Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Arthur 'Killer' Kane

I watched 'New York Doll' at the Duke Of York's cinema tonight, a touching documentary charting the brief and in many ways, tragic history of the glam rock punk band, the New York Dolls. However, mainly it focuses on Arthur 'Killer' Kane, the bassist of the band, who, when The Dolls broke up, was the only one still left alive who didn't go on to form any other significant musical project, and who totally dropped out into obscurity and poverty.
     In fact, the film opens bizarrely with him talking, in white shirt and tie and a sensible bowl haircut, about his present life and God (cut between shots of him and his wavy blonde mane, with the Dolls circa 1972, when " they looked like male prostitutes!", a photographer exclaims). We see him now riding on the bus, going to the Family History Library where he now works, three days a week, as the old ladies that work alongside him exclaim through their false teeth "we didn't know he was such a famous rock star!!" He fixes the photocopier, files records, makes the coffee.
     After the band's acrimonious break up, Arthur's alcoholism got worse and worse. He had gone from such extreme fame and a lifestyle most people couldn't even imagine, to being nothing at all, and poor. His wife eventually left him when he came home one night; stripped her naked, beat her with a table leg then jumped out of the kitchen window. He survived, but didn't walk for a year. Then, whilst in rehab, he underwent a 'road to Damascus' conversion to Mormonism. Moving between New York and LA over the years, Arthur remained broke for the whole 30 years following the break up of the New York Dolls, but became heavily involved in The Church Of Jesus Christ, and found some faith.
     Then the film takes a surprising turn. Arthur says on camera that a few days ago, out of the blue, he had received several emails off strangers saying how they can't wait to see him performing with the Dolls at the Royal Festival Hall, at Morrissey's Meltdown festival that June. He recounts how he found 'some old number for Morrissey from five years ago', rings him up, and is shocked to hear Morrissey's voice on the other end of the line.
     On camera, Morrissey talks of The Dolls with such affection, admiration and love - so often in his rare TV appearances he comes across as aloof, people loathing. But his earnestness, his heartfelt-ness is palpable. He reminisces about when he first heard the Dolls, at thirteen, and how, he says, when you are that age, and you hear something like that, it gets hold of you forever, there's no getting out of it. Him saying this especially resonated with me, since at thirteen, it was in fact Morrissey and The Smiths who took a hold of me, and I have never been cured of their music or attitude since.
     Arthur hadn't even played a note of bass in thirty years. He hasn't even seen the other two band members in probably as long. There's a touching scene where Arthur gets his guitar collection out of the pawnshop where they have been residing for the last seven years, never having had the $265 he needed to get them out. His Mormon friends had clubbed together to pay the fee.
     Another touching scene is where Arthur is in the hotel room in London, just before the gig, and he looks around the room exclaiming to the camera about all the luxuries it has in it("there's even a phone in the bathroom!"), and how the hotel room alone has more stuff in it than his entire flat.
     The Dolls play to thousands of people, and, against the common reservation that is often held when such seminal bands reform, (that basically, they will now just suck), they perform great and go down a storm.
     Arthur returns to his home. We see him back on the bus, in his white shirt and tie, on his way to the Family History Library, and to his Mormon friends. 22 days after his return, he unexpectedly dies of leukaemia, at 55.
     Fuck, what beautiful timing.

Watching the film made me miss New York again, I notice.
     I see Daniel Johnston, (the film The Devil And Daniel Johnston starts this week by the way, at the Duke of York) has an exhibition in London at the aquarium until the 20th may... If I had more than 5p to my name I'd be on the train up there to see it, it will be fantastic, I'm sure..
     Also, check out 'Brick' - a great film by Rian Johnson. Sharp, original, surreal, clever..."imagine Twin Peaks with a dialogue by Raymond Chandler"...

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