Jet Boy Flies

David Johansen swung into Babylon on Friday night at Irving Plaza, the dank old Polish Army Veterans headquarters that has stood at 15th Street and Irving Place since 1914 – or about as long, in living memory anyway, as Johansen’s grinning Our Gang mug has looked out over New York audiences with that front stoop familiarity that makes him the living dean of local front men. Johansen turns 58 next week and over the last couple of years has added yet another persona to his long career of poses – the old glam star who put the remnants of the band back together, one more time.

The band is, of course, the New York Dolls, a veteran team where the dead members outnumber the living originals by a score of 4-2 and where the term “creative hiatus” stretched to three decades. Now they’re back on the circuit – three years after their reunion concert and the almost-immediate death thereafter of bassist Arthur Kane from leukemia, and a year removed from the release of the big comeback record One Day It Will Please Us to Remember Even This. In their hour-plus shows these days, Johansen and his lone surviving bandmate, the former taxi driver Syl Sylvain, belt out a tight and pleasant variety of old “hits” – if the Dolls can be said to have had them – and new numbers, which are far better than old fans expected them to be. The new band includes veteran session guitarist Steve Conte, bassist Sami Yaffa (formerly of Hanoi Rocks), and drummer Brian Delaney.

But in truth, it’s a David Johansen gig – and, I suspect, an attempt by an artist of some real repute and accomplishment to capture a measure of the historic role for his band and their work that he undoubtedly believes they deserve. Continue reading

A Life Well-Remembered

Every year, I find myself engrossed in the New York Times Magazine‘s collection of brief epitaphs of Americans, famous and not-so-much, who died during the previous year. But when I pulled the issue from the blue plastic wrapper this morning and thumbed through it, there was a stronger, more personal reaction to one remembrance.

Matt Bai’s piece captures Steve Gilliard’s life beautifully, and leans on his contribution to a national discussion from his perch in East Harlem. As readers know, I was a big Gilliard fan – we were acquaintances and occasional correspondents. Steve was generosity personified, generous with links and advice; when I launched newcritics.com in January, he eagerly signed on here as an occasional contributor, planning to write about his beloved classic rock. Sadly, those few, short posts came during the early part of his final illness – but they struck me as yet another example of how it was impossible to buttonhole Gilliard. He was an angry anti-war progressive with a love for military history, a black guy who dug the Beatles and the Stones, a generous, warm-hearted misanthrope. I think Bai captured the inherent conflicts in Steve’s life that made him so interesting:

It was a life both short and loud. What began with a bad cough just after Valentine’s Day became a spiraling infection that ravaged Gilliard’s vulnerable heart and kidneys, and he spent most of his last four months hospitalized. The identities he kept separate for most of his 42 years collided in the days after he died; the few dozen mostly white bloggers who came to Harlem for the funeral saw for the first time the stark urban setting of Gilliard’s childhood, while his parents and relatives groped to understand what kind of work he had been doing at that computer and why scores of people had come so far to see him off. They must have been confused when Gilly’s online pals, sickened by the way some right-wing bloggers were gloating over his death, advised them not to disclose where he was buried, out of fear that someone might deface the site. The grave, like Gilliard himself, is known only to a few.

Please read the whole piece. I was saddened to come upon it this morning over my second cup of coffee, but also thrilled that Steve’s prominence in our ongoing discussion was so well-recognized.

A Loss in the Family

I’m sure newcritics bloggers and readers will join me in sending condolences to one of our regulars. Dennis Perrin, whose sister-in-law was tragically murdered Friday in what seems to have been a random act of violence. His post on the tragedy is here, but I was particularly moved by this excerpt:

Whenever tragedies like this happen, the survivors always paint the deceased in bright colors. To be expected and not to be dismissed. But please trust me friends when I tell you that Holly was one of the sweetest, most positive individuals I’ve ever known. Holly faced some serious adversity in her life, but it never seemed to drag her down. She remained optimistic and upbeat no matter what. I don’t know how she swung that, but I’ll always be amazed and impressed that she did.

Our best wishes to Dennis and his family.