Sylvain Sylvain, New York Dolls guitarist, useless at 69
Sylvain Sylvain, the punk icon and guitarist for the New York Dolls, whose riffs bridged the gap between punk and glamor, died on Wednesday. He was 69 years old. The musician, who also contributed bass, piano and songwriting to the groundbreaking band’s first two albums, had battled cancer.
“As most of you know, Sylvain has been battling cancer for the past two and a half years,” wrote his wife Wanda O’Kelley Mizrahi in a statement on his Facebook page. “Although he fought valiantly against it, he died of the disease yesterday. As we mourn his loss, we know that he is finally at peace and without pain. Please turn up his music, light a candle, say a prayer and let’s send this lovely doll on its way. “
The group’s self-titled debut album from 1973 remains a landmark in rock music. Rolling Stone included it in the list of the 500 greatest albums of all time. “Glamorous punkers, the New York Dolls stole Chuck Berry and Fats Domino riffs and fattened them with a lot of attitude and reverb,” we wrote at the time. “Produced by Todd Rundgren, songs like ‘Personality Crisis’ and ‘Bad Girl’ drip with laziness and style … It’s hard to imagine the Ramones or the Replacements or a thousand other trash junky bands without them.”
Born in Cairo, Egypt, Sylvain Mizrahi moved to France before settling in New York. He was a member of the band Actress with Arthur Kane, Johnny Thunders and Billy Murcia before co-founding New York Dolls in 1971. While serving as the group’s guitarist, their first two albums – New York Dolls and 1974’s Too Much Too Soon – featured his contributions to bass, piano and songwriting.
While the band’s line-up shifted over the years, Sylvain and singer David Johansen stayed until they split up in 1977.
“His role in the band was the linchpin in keeping the rotating satellites of his bandmates precise,” wrote Lenny Kaye in a letter accompanying the announcement of Sylvain’s death. “Though he tried valiantly to keep the band going, the Dolls’ moral fable eventually overwhelmed them, not before exerting an influence that would spawn many generations of rock to come.”
After the band broke up, Sylvain worked on various solo projects, collaborated with other artists and started the Criminals with Bobby Blain, Michael Page and Tony Machine. His solo work included his self-titled debut in 1979, Syl Sylvain and the Teardrops (1981) and Sleep Baby Doll (1998).
Sylvain got back together with New York Dolls in 2004 and was part of their last three albums, One Day It Will Please Us, to remind us as well, because I dance so sez and backwards in high heels. He was also a member of the Batusis, which released an EP in 2010, and performed on South by Southwest in 2016.
“The New York Dolls ushered in the future and made it easy to dance,” Kaye continued. “When I first saw your poster on the wall of Village Oldies in 1972, promoting a residency at the Mercer Hotel on the street, the New York Dolls were the heated core of This Music during their meteoric rise and the bursting of stars. that we welcome, the band that makes you want to start a band.
“Syl never stopped. In his solo lifeline, he’s been greeted all over the world, from England to Japan, but especially in the rocky caves of New York City, where I met him at the Bowery Electric a few years ago. Still Syl. His corkscrew curls, hops tirelessly, exults in living his dream and begs the crowd to sing along, and so we will. His mirrored twin names become us.
Wandy O’Kelley Mizrahi tells Rolling Stone that Mizrahi, who lived in Nashville, will be buried in New York. “Thank you, Sylvain x 2, for your heart, your beliefs and the way you struck that E chord,” Kaye concluded. “Sleep baby doll.”
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