RIP New York Dolls guitarist Sylvain Sylvain

When I was the program director at Y108/Hamilton in the early 2000s, a short man in a porkpie hat walked into my office unannounced. It was New York Dolls guitarist Sylvain Sylvain.

“I thought I’d drop in. I’m in town working with Teenage Head and Marky Ramone–great guys–and I wanted to say hi.”

There was no other way to describe him other than jolly. He was pleasant, unassuming, sweet, even, and, as you might guess, had a ton of stories. Later that week, I was invited to a dinner with Teenage Head, Marky, and Sylvain. We laughed a lot that night.

Sylvain and the Dolls were so important to the pre-punk era. They played a sleazy sort of rock while dressed in makeup and Spandex, predating the whole hair metal thing by more than a decade. (Side note: They were the first band to wear Spandex onstage.)

While they never had a commercial breakthough, they were an influence on the just-formed Ramones and a very young Morrissey, who wrote gushing letters about the Dolls to the British music papers. Later in their career, a clothing shop owner named Malcolm McLaren became their manager. And although he basically drove their career into the ground, this taste of band management prompted McLaren to move on to a new project he’d call The Sex Pistols.

Sylvain bounced around the NYC (and Hamilton!) scene for years before the Dolls reformed in 2004 (at Morrissey’s request) after which they released three more albums and toured with Motley Crue and Poison. Sylvain published a memoir called There’s No Bones in Ice Cream in 2011.

Sylvain died this week of cancer at the age of 69. Read more here and here.

Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 40+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

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