There’s No Bones in ice Cream. Sylvain Sylvain’s Story of the New York Dolls by Sylvain Sylvain (Omnibus Press)
There are two undeniable take-outs from "There's No Bones In Ice Cream." One is Sylvain Sylvain's deep and abiding love of the New York Dolls and pride in their legacy. The other is a feeling that things could have turned out much differently had they been given five minutes during their time on the roller coaster to catch their breath.
If you're reading this review at the I-94 Bar you don't need to be told who the New York Dolls were or how important they are. Glam rock probably still would have happened without them, but punk's birth would have been very different.
The Dolls are influential because they proved that you didn't have to be good to be great. Their lack of virtuosity was as influential as their style.
Mainstream America didn't want to know about the Dolls. The image was just too fag-ishly confrontational. Their first lifespan was only two albums. Others who trod the same path - who moderated the look and sound and stuck at it like Alice Cooper and KISS - cashed in, big-time.
Syl cops a rough ride when the history of the band is recounted. Relegated to second-fiddle to Johnny Thunders in the guitar stakes when the lead and rhythm workload was fairly evenly spread, he (and Jerry Nolan later) was the musical glue that kept the often unsteady ship sailing.
Of course Thunders went on to carve out a deservedly huge bad boy reputation and became a fabulous player when his inner demons weren't conspiring to get him fucked up. Sylvain's biggest career mistake could have been not being a junkie.
Once you read "There's No Bones In Ice Cream" you'll have no doubt who was the thinker, the reasonable man, in the complicated eco-system of the New York Dolls.
I'd been told by somebody who met him during the band's recent second life that Sylvain came across as a slightly jaded music industry veteran, a seasoned journeyman making a living. That's not the impression Syl gives in print. Each page drips almost child-like enthusiasm laced with a love of the music that he grew up on and that manifested the Dolls' set-lists.
They might have been deceptively effeminate in their presentation but the New York Dolls were musically a rough and tumble mix of the Stones and the Shangri-Las. No contest. Syl says the other element was an oft-stated approach to the music: "Don't live life worrying about it, just T. Rex the shit out of it." No wonder the English loved them.
"There’s No Bones in ice Cream" is valuable for pricking balloons of misinformation about the Dolls. One is the blame laid on latter-day manager and further Sex Pistols catalyst, Malcolm McLaren, for concocting the Dolls' Red Patent Leather phase.
The truth, as Syl tells it, is that Malcy facilitated the manufacture of their uniforms, via Vivienne Westwood back in London, and issued an inflammatory media announcement. The infamous hammer and sickle backdrop came from Johansen's girlfriend Cyrinda Fox, who hand-sewed it on their bed.
Sylvain's story is breezily-written and told with colourful humour. You get a grip on how his early life in Egypt, then France and eventually New York shaped him and his entry into music. His connection to childhood friend Billy Murcia, the Dolls' original drummer and first casualty, is touchingly related.
The break-up of the "first" band is where the book ends. There's little about Syl and Johansen's attempts to carry on, Sylvain's own solo career or the reformation years. That won't bother most readers. The pre-punk years are the main game.
Pointedly, out of the three people who managed them, Syl only mentions one - Marty Thau - by name. Sylvain's firm conviction is that nobody knew what to do with them. The band should have been given time off the merry-go-round to process events and write new music. By the time they did just that, a rush of songs poured forth. By then they'd been dropped and were on their last legs.
Above all, this is an insider's story of the New York Dolls and that's what makes it essential. There are only two survivors and David Johansen doesn't seem to be talking. In fact, David doesn't want much to do with the NY Dolls at all and has turned his back on more tours and albums.
Recommended without reservation.