Last night Danusia and I went to see a Liar’s Club performance at the Cornelia Street Café, and the performance was in the basement. A long narrow room crammed with tables with a tiny stage set against the back row, it evoked memories of 43 years ago last night.
That was the first time I saw the New York Dolls, at the Mercer Arts Center.
The room last night was more evocative of the second place I saw the New York Dolls, some forgotten basement in the Village with a tiny stage at the back and wooden pew-like benches. But the long room reminded me of that room, and remembering the Dolls’ performance there reminded me of the first time I saw them, which happened to be a New Year’s eve.
This is the ad from the Village Voice that prompted me to buy three advance tickets to see the Dolls that night:
I had seen these little ads in the Voice for a while, with pictures of bizarrely dressed and coiffed guys calling themselves “The New York Dolls.” They looked more rock and roll than anything else happening at the time, and definitely more interesting.
I bought three tickets because my high school buddy Ritchie said he wanted to do something together New Years, and he had a girlfriend who must be included. I was between girlfriends at the time, so it would just be the three of us that night.
We prepared for the night by dropping the acid Ritchie had provided and the Quaaludes I’d brought along.
Being so equipped, I don’t remember a lot about the evening, except that the Mercer Arts Center was like nothing I’d ever experienced before. There was one room that looked like the Mokolo Milk bar in A Clockwork Orange, and the room we saw the Dolls in was like a big round ballroom and the stage was away from the back wall.
I ended up on the stage behind the lead guitarist’s amp, and he kept giving me dirty looks on the occasions (which were many that night) that he came over to the amp to make adjustments on the head. Maybe he thought I was turning it down or dicking with the settings or something.
They were amazing. I didn’t know any of the songs, never having seen them before, but the music was loud, the songs were short, and it was most definitely Rock and Roll.
The singer was witty and charming, I don’t remember what he said, but I remember he was funny and engaging. He reminded me of Mick Jagger, and come to think of it, the lead guitarist reminded me of Keith Richards, except his hair was even bigger and poofier than Keith’s, an amazing achievement in my eyes. They were like a cheap imitation of the Rolling Stones, whom I’d co-incidentally seen at Madison Square garden the previous August. Ritchie and his girlfriend Diane had been with me for that gig too, and at that show I did have a girlfriend who dumped me when she went away to college in the fall.
Another thing that struck me was the way the Dolls and a lot of the male fans were dressed, they were all wearing platform or high-heeled shoes or boots. Some of the boys in the audience wore makeup to varying degrees, and really tight pants. I was wearing my standard hippie uniform of tee shirt, torn jeans, dirty sneakers and a field jacket like in the picture below:
At least I had the hair; my hair was long and pretty poofy, as you can see in the pic. The other memorable thing that happened was that at some point during the show, we were down on the floor in the middle of the crowd when this happened; Ritchie’s girlfriend Diane suddenly collapsed. The crowd ignored us, nobody looked down at the prostrated woman on the floor except for Ritchie and me. He was kneeling over her trying to revive her, and I leaned down to ask,
“Is she all right?” Ritchie looked up at me and said,
“I think she’s dead.” Oh. I was about to ask what he wanted to do about it when I saw her stir, and eventually he got her on her feet and they disappeared into the crowd. I think that’s when I made my way to the back of the stage, and I was able to concentrate on these fascinating new creatures.
Besides having short songs, which was a refreshing departure from the long boring jams with their requisite solos that you needed a lot of acid to endure; they also counted off a lot of the songs, the guitarist yelling “one two tree four…” (Yes, I meant to write “tree.”) The singer also said “youse.”
It was great, it was like watching the neighborhood kids get all dressed up and make some fabulous noise while looking all fabulous and sexy. Looking fine on television…
I was hooked, and the next day I started shopping for the appropriate pair of high-heeled shoes that I finally found at Jump ‘in Jack Flash on 8th Street. The next was to find really tight jeans and girl-looking shirts and long silk scarves.
I started going to as many N.Y. Dolls shows as I could, and I learned their names and the words to the songs.
I got my hair “styled” at Hair Power on St. Mark’s Place. The summer of ’73 I went to Max’s Kansas City for the second time, this time to see the Dolls. The first time had been the summer before to see The Sir Douglas Quintet of all people. I saw Eric Emerson and The Magic Tramps on a boat ride that summer, he’d been at the New Year’s eve show as well, and a year later he picked up me and my date at the Dolls’ Halloween show at the Waldorf. He bought us dinner at Max’s after the show and took us and a couple of girls he picked up to his loft after.
This was all heady stuff for a 19-year old, one of the most fun times I’ve had in my life.
Of course things change, the Dolls broke up, I never saw the Heartbreakers, did see David in various incarnations, got hooked on the Ramones and Punk Rock a couple of years later, Jerry died, Johnny died, Artie Kane died in 2004, all of the original Ramones are gone now too, but the music lives on. Long live Rock and Roll.