage of this newly found details: few bands in the early 70s said “fuck you” rather as loudly and repeatedly as the New York Dolls, the quintet Sylvain joined in 1971. It might have been markedly different.The interaction between vocalist David Johansen and guitarist Johnny Thunders might have supplied the New York Dolls visual focus, however Sylvain constantly appeared like the centre of the band. Sylvain in the foreground, playing with New York Dolls in 2008.

There is a story that Sylvain liked to outline his arrival in New York City. He was Sylvain Mizrahi then, a seven-year-old Syrian Jew whose household had run away Egypt for the US throughout the Suez crisis. “I was most likely one of the last immigrants to cruise into New York harbour to be greeted by the Statue of Liberty,” he recalled. “I would be standing there in my fucking brown shoes and individuals would say, You speak English? I d say no. They d say, Fuck you. The first words I learned when I left the boat were fuck you.” Sylvain Sylvain, showboating guitarist of New York Dolls, dies aged 69On one level, its a grim story about racism. On another, its appealing to suggest that Sylvain made extremely great use of this newfound information: couple of bands in the early 70s said “fuck you” rather as loudly and repeatedly as the New York Dolls, the quintet Sylvain took part 1971. They were two words that seemed to inform everything about them: their look, their noise, their attitude– “belligerent, hostile and certainly loud”, as a regional news report from 1973 suggested; they “do not offer a shit,” asDavid Bowie more succinctly put it– plus the button-pushing and the individual routines that kept them teetering on the edge of collapse and ultimately led to their downfall. Hard rock would nearly absolutely have taken place without them: its confluence of impacts that took in the Stooges, the garage rock and British mod bands of the mid-60s and– if you think Dee Ramones account of his listening practices– the Wombles and Bay City Rollers. However it may have been noticeably different.The interaction in between vocalist David Johansen and guitarist Johnny Thunders might have supplied the New York Dolls visual focus, but Sylvain constantly appeared like the centre of the band. It was him that developed their name, after a toy repair shop called The New York Doll Hospital, located across the street from the clothes keep where he and the bands initial drummer Billy Murcia worked. He originated from a family of tailors, reinforcing the bands distinct technique to clothing, which bore the impact of New Yorks glitter-bedecked queer fringe drama group the Theatre of the Ridiculous and which Johansson referred to as “really eco-friendly”: their penchant for reappropriating female garments was “just about taking old clothing and wearing them once again”.
And it was Sylvain– fairly abstemious by the bands requirements– who appeared to take on the task of keeping the show on the road.It proved a thankless job: the New York Dolls had an unerring ability to snatch defeat from the jaws of success. They rapidly provoked a large amount of press interest– less than 6 months after their first gig, Melody Maker was calling them “the best rock n roll band in the world”– which led to an invitation to come to England and support Rod Stewart, unthinkable for an unsigned artist. It was left to Sylvain to call his mom.
The bands programs at Manhattans Mercer Arts Centre gathered a substantial following, however they showed unable to catch the excitement of their gigs on their eponymous 1973 debut album or its follow-up, Too Much Too Soon. Sylvain was the first individual he called from the hospital.Another journey to England resulted in a prominent TV appearance on The Old Grey Whistle Test, where their efficiency so horrified host Bob Harris that he felt obliged to disassociate himself from them onscreen.
McLaren suggested Sylvain join a band he was putting together in London called the Sex Pistols, but the task never materialised.But the very presence of the Sex Pistols highlighted the effect of the New York Dolls. Sylvain in the foreground, playing with New York Dolls in 2008. Picture: REX/ShutterstockOver the years, you could detect their DNA not simply in punk but in Kisss makeup-caked theatrics (” We broke down the walls for them,” Sylvain noted) and in umpteen hair metal bands, their appearance a glossier 80s update of the Dolls.
After their death, Sylvain periodically reunited with fellow former members– he played on Johansens solo albums and appeared onstage with Thunders– and pursued a solo career: his eponymous 1979 album is an ignored gem of tight, 50s-influenced power pop. Thunders and Nolan were long dead, however a 2004 comeback show at the Royal Festival Hall was rapturously received, before the bad luck struck once again: a month after the gig, Kane died of leukemia.Sylvain and Johansson stood firm, and the trio of New York Dolls albums they made in between 2006 and 2011 were far much better than anybody may have expected, a more fully grown, disciplined and lean take on the bands sound. None were huge sellers, which if nothing else appeared in keeping with the New York Dolls tradition, one in which value was never ever matched by business success.It was something Sylvain stayed philosophical about to the end, albeit with a tip of “fuck you” thrown in.

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