When a band member is usually called “the heart of the group,” that’s usually a kind way of saying that they’re a sidelined player who kept a steady pulse. Though the film New York Doll gives this title to guitarist Sylvain Sylvain, it’s obvious that the movie is giving that epithat to late New York Dolls bassist Arthur ‘Killer’ Kane. Though it skimps a lot on Dolls history itself (including how Kane almost lost his finger and had to be subbed with another bassist near the end of the group), it does make a stirring case for its subject.
Jealous of David Johansen’s success (especially in films and as Buster Pointdexter), Kane went through a series of failed bands after the Dolls, fuming that he wasn’t given the respect and recognition that he thought he deserved. Through some kind of serendipity, he joins up with the Mormon church, straightens out his life and becomes a mild-mannered office boy. His church members remember his fondly, some surprised that this sweet, quiet clerk could be a rock star- some of the Sisters at the church joke that maybe they’re not too old to be his groupies.
Though he always dreamed of a day that the Dolls could regroup, he was still stunned when he heard news about it, trickling to him in little details. Sure enough, last year, Morrissey wanted the Dolls to appear as part of his Meltdown showcase in London and David Jo and Sylvain agreed (drugs having claimed Jerry Nolan and Johnny Thunders). Kane is both excited and apprehensive about getting together again- can he still play? can he patch things up with David?
Kane retrieves his guitar from a pawn shop and travels to New York for a rehearsal and to see his old band mates for the first time in years. He’s a little rusty at first but soon picks it up well enough. He’s greeted with a hug from Sylvain and later from David (which he responds with a classic “what’s going on here?” mug shot).
Traveling to London for the show, he notes that his hotel room is nicer than his regular apartment back home. He calls his church members for support and guidance as he’s still nervous about the show. On the day of the show, he decides on an outfit that’s a mix between a Mormon prophet and a hotel doorman, complete with frilly shirt (take that, Jerry Seinfeld…). In the most touching scene in the movie, after seriously discussing religion with Johansen, he leads the group in a prayer before the show, evoking the spirits of Nolan and Thunders. The band makes a triumphant return and doesn’t disgrace its history. Kane’s dream has come true.
And then he returns home to his life as a part-time office boy. And three weeks later, he died. As Morrissey notes, he left at least on a high note. Maybe like Warren Zevon, he held out for the one last thing he wanted (though Kane didn’t know at the time of the reunion how sick he was).
Now honestly… even after reading all of that detail, as a rock fan, wouldn’t you want to see this film? Of course you would.