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A Strange Phone Call With David Johansen

Photo by Tony NelsonAfter megafan Morrissey lured them out of retirement last year to perform in England, the New York Dolls have (sort of) reunited this summer — that is, singer David Johansen and guitarist Sylvain Sylvain are touring, with respectable replacements for late guitarist Johnny Thunders, drummer Jerry Nolan and bassist Arthur “Killer” Kane. (The stand-ins include, fittingly, bassist Sam Jaffee of Hanoi Rocks.) We hear good — and non-depressing — reports about their live show, and decided to check in with Johansen to see what’s turning his crank these days. L.A. WEEKLY: So how’s the tour going so far? DAVID JOHANSEN: For some reason, they seem to like us wherever we go. We get out there and they go, “Oh, there it is, the new Chevrolet.”

To read about all of the performers at the Sunset Junction Street Fair, click here.

Come again? It’s like a brand thing. This world is brand oriented. If you got a logo, they like ya. You mean younger people who’ve grown up in a corporate-logo culture? I don’t think there are too many old people coming out to see us... They’re reading a book or something. Or buying a Lexus. People take you as shtick? I have no idea what people are doing. I go out and rock with the band, and then go out and have a light supper. The androgyny aspect of the band was never just a gimmick. Well, that’s like how we all met, ’cause we all looked like that. It wasn’t like we got together and decided to look like that. We’d see each other on the street and say, “Oh, I wonder if they’re playing music?” We came up in a time where there was a whole sort of liberation, you could call it, in the East Village, and we were very much... we were the band of the various lib movements. What does the song “Private World” mean to you now? It means a lot to me, but I don’t know if I can describe it. Mostly it just reminds me of, like, a public and a private persona. Kind of like a Rasta-farian not wanting to get his picture taken... The dichotomy between being a public person and being a private person. The line that you draw so you can have a life. I started out and I just wanted to sing, and then I found out that there was all this stuff attached to it. I think I had a good grasp on foreseeing the cult of celebrity evolving. Do you blame Andy Warhol? Was he a prophet or an architect? No, not at all — I think he saw it, too, and played with it. But it’s much bigger than that. It’s got to do with the corporate power structure and military-industrial complex, and just trying to get people not to think for themselves. Just earn and buy. Does that make you feel powerless as an artist? I think you can say a lot of things with music, and that’s why I have fun with it. You can be very subversive. The industry has gotten better at pouncing on any grassroots musical phenomenon and turning it into a commodity overnight, trapping a form of music that should be inherently subversive, like rock & roll. Yeah, you know, most people who play rock & roll play rock. They don’t roll. So they just mimic something else. I know you’re big on reading — you into contemporary fiction? I don’t really read novels, but I’m thinkin’ about it. How about philosophy — what’s your latest obsession in that department? I’m reading a lot about Ramakrishna right now, who was like the Michael Jackson of the 1800s. He’s just this Indian guy that was tripping all the time. His brain was the best thing. He was a Kali worshipper, and he put all his marbles in her basket and rocked! Anything you haven’t done yet in your life that you want to do? It was to be a disc jockey, and now I’m a disc jockey [The David Johansen Mansion of Fun Show on Sirius satellite radio]. I like that Buick Turbo 404. ... I’d like to drive one of those for a couple of weeks. [Ed. note: We have no proof such a car exists.] I may interview Aretha Franklin today — do you have any questions for her? Yes. I want to ask her how many recipes she has that use vanilla wafers. I bet she’s got like 20 of ’em. The New York Dolls perform Sunday at Sunset Junction and Wednesday, August 31, at the Anaheim House of Blues with the Chelsea Smiles and Tsar.

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