Saturday, July 21, 2007

Frustration and Heartache

Last night the New York Dolls saved my life.

I know that sounds melodramatic but let me explain. It’s been a bad week. No. I take that back. It’s been a bad couple of months. A fender-bender I can’t pay for. Job interviews that didn’t pan out. Too many bills, too much debt. Family drama and more family drama. Each item not enough to be more than a petty annoyance individually, but taken together, along with my usual low self-esteem and tendency toward depression, enough to send me on a downward spiral. Usually when I hit these black moods, I look forward to a good rock’n’roll show because it is often the only thing that lifts me out of it. Takes me out of myself. Awash in the music, I know I am not alone.

On top of the aforementioned issues, I had been looking forward to a couple weekend getaway shows to see a friend of mine play whom I have not seen a lot this whole summer. He’s been away on tour, and being around him always makes me fell better about myself, so I had really been anticipating these shows as a chance to get away from the routine, to get my mind off some stuff and just enjoy. So it was with great disappointment that I learned in the last couple days of the cancellation of four upcoming shows that I had planned to attend.

Suffice to say I was low—really low—and being surrounded by Harry Potter-mania all week didn’t help. So it was that, feeling miserable and alone (all my friends had bailed on me) I lined up by myself at 6:30 outside the venerable Stone Pony for a night with the New York Dolls.

These guys are professionals. Entertainment is their life as well as their profession, and they take it very seriously. You know when David Jo and the boyz take the stage it’s going to be a night to remember. The Dolls are the band everyone stole from: oft imitated but never duplicated, as the saying goes. They have every reason to be bitter –and after the loss of four band members (3 of them founding members), every reason not to ever set foot on a stage again. But they are showmen at heart, and they can’t help themselves. So when Morrissey called David J up 3 years ago and requested a reunion performance, it wasn’t really too hard to say yes, and the result was one of the most talked about events of the decade. I myself had never seen the Dolls in their previous incarnation—I was too young and certainly not knowledgeable enough—so it was all very new to me. New and yet instantly familiar. Attending their first NYC show after the reunion with a friend who is a hardcore Dolls fan, I was enraptured and in awe. These guys live and breathe rock’n’roll—ooze it from every pore. They have grit and style and class. Musicianship and showmanship and skill. Raunch and debauchery and lust and lasciviousness. But most of all, they know how to Bring The Rock. They are the masters of their domain, kings of rock’n’roll the old fashioned way, and they know it. They start each show with “Lookin' for a Kiss,” [“When I say I’m in love, you best believe I’m LOVE, L-U-V!!”] their Shangri Las homage, and from that point on, they have the audience eating out of their hands.

A word or two about the audience. It is, in my estimation, the epitome of what a rock’n’roll audience should be. It is, in a word, democratic. Old and young, gay and straight, punk rockers and office workers, urban and suburban, male and female. It’s a place where no matter who you are you always belong. And that’s truly what rock’n’roll is all about. Going to a Dolls show and being a part of the audience is that gentle pat on the shoulder, that warm embracing hug, that voice in your head that tells you it’s all going to be all right. That most rock’n’roll audiences are not like this speaks volumes about the shoddy state of the music at present.

Back to last night’s show. So it took longer than it usually does for me to break out of my funk. I was tired and cranky and didn’t feel much like dealing with people. The opening band bordered on Spinal Tap parody, while the second band was good but went on too long. As it was, I stood there for 3 hours until the Dolls finally took the stage around 10:30. It took a while but it happened. The moment of breakthrough came at the end of the night on the penultimate song, “Personality Crisis.” Long a Dolls signature song, it sums up best what the band is really about: sex, love, rock’n’roll, and fucking triumph, man. I had been smiling all night as I always do when the music overtakes me, but still felt a lingering funk that it seemed nothing could cure.

And then suddenly … “Frustration and heartache is what you GOT!!” belted David Jo.

And it hit me. YES! YES! YES! That’s it, that’s what I feel, and those guys get it. They understand! It hit me, and suddenly tears were running down my cheeks. Here these guys were—a bunch of misfits, a band that had never truly been understood by the rock’n’roll world—a world that had saved their lives—much less the world at large. They had suffered the same frustration and heartache and had SURVIVED. Goddammit, despite the tragedy and illness and despair and death, they were still here. They were on stage smiling smiles that lit the room, exchanging knowing glances and playful banter and enjoying every minute of their time up there like it was their last. It seemed that after all they had been through, they were just happy to still be here on this earth playing rock’n’roll, David looking at Syl and Syl winking back at David and Steve and Sami smiling and wailing away on their instruments like madmen, Brian Delaney pounding the drums behind them. These guys have been through so much—endured so much of their own frustration and heartache—and goddammit, they’re still here. They know in their bones that they still have the power to save lives, and that is a fundamental part of what drives them every single night.

So on this night, though nothing in my life had really changed, I regained some of my faith in the world when I needed it most. I felt, finally, that I could go on. Because (with help from David and Syl and Co.), I saw that no matter how the world treats me, how many bad breaks, how many disappointments and cruel twists of fate I am forced to endure, the Dolls will be there. They’ll be there, and they’ll understand because they get it, because they know. Standing there with tears in my eyes, I realized at last that as long as the New York Dolls are alive and well and playing shows, there will always be a place where I am accepted for who I am, a place where I will be welcomed into the fold with open arms.

Because it’s the Dolls, and in their world, everyone belongs.

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