New York Dolls Cofounder Sylvain Sylvain Dies at 69
Sylvain Sylvain, cofounder and rhythm guitarist of legendary early 1970s proto-punk quintet the New York Dolls, has died after a battle with cancer, according to a social media post by his wife and multiple media reports. He was 69.
While often lambasted in their era — either as Rolling Stones knock-offs or for their shocking-at-the-time androgynous look — the Dolls were one of the key influences on punk rock, on both sides of the Atlantic. Their vast influence can be heard in the Ramones, who followed them by just a couple of years, as well as the Sex Pistols and the entire punk movement. While undercut by drug addiction, infighting and general unruly behavior, the Dolls cast a long shadow in the classic lineup’s four years of existence.
With his death, singer David Johansen is the only surviving member of that classic lineup.
Lenny Kaye, Patti Smith’s longtime guitarist and a veteran music writer, wrote in a letter accompanying the announcement of Sylvain’s death: ““His role in the band was as lynchpin, keeping the revolving satellites of his bandmates in precision. Though he tried valiantly to keep the band going, in the end the Dolls’ moral fable overwhelmed them, not before seeding an influence that would engender many rock generations yet to come.”
Born Sylvain Mizrahi in Cairo, Egypt, he also lived in France before moving to New York with his family. He became friends with original Dolls drummer Billy Murcia in junior high school and played in bands with him as a teenager. The two split up for a time before reuniting in the group Actress with future Dolls lead guitarist Johnny Thunders and bassist Arthur “Killer” Kane. With the addition of Johansen, that group morphed into the New York Dolls.
Intentionally provocative and taking their wardrobe from cheap women’s clothing stores on New York’s Lower East Side, the Dolls made a huge splash from their 1971 formation on. Invited to open for Rod Stewart at a British concert in 1972, the group suffered its first major setback when Murcia died in a drug-related accident during the trip. The group enlisted ace drummer Jerry Nolan — both future Ramones drummer Marc Bell and future Kiss drummer Peter Criss had also auditioned — and were signed to Mercury Records by A&R executive and veteran music writer Paul Nelson.
More to come …