Wednesday, September 16, 2009
Book Review: I, Doll by Arthur "Killer" Kane
I, Doll is the perfectly ambiguous title for the autobiography of Arthur “Killer” Kane, late of the New York Dolls. His life was first and foremost defined as a founding member of the band. He sometimes referred to himself as Arthur Doll.
I, Doll could also pertain to the manner in which the group's status grew over the years. In the eyes of some, including Morrissey of The Smiths, Kane was an “idol.”
Finally, there are the poverty years, spent in L.A. The entire modus operandi of the Sunset Strip hair metal bands was based on the New York Dolls template. Kane watched this scene explode in the 1980’s, while he sat on the sidelines, idle.
None of his music, or even his appearance in the great 2006 film New York Doll prepares a person for the immediacy of Arthur’s writing. I, Doll covers just the first 16 months of the Dolls career. And it ends before they even landed a record contract. But what he has to say about that period is incredible.
The stories of their early days on the streets of NYC are hilarious, and Kane puts the events into perfect context. In 1972, Nixon’s America was engaged in a culture war defined by the length of a man’s hair. Meanwhile, The Dolls thought the only people on the planet who even remotely resembled them were David Bowie’s Spiders From Mars.
Clearly there was a gap between what the New York Dolls thought appropriate and what the rest of New York City did. Each member of the band rode the subway in full costume on the way to rehearsal or gigs. They went to local bars that way and played suburban gigs fully dragged out.
As only truly charismatic characters are able to, the guys always somehow escaped serious injury. But their near-misses are funny as hell. Especially the one that took place in a sleazy bar with David Bowie in tow. That was the last time he hung out with the Dolls.
The band secured a residency at the Mercer Arts Center in Manhattan, after a particularly well received gig, and that is where their legend was born. I wish Kane had more to say about those shows, but he admits that he was pretty wasted throughout this period.
The book ends with the New York Dolls’ first appearances in England, and the experience is just heartbreaking. As anyone who knows their history will attest, founding drummer Billy Murcia never made it back. Kane saw him two hours before his death, and it is obvious he blames himself, even though there is no reason to.
From the epilogue written by “Killer’s” wife of 30 years, this was to be the first of a multi-part autobiography. Kane blamed singer David Johansen and the management firm of Leber-Krebs for the failure of the group’s career.
Kane felt that Aerosmith were the first of the New York Dolls rip-off bands, with KISS a close second. The fact that they were both managed by Leber-Krebs didn’t help matters any. His bitterness comes through pretty strongly at times.
The book was written a couple of years before the fantastic reunion seen in New York Doll. The film is the perfect postscript to I, Doll. The band were amazing at Morrissey’s Meltdown Festival, and Kane is endearingly humble as a happy librarian for the Mormons. It’s too bad he passed just three weeks after the Dolls reunion, I’m sure volume two would have been great.
This is probably the most inside, and honest account of the early New York Dolls we will ever see. By turns funny, poignant, frightening, even spiritual, I, Doll is one of the rock ’n roll reads of the summer.