Winding Down The Wild Days Of Arthur Killer Kane

New York – There was a time when rock and roll was dangerous. There still may be some danger attached to some of it now depending where you look but overall it is a pretty sanitized artistic experience. There is no rebellion now when you check into a Rolling Stones concert but that is to be expected. Rock and roll is now an industry and there is little shock value. Or maybe we have seen most of the shocking stuff and are now just numb to it. We have become jaded and hard to impress.

The film, “New York Doll” (directed by Greg Whiteley) examines the life of New York Dolls drummer Arthur Killer Kane. This looks at the early gritty days of forming the band in New York in 1972 and follows up his last days. The Dolls were a proto-punk, alchohol, drug fueled machine that was into mayhem and shock value. They were never a commercial success but they did manage to leave a cult like following and gain a tremendous amount of heart and street cred.

The Dolls were born out of the poverty and drugs of New York and captured the manic and desperation of the times. They wore women’s clothing at a time when homosexuality was illegal. They did it for attention and they attracted the dregs of society. Commercially this look never translated well to a wide audience and the band fizzled out after a couple of albums. The music was loud and in your face but sometimes it lost its seriousness. They were difficult to take seriously at times because of the silliness they portrayed, (listen to “Bad Detective”).

The film catches up with an adult, and barely recognizable, Arthur Killer Kane at a bus stop where he lives in Hollywood. He is off to work at the Mormon church of all places. Kane complains that he is not part of the rock and roll world anymore and that the life he once lived doesn’t even exist anymore. To get a better idea of what it is like imagine a Disneyfied Times Square, New York and expensive rock clubs. The places The Dolls used to play were run down and shoddy in comparisons. Even the famous Max’s Kansas City doesn’t exist anymore. A lot of these places only exist in the memories of the survivors. The audience has moved on, died or simply have forgotten them.

Arthur Killer Kane gets an invitation to play at Morrissey’s Meltdown in the U.K. This is an annual live event where bands perform. Stephen Morrissey, (as he was known then) was the bands original Official New York Dolls Fan Club President. He put the motion through to reform the Dolls for a one night only performance. Reforming the Dolls was always a goal of Kane while the rest of the band scattered and did solo projects. Guitarist Johnny Thunders had a solo career and did tours with his offshoot band, The Heartbreakers.

Johnny Thunders and the Heartbreakers only released one album called, “L.A.M.F” which stands for - “Like a mother fucker”. They produced this album and the final mix came off very flat. Even though the album was a commercial disappointment the band went on to tour with it and made history by getting onto the Anarchy in the U.K. tour with the Sex Pistols, The Damned and the Clash. Half of the dates were cancelled due to the notorious press and damaging antics of the Pistols. Venues were too afraid to book them and they bowed out.

The band mates from Johnny Thunders and even Kane himself went on to help Sex Pistol’s bassist Sid Vicious play solo gigs. These famous performances were held at Max’s Kansas City and recorded for posterity on an album called, “Sid Sings”. The whole crew was whacked out on heroin which was the drug of choice in 1978. These were the dangerous times that Kane lived in. The film touches upon some of it but the rest of this information can be found in the film, “Looking For Johnny Thunders” and in the book, “Too Much Too Soon”. The back stories of the New York Dolls are fascinating.

The Dolls original drummer Billy Murcia O.D. on drugs. His own friends tried to revive him by placing him in a bathtub and then pouring hot coffee down his throat. He ended up suffocating on his own vomit. The police wrote off the whole thing as death by misadventure and there wasn’t much of an investigation. Even though the Dolls ran around with the seedy New York low life crowd Lou Reed, (The Velvet Underground) wanted nothing to do with them. In fact, Reed actually insulted Billy right before he died and refused to play on the same stage as them.

The band used to rehearse in an old bike shop in the Bowery. The owner of the shop used to actually lock them in the basement all night so they could rehearse and then come and get them in the morning. They lived like animals. Kiss supposedly was impressed by them and stole their name from one of their songs, “Looking For A Kiss”. From the early days to the days of MTV they were always inspiring somebody. You couldn’t take your eyes off of them because they were so enigmatic. In the 80’s the hair bands took a visual cue from them and we saw acts like Motley Crue, Poison, and Cinderella. These later bands made a lot of money while the Dolls were penniless.

Whew… okay got it all? There is a lot of history here with these guys. The story is very loaded. The film for all its weight in content should have been three hours but this film is about Kane’s final journey as a musician and as a person. That is what makes it all so endearing.

He finally gets recognition.



This is a documentary so we go through the big build up for the show and enter the practice sessions. We see lead singer David Johansen meet up once more with Arthur and its just like old times. There is some tension there in the beginning that maybe this is a bad idea. There might even be some bad blood there but it appears that all is forgotten. The show must go on and the band starts to find their sound.

Along the way we find out that Arthur has found God in the Church of the Later Day Saints. He is in fact a Mormon and seems to be the only one out of the band that has found peace and a place in a church. It seems to have calmed him and brought him a considerable amount of peace. But ravages of alcohol can be seen in Arthur and you really notice it when he speaks. He seems to have suffered from a stroke and his speech is very much affected. It is hard not to notice. But there is soul and intention in his eyes. He communicates in a very deliberate way and knows what he wants. This adds to his overall persona. This is a very deep and emotional person.

There are stories of anger where Arthur actually jumps out of a third story window. This was after an episode where he see’s fellow band mate David Johansen get a small role in the Bill Murray Christmas comedy, “Scrooged” as a ghost cab driver. Before almost killing himself from the fall he gets into a violent altercation with his wife and tears her clothes off. These are insane stories but are eye brow raising at the same time.

Even though Arthur Killer Kane has a frightening Frankenstein physical presence he is also known as a gentle giant who drank too much. It turns out he wasn’t completely violent after all because his name Killer came from playing “killer bass lines”. The film is worth a watch and it really is eye opening and revealing. It adds dimension to the myth of the band. It shows us that they are real people who lived in unreal times.







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