The Hippo


Nov 13, 2019








Glen Matlock & Sylvain Sylvain live. Courtesy photo.

Sylvain Sylvain & Glen Matlock

When: Saturday, March 8, at 9 p.m.
Where: Shaskeen Pub, 909 Elm St., Manchester
Tickets: $20 

Sex Doll Tour
Sylvain, Matlock and rock’s age of excess come to Shaskeen

By Michael Witthaus

 The New York Dolls and Sex Pistols are two groups that disrupted and helped define late 20th-century rock ‘n’ roll — one at the dawn of the ‘70s, the other near its end. Both bands burned briefly, brightly and blew up spectacularly, leaving a rippling cultural wake equal to the music.  

Sylvain Sylvain and Glen Matlock survived, and they’ll be performing a show in Manchester soon. But until last year, Dolls guitarist Sylvain hadn’t ever shared a stage with Matlock, the Pistols’ bass player. The two bumped into each other a few times in the mid-70s, “in a ‘we’re both on the road’ kind of way, but we never played together,” Sylvain said recently from his home in Atlanta.
When Tommy Ramone’s health issues scrapped a tour with Matlock, the booking agent recruited Sylvain. 
“I said, ‘That would be totally tits,’ as I like to say,” he recalled, and fans quickly dubbed it the Sex Doll Tour. “People really dug it, and that’s why we’re doing it again.” 
The show at Manchester’s Shaskeen Pub on Saturday, March 8, will include solo acoustic sets and a duet performance to close the evening. 
“We’ll play ‘Personality Crisis’ and maybe a couple of T-Rex songs,” said Sylvain. 
He’ll also tell stories of his time in the Dolls, a band whose influence outstripped its records sales. It began almost as a lark, a way to get girls, said Sylvain. 
“The reason we did it was because we were bored with what the norm was and we found out that it was our floor … we just became the darlings of that movement, then everybody else was bored and went, ‘If these schmucks can do it, we can.’”
Malcolm McLaren, who later created the Sex Pistols, was an early fan. They met in 1971, when McLaren owned a London boutique and Sylvain ran a fashion company, Truth & Soul Sweaters, with fellow Doll Billy Murcia. 
“It was at a trade show in this New York City hotel. … At the end of the hall was this sign that said ‘Let It Rock’ and this guy who looks like Jerry Lee Lewis with curly hair is trying to bring me in, saying ‘Meet my wife’” — fashion designer and punk godmother Vivienne Westwood. 
Sylvain invited the couple to see the Dolls perform that night. 
“Malcolm fell in love with our band, maybe Vivienne even more,” he recalled. “This was two to three years even before we made a record.”
When the Dolls broke up in 1975, McLaren offered Sylvain a spot in the Sex Pistols. 
“We traveled through the South and he’d tell me, ‘All these kids hang out in front of the shop — I could put a band together for you.’ I said ‘OK, take my white Les Paul, sell it and send me back a plane ticket and I’ll come over.’ He would write me letters that are now in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame … ‘Come to England, this is your band, Sylvan’ — that is what he used to call me.”
Along with the letters came photo booth pictures of John Lydon. 
“He’d say, ‘He can’t sing, but we’re gonna call him Johnny Rotten, and he can definitely sing better than David Johansen.’”
The plane ticket never came, and Sylvain formed a band called The Criminals, made a solo record and co-wrote much of Dolls front man Johansen’s solo debut — standouts like “Funky But Chic,” “Frenchette” and “Lonely Tenement.” The two played and toured together, but a full New York Dolls reunion didn’t happen until 2002, when Morrissey finally persuaded the surviving members to do it. They’ve made two new albums since, and Sylvain says this to anybody who asks: “I’m always a New York Doll.”  
As seen in the March 6, 2014 issue of the Hippo.

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