Tuesday, July 10, 2007
Funky But Chic - But Is it Punk Rock?
David Johansen and Syl Sylvain, the two surviving original New York Dolls. In between the original New York Dolls and the reunited, re-formed thanks-to-Morrissey New York Dolls there was a David Johansen solo career that included a stint as "Buster Poindexter" and the occasional "Harry Smiths" routine. Syl Sylvain fronted his own rock n roll band that was, as you would expect from him, a pure rock n roll guitar thang.
They always had a sense of style, and were one of the originators of punk rock, whether intentionally or not, just like the Stooges and MC5 in Detroit. What the Dolls had going for them, in addition to those fabulous record covers where they're in dirty girl drag, was a sense of R&B and soul underneath their sloppy rock n roll. One of the best covers in rock n roll, if you ask me, is the NY Dolls' version of Bo Diddley's "Pills." The phrase "rock n roll nurse" as sung by Johansen and co. surely inspired both ladies and men for the past 35 years, give or take.
It is that same sense of swagger inherent in R&B and the stylings of soul where I believe Johansen and Sylvain came up with "Funky But Chic." If you believe in the Sex Pistols sense of humor, then you must believe in the cleverness of the Dolls (and remember that Malcolm McLaren worked with the Sex Pistols after working with the Dolls). Check out these lyrics, which pay homage to the Dolls' fashion sense and explains the singers' style: "Mama thinks I look pretty fruity but in jeans I feel rotten" - funny, irreverent and self-referential. Yes, its funky, its chic, its punk rock.
A solo David Johansen played and played with the guitar on stage.
Live performances of the David Johansen Group were raucous, and often rip-roaring drunk affairs. He was backed by Sylvain and a group of guys from Staten Island (or so they wanted you to believe; they were called The Staten Island Boys before they were known as The David Johansen Group). The picture was complete with Staten Island Guido Style... dark haired Italian Stallions, quite the ladies' man, each of them.