Lipstick Traces


new-york-dolls-gruenNew York Dolls: Photographs by Bob Gruen
by Bob Gruen (Abrams Image)

To homophobic men, they appeared outrageously gender-challenged in makeup and spandex, but to those groupies who knew them, they were true macho dudes from the rock fringe culture of New Yawk. Sex and drugs and roll 'n' roll. More Rolling Stones raunch and primal then the calculated and effeminate glam of David Bowie or Jobriath.

Many critics and fans applaud them as the band that launched punk rock in America. From 1971 to 1975 they rooled New York City's rock club scene. They inspired many a teenager from the area to form a band. The Ramones were so inspired by their raw but potent aesthetic, the perfect antidote to the bombastic nature of the '70s prog and arena rock, that they launched their careers.

As Deborah Harry of Blondie said, "Seeing the Dolls was instant love at first sight."

After their first two albums stiffed and Mercury Records dropped them, manager Malcolm McLaren wanted them for his own, but they didn't cave in to his trappings of red leather and commie posing. Almost. Of course, McLaren would then co-op his marketing skills on the formation of the Sex Pistols. But the Dolls were broken. With dynamic personalities like Johnny Thunders and David Johansen leading their charge, they should have been massive. But it was not to be. The Dolls moved on to other musical projects. But it didn't matter, their legacy was cemented.

On their home turf at the Mercer Arts Center and Max's Kansas City, Gruen brilliantly captured their microscopic but robust New York following. A voyeur's lens into the denizens of the New York club scene. Some of these scene-stealers were the leftover Factory hipsters, and some would be the future of New York's early punk rock brigade. But all were looking for more than just a kiss. And the Dolls -- like Iggy Pop and Stooges before them -- offered that raw power they so craved.

Wonderful interviews with lead singer David Johansen and guitarist Sylvain Sylvain and compelling comments collected by Legs McNeil add even more to this personal and touching homage to one of New York City's favorite dolls, er sons. - Dusty Wright

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Mr. Wright is the former editor-in-chief of Creem and Prince's New Power Generation magazines as well as a writer of films, fiction, and music. He is also a singer/songwriter who has released 3 solo CDs, recently contributed to Chris Butler's The Devil's Glitch project (the longest song in the world), and a member of the folk-rock quartet GIANTfingers. And before all of this he was an agent at William Morris!