David Johansen of the New York Dolls | Interview

by John Dugan


David Johansen of the New York Dolls chats about the band’s comeback glam wonder Dancing Backwards in High Heels. Yes, and Buster Poindexter.

By John Dugan Published: March 9, 2011

Punk precursors alongside the Stooges, New York Dolls are perhaps the most influential band people have never really heard. Both the Sex Pistols and KISS built on the Dolls’ gritty glitter and street-gang sleaze. But more shocking than their history is their future—even with just two original members remaining. The new Dolls album, Dancing Backward in High Heels, is glam-rock perfection, swirling a syrup of R&B, doo-wop and punk in a tongue-in-cheek milkshake. We spoke with lead singer David Johansen about the sucker punch of a comeback.

The Dolls’ second act has lasted longer than the first. How did that happen? 
The first time around if certain things had been different we probably would’ve not broken up. [Guitarist] Syl [Sylvain] and I still wanted to play. I think that was a lot of impetuousness of youth. Maybe we needed somebody watching us who could say, “Go to your mutual corners and come back in a month and we’ll talk about it.” As opposed to, “Well, fuck you. Oh, yeah? Well, fuck you.”

Why did you decide to record this album in England? 
It’s nice to go some place different to make a record. But of course I’m saying that in retrospect, because there’s this company in England that had been pursuing us to make a record in their studio so they could put it out in the U.K. So, that was the most… let me think of a good word… fiduciary [Laughs] responsible way to make the record.

I hear a lot of ’50s pop music in the new record. 
Oh, yeah, there’s so many little quotes in there. Which has always been like a Dolls kind of trademark. Some of them I don’t want to say because I don’t want to wind up in plagiarism prison.

Do you find it difficult to write? 
I don’t know that I’d write a song unless it was at gunpoint. It comes time to make a record and we write a bunch of songs. Otherwise, if left to my own devices, I’ll write two songs a year.

After the Dolls broke up, you scored a huge hit as Buster Poindexter. Do you feel you have to explain some of your pop-culture past sometimes? 
I had a lot of fun doing the Buster Poindexter thing. It started in this little bar in my neighborhood. I was going to do on Mondays, like, a little cabaret of jump blues and stuff like that, and it just mushroomed. I started doing weekends and I could walk to work and I was 
making a nice living.

Are you still associated with that character? 
It’s got that “Hot Hot Hot” curse. People go “Oh, Buster Poindexter. ‘Hot Hot Hot.’ ” I think Buster Poindexter, I think [1940s bandleader] Jimmy Liggins and songs of that sort. It’s just selective memory in my case.

The Dolls were famous for looking fabulous onstage and causing a reaction. Do you still try to re-create that or is that a thing of the past? 
Well, I’ve always been chic like a motherfucker, what can I tell you? [Laughs]

Dancing Backward in High Heels 

is out this week on 429 Records.