“The mutant children of the hydrogen age.”
—Rolling Stone magazine on the impression the New York Dolls made during a string of shows at the Mercer Arts Center in lower Manhattan.
Before the release of their first record, the New York Dolls had already been through a lot of shit together. Record companies were terrified of them for various reasons including their sexual ambiguity, raunchy lyrics, and outrageous stage shows. In November of 1971, the band found themselves living in the notorious Endicott Hotel—one of New York’s many notorious “welfare hotels.” Violent crime was rampant in the Endicott and in early 1972 four female residents of the hotel were found murdered on the premises. The band would play any gig they could get including two held in NY gay bathhouse Man’s Country surrounded by men clad only in towels. Sylvain Sylvain remembers the band got $400 bucks and were able to pay their rent for their new digs—a loft above a noodle shop in Chinatown. After gigging around Europe in 1972, drummer Billy Murcia (a childhood friend of Sylvain Sylvain and Johnny Thunders) OD’d in a bathtub at a party, and the Dolls then headed back to New York to audition new drummers including Marc Bell (Marky Ramone), Peter Criss of KISS, and a friend of theirs, Jerry Nolan, who got the gig.
Todd Rundgren would step up to produce the band’s first album, and while Rolling Stone loved it, other reviews likened the sound of the Dolls’ guitars to “lawnmowers.” Love them or hate them, CREEM called them both the “best” and “worst” new group of 1973. The album cover (shot by Toshi Matsuo) of the Dolls sitting together on a couch in Matsuo’s loft looking hotter than hell in platforms and makeup fit for a serious-as-fuck queen got everyone’s attention. Toshi took many more photos of the band as individuals on the white satin couch, as well as in front of the famous Gem Spa corner store (home of the egg cream!), pictured on the back of the album.
There is one aspect of Matsuo’s outtakes for which I have no explanation—the appearance of a small child holding a Rayline Jet Disc Tracer Scope rifle (a toy) in every shot taken of the Dolls except for the one of Syl in front of Gem Spa. Who is this little badass, honorary New York Doll? I’d really like to think he turned out as cool as he looked in the photos you are about to see, as I’ve had little luck in tracking him down myself. Matsuo’s outtakes of the Dolls from 1973 follow.
David Johansen photographed by Toshi Matsuo.
Arthur “KIller” Kane.
More after the jump…