Arthur Kane: The Sad Demise of A New York Doll.
Above Photo: A ‘Killer’ Look from Arthur Kane at David Johansen.
I recently watched a superb documentary about Arthur ‘Killer” Kane, the bass player for the New York Dolls.
The Dolls have their own place in my personal musical history, as recorded in Bombed Out!, as I used to skive school and listen to their eponymous album at a friend’s house, although back then I could never have guessed they’d be one of the sparks that ignited the Punk Explosion which also swept me up a couple of years later.
The documentary followed Kane (nicknamed “Killer” for his killer bass lines) in later life. A recovering alcoholic and ex-drug addict, when the documentary was shot he was living quietly and alone, working in the Church of the Latter Day Saints (Mormons’) Family History Centre in Los Angeles.
He’d ‘found’ religion as he recovered in hospital a few years earlier, having thrown himself out of a window during a booze-fuelled argument with his wife.
He came across as a slightly confused but lovely guy, and it was an endearing portrait of him, now broke, living in obscurity, and commuting by public bus from his small apartment to work each day.
He talked about his deep resentment and bitterness towards David Johansen, his former New York Dolls singer, who’d gone on to be a hugely successful musician in his own right, and Kane admitted he was still nursing grudges thirty years later.
Then, out of the blue, Morrissey (yes, him) contacted Kane to say he was trying to reform the New York Dolls. He wanted them to play at the Meltdown festival he was helping to organise, in London in 2004. Would he be interested?
Kane was interested, if a little nervous and worried about how it would be after so long. The documentary then followed Kane as he got his bass guitar back from a pawn shop, before he began rehearsing with what was left of the New York Dolls in New York (Syl Sylvain, the guitarist and David Johansen were the only two surviving members).
Kane’s po-faced look of dislike and awkwardness as David Johansen walked into the rehearsal studio for the first time was priceless. (See headline photo of a similar look many years earlier).
As it happened, Johansen, ever the pro, just got on with it, and by the end of the film they were friends again, which was nice to see, with Johansen being protective of him and looking after him before, during and after the Meltdown gig.
The gig went well, Kane had the chance to put right his relationship with Johansen, and he’d loved the opportunity of getting the band back together and playing live again.
One of my favourite quotes was backstage as he tried to explain Mormonism to David Johansen. He said of the tithe church members pay to the church: “It’s like an agents fee. It’s only 10%. That’s a pretty good deal.”
Back in the US, after the gig, Kane was re-interviewed on the bus going to work, then playing a song on a harmonica outside his place of work, a much happier – or more content – man, it seemed, than before.
Then, right at the end, the sledgehammer.
Incredibly and tragically, a mere 22 days after that gig, Kane was dead. He’d gone to hospital thinking he’d picked up a bad cold in London, but he was diagnosed with leukemia, and he was dead two hours later.
A great bass player, a nice guy and a brilliantly made documentary.
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