RIP Sylvain Sylvain: Look back at his time with the New York Dolls
The Daily Mail reported the world-class guitarist, Sylvain Sylvain, from 1970’s New York Dolls, passed away on Wednesday, January 13th. The punk guitarist’s death was first posted on social media by his wife, Wanda O’Kelley Mizrahi, and later by multiple forms of news media.
The New York dolls guitarist died at sixty-nine-years of age but lived an incredible life as an inspiration for punk-rock bands everywhere. According to NBC News, the band influenced other great 70s rockers like the Ramones & the Sex Pistols who have only glorified the punk genre.
Who was Sylvain Sylvain?
Sylvain Sylvain rocked alongside New York Doll’s lead singer David Johansen and lead-guitarist Johnny Thunders. Sylvain brought a unique sound to the band with his punk band’s riffs on his Gretsch guitar. However, Sylvain wasn’t always an American legend. In fact, Sylvain Mizrahi was born in Cairo, Egypt, and lived in France before he finally moved to the Big Apple, New York City.
The New York Dolls guitarist, Sylvain Sylvain met drummer Billy Murcia in school and started a few bands before becoming a global success. When they were not playing music, Murcia & Sylvain worked in retail part-time opposite a doll-repair shop called New York Hospital.
After a long time apart, Sylvain & Murcia joined John Genzale, Arthur “Killer” Kane, and David Johansen to form the New York Dolls. Sylvain may have designed clothes back in his retail days, but the band had their own style mixed with unisex and female clothing from New York’s Lower East Side.
Rolling Stone reported after New York Dolls broke up, Sylvain started solo projects with artists like Michael Page, Tony Machine, and Bobby Blain. He continued to pursue music and released solo albums like 1981’s Syl Sylvain and the Teardrops & 1998’s Sleep Baby Doll.
New York Dolls
Though the New York Dolls were created without much thought, they definitely impacted punk bands for generations to come. Sylvain Mizrahi told The Quietus, “A group is made up of people who start out there in some basement. They’re bored of what life is, and then all of a sudden, someone says, “Let’s have a show”.
In 2006, Sylvain Mizrahi told Brooklyn Vegan: “The reason why the Dolls got together was because of the boredom with the norm of the day, which was like the stadium-rock era. The 20-minute drum solos, songs that were a big operetta. They were sort of boring, they lost their sex appeal.”
Unfortunately, the New York Dolls struggled after the death of drummer Murcia in 1972. They were offered to open for Rod Stewart and had to replace the former-drummer with Ramones drummer Jerry Nolan who was signed immediately to Mercury Records.
New York struggles
When the New York Doll’s bandmate Murcia died from a drug-incident and welcomed a new drummer, the band took a turn. The New York Dolls’ genre moved towards rock & roll sound with songs such as “Personality Crisis” & “Looking for a Kiss”.
Variety reported Sylvain’s band was surprisingly awarded both the Best New Group and the Worst New Group via Creem magazine in 1973. Creem magazine’s reader’s poll may have been right as the music they released they were conflicted by as well. Their songs like “Personality Crisis”, produced by Todd Rundgren made them who they were.
According to Rolling Stone, Sylvain told The Quietus: “It took us forever to get a record deal, to get into the business. But our songs were hits. The kids knew “Personality Crisis”, they knew “Trash, they knew all the songs way before we even released them. They made us superstars.”
After a wild ride of “Too Much Too Soon”, the band collaborated with Sex Pistols’s Malcolm McLaren who gave them a new look and their 1984 album, Red Patent Leather. The band reunited again in 2004 at London’s Royal Festival Hall which Morrissey stated, “The world wasn’t ready for them. It seems to take the pop world thirty years to really understand a group or an artist.
Sylvain’s wife, Wanda O’Kelley Mizrahi expressed: “As most of you know, Sylvain battled cancer for the past two and ½ years. Though he fought it valiantly, yesterday he passed away from this disease. While we grieve his loss, we know that he is finally at peace and out of pain.”
Wanda O’Kelley Mizarhi continued: “Please crank up his music, light a candle, say a prayer, and let’s send this beautiful doll on his way.”
Patti Smith’s guitarist, Lenny Kaye sadly stated: “His (Syvlain’s) role in the band was as lynchpin, keeping the revolving satellites of his bandmates in precision. Though he tried valiantly to keep the band going, in the end, the Dolls’s moral fable overwhelmed them, not before seeding an influence that would engender many rock generations yet to come.”
Sylvain Mizrachi may have died in 2021, but with the help of the New York Dolls, his music will never be forgotten. R.I.P to the never-ending punk guitarist.