The New York Dolls were the missing link between rock and punk – influencing a generation of musicians that achieved fame and notoriety in the punk explosion – but achieving none of rock’s riches themselves. The band split in 1974, after recording just two albums, the drink and drugs finally taking their toll. Why they didn’t make the big commercial breakthrough is something of a mystery – they had the look, the tunes and the ability to shock. They also had the statuesque Arthur "Killer" Kane as their bassist. New York Doll is his story. Or rather, the story of Arthur’s return from obscurity to the adulation that’s been long overdue.
Arthur’s career went on a steady slide after the band split. His subsequent bands failed, with movie extra roles his only source of income. He hit the bottle, lost the plot and hit rock bottom when he threw himself out of his apartment window, landing a long stay in hospital with serious head and leg injuries. He found his salvation in God, converting to Mormonism and eventually finding work as a librarian in the Mormon Family History Centre. But all the while, never losing hope that one day he could be reunited with the surviving members of the Dolls.
And in one of those "you couldn’t make it up" moments, it happened. London’s Barbican Meltdown Festival was being curated by Morrissey – a lifelong fan of the band. His first move was to attempt to reunite the band – giving Arthur another shot at the rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle – if only for one night.
Arthur’s return to the band was recorded by first-time film maker Greg Whitelely, who mixes the movie footage with tales and tributes from Arthur’s contemporaries and those who have been inspired by the band – including Morrissey, Bob Geldof, Mick Jones, Iggy Pop and Chrissie Hynde. It’s an amazing and indeed moving film. After retrieving his bass from the local pawn shop (with Mormon funds), Arthur heads to New York to meet the remaining band members. Nervously, he re-discovers the tunes – and builds bridges with former bandmates – the only real family he feels he has left. You can’t help but feel affection for Arthur. His childlike wonder when he gets to his upmarket London hotel is genuine, as is the way he’s both overawed and humbled when he meets his fans. This is a man who has lived off nothing for 30 years, with absolutely no idea of the affection still held for him. Thankfully, the gig goes as well – if not better – than anyone could have hoped. And for Arthur, he’s back within the "family" of the New York Dolls – his one wish in life.
Amazingly, Arthur plans to put it all to one side, returning to the library to work his shift just one week later. It never happened. In a cruel twist, Arthur was diagnosed with leukemia and died just hours later. the latest in a long line of tragic New York Dolls deaths. Sad ending? It’s hard to say. Arthur had struggled to survive for 30 years before achieving his dream of a return to the stage with his band – and receiving the long-overdue adulation. He died a happy man.
At times funny, at times sad, but always fascinating – if you’ve any interest in music, you’ll love this film. A genuine, modern-day cult classic about one of rock’s great one-offs.
Extras on the DVD:
Morrissey interview, director interview, theatrical trailer, acoustic track – Come, Come Ye Saints.