Morrissey Interview

Morrissey appearing in New York Doll that also featured Nina Antonia

N: “Why did The New York Dolls galvanise you so?”

M: “I was ready to be galvanised. I read a very small piece in Record Mirror entitled Arrival Of The Dolly Boys, and I thought it all sounded so alive and so witty, and the early press shots of The Dolls made them look like schoolboy sadists – to me, which was also funny. I thought, now this is MY band. David Johansen’s early quotes were hysterical, and Johnny Thunders looked like a work of art. Plus, of course, The New York Dolls sounded like a very important name.”

N: “How did they change your outlook, become your calling?”

M: “They looked and sounded sensational. The lyrics had a fantastic rat-a-tat-tat spit to them, and the retching sound of Thunder’s guitar sounded completely unique to me. I was completely hooked – and I still am. Love at first sight. Or sound.”

N: “How old were you at the time of discovering the Dolls?”

M: “In 1972 I was 12, but 13 by the time I went to see them in November of that year, at the ill-fated Manchester gig. I went by myself and pressed myself against the stage in readiness for….well, I was quite young, but I’d seen Bowie live and I’d seen Lou Reed live, yet I considered the Dolls to be a suitable calling and I was ready to climb on the stage. It was like the pull of a religious cult.”

N: “ You must have been crushed when they didn’t play because of Billy’s death?”

M: “Everyone in the venue seemed to be – which actually surprised me. There was a very loud sigh of disbelief. But, the Dolls had, even by then, received a lot of attention in the press, and were already a heavily photographed band. They were also a group about whom everyone in music seemed to have something to say – rarely complimentary, of course, which made me stand by them even more.”

N:”How did you pursue your interest in the Dolls?”

M: “ There were four major weekly music papers – sometimes even five – and the Dolls were awarded a lot of press – immediate covers on Melody Maker and on Disc, and eventually on Sounds, but never on the NME. I tried to get them as much press attention as possible by writing to letters pages, radio stations, just anywhere at all that might give the Dolls a bit of attention. Usually, it worked. I had a friend who was into Roy Wood and Wizzard and we decided to have a press due to see who could get the most letters printed – he about Wizzard, me about the Dolls – and he did quite well, but of course I ran away with it. I think he would be shocked to hear that Roy Wood was in line to produce the Dolls third album. Anyway, the letters I sent to the press were, of course, quite silly, but I was only 12,13,14,15, and….somewhat desperate. I remember in the arts class at school I did a huge Dolls montage with the first album shot as the central piece, and everyone else had submitted landscapes or seascapes, and when the art teacher lowered her eyes onto my montage she removed her glasses, fell backwards, and then let out a choking howl of disgust. She handed the piece to every boy in the class and pounded the desk imploring everyone to avoid this social sickness. I was thrilled.

N: “Did you get to meet the Dolls?”

M: “Only as ex-Dolls. Thunders and Nolan first, when they came to Manchester with the Sex Pistols in 1976 – I squeezed myself into the soundcheck at the Electric Circus in Collyhurst. I first met Arthur and Sylvain in Los Angeles in 1991 when they came to an M gig at Santa Monica Civic, and I went to lunch with David in 1996.”

N: “How much did you adore the first album?”

M: “It was like being hit by lightning. I’ve never recovered. David’s singing – at a time when everyone was trying to sing softly and be somewhat effeminate – David Johansen rattles out with this raging roar, hard and indifferent with an incredible mantle of pride. Johansen was, then, such a great stylist, and a brilliant lyricist –  which is never considered in assessments of the Dolls, but if you listen to ‘Frankenstein’, with all its unnatural rhymes, and uncontrolled vocal leaps, it’s incredibly cinematic and clever, and also very intimidating. The Dolls were heavy with menace, but producing fantastic pop songs – not rock music, and Johnny Thunders guitar sounded like a machine-gun. I was also delighted that someone who looked as good as Jerry Nolan could actually play THAT WELL, because drummers weren’t generally thought to be either good-looking or interesting.

N:” What did you think of the cover?”

M: “ Very wild and visionary, and obviously it sent a shock through the blood of so many people. I was relieved by the wretchedness…sallow cheeks and almost matted hair…the brutal eyes of Thunders…It is a pop music landmark. The position of Jerry Nolan’s legs were, in themselves, artistic elitism; this picture said it all – the Dolls were a clan in the right, and everyone else should just BACK OFF. The shot on the back of the sleeve said almost as much – Johansen with the ever unshuttable mouth, the devilment of Thunders, the lurching Arthur Kane, Sylvain Sylvain as cute child star, Jerry Nolan looking sensational but also as if he’d kick the shit out of anyone who said anything out of line. For me, perfection. Even the way David Johansen stood in those court shoes was pure pop originality. This had never happened before, and that’s what pop music seemed to be seeking out.”

N: “ Do you think Glam is an inaccurate tag for The Dolls?”

M: “ Yes, because, in England, Glam was Alvin Stardust and Suzi Quatro – so how could The New York Dolls also be Glam? They couldn’t. The term is more so associated with crass elements of British kiddie-pop of 1972-3, for which the groups, in effect, dressed up. The Dolls were witty and violent yet had a serious tone and cadence and had no problems with identity. They were very real and had no interest in being friendly faces within the pop community. The public can take anything except reality, and the Dolls were far too underworld to be Glam. Furthermore, the Dolls were very tough, and it was obvious they had actually lived all the experiences that people such as David Bowie, Roxy Music and Mott the Hoople  – sensational as those artists were – struggled to touch upon.”

N: “ How did you find out about Jobriath?”

M: “ Mercury, I think, did an excellent job advertising the Dolls first album and singles in England – full page ads in all four weeklies for about a month, and similarly Elektra did well for Jobriath. I heard the single ‘Street Corner Love’ on the radio and thought it was very good, so that was my cue. However, Jobriath didn’t play in England and there were no Jobriath interviews in the press, strangely enough, so it was difficult to get a sense of who he really was. I just thought the songs were great and I though he was very talented and it was nothing to do with Glam Rock or Drag Rock or whatever. I thought the Dolls were peerless, and although Jobriath was not at all as popular as the Dolls, I though he elevated himself by not talking to the press. On reflection it seems likely that the press wouldn’t have been much interested even if he’d made himself available!”

N: “The Jobriath CD ‘Lonely Planet Boy’ was your creation. Did you get a sense of pleasure choosing the tracks and vindication for his neglect?”

M:”Oh, yes. It sold roughly 22,000 and the single ‘I Love A Good Fight’ reached #101 in the UK Top 200. Now, of course, reaching #101 is nothing sensational, but for a Jobriath single in 2004 I think it’s really not bad. No airplay, of course. Once on Janice Long, once on Jonathan Ross.”

N: “ Which is the essential Sparks record?”

M:”The first five, I think, are excellent, but the third, ‘Kimono My House’ is the best.”

N:”Were Sparks Glam?”

M: “ No, not in the least. Whoever said they were?”

N: “At the Dolls reunion in 2004 at the Royal Festival Hall I noticed the flowers on stage. Was this your idea?”

M: “No, it was David’s. Nobody seemed to know why he wanted them.”

N: “You must have found it all so moving?”

M: “I was paralysed watching them from the balcony. They were all so solid, and David pinned the entire thing together perfectly. The joy of seeing this and the sadness of there being no Johnny Thunders and Jerry Nolan – thanks to heroin – made it such a dramatic and reflective night. People credit me with putting it all together, but I was only a cog in the wheel who nodded at the right time and took the plunge with a phone-call to David. All praise to David and Sylvain and Arthur and their musicians for two historic nights and to Glenn Max at Meltdown for organising the Dolls rehearsals in New York. I couldn’t help but imagine how incredible it would have been if Johnny and Jerry had been there. But, without them, it was still incredible. And, of course, they were the last nights that Arthur played because he passed away a few weeks later, which adds to the insane symbolism and the harsh romanticism that has always been at the core of the Dolls incredible story.”