Gene Simmons Talks Sylvain Sylvain And The New York Dolls

Gene Simmons of KISS
Mohegan Sun / Khoi Ton
– Gene Simmons of KISS
Mohegan Sun Arena, Uncasville, Conn.

KISS and the New York Dolls were both products of a creative but fractured scene in 1970s New York City. While the bands’ ethos could not have been more different, Gene Simmons spoke with Pollstar about the passing of Sylvain Sylvain of the New York Dolls, and about the scene in general. And, of course, about KISS.

Pollstar: I know you were contemporaries, though very different. New York, the  ’70s, rock ‘n’ roll. But there were also some similarities in terms of presentation, style and that sort of thing. Neither KISS nor the Dolls were jeans and T-shirt guys. I was wondering if you had a comment about them or Sylvain. Maybe you can tell me something about where you both came from.
 Gene Simmons: New York. I wasn’t born there, but neither was Sylvain. I was born in Israel. Sylvain was born in Egypt.
The thing about New York, though, was how different all the bands were. You know, the English invasion, the bands pretty much out of that same vibe. Rap bands have the same vibe. New York produced Kiss, Blondie, Talking Heads and the Dolls and the Ramones. None of them were similar to the other bands. And the only band that ever wound up playing stadiums in the world is KISS. None of the other bands ever made it. But that doesn’t mean they didn’t have, you know, their cool quotient. Soon as you saw the Dolls on stage, you go, “Wow, this is cool.”  But it was never cool for me to hear them in, you know, a 15,000 or 20,000 people or stadium. It just wouldn’t work that way. There were always much better in a smaller place with people. You know, as loudly carousing and doing all stuff they did, they were a party band. We played together, we actually opened up for the Dolls.
 Oh wow, I didn’t know that.
 That didn’t last long. We got kicked off the tour because, you know, as soon as our first song comes on, even before the first chord, bombs went off. After that, they got a personality crisis where they knew that that’s not enough. Following us, you better have more stuff. But Syl was always the unsung guy in the band. Unfortunately, Johnny Thunders got a lot of attention because of his lifestyle, the heroin and all that stuff, and he looked really cool on stage, so they always held the fort down. He played good, solid guitar. I have to say, I thought Sylvain was a better guitar player than Johnny Thunders. But Johnny Thunders looked cooler. The unfortunate thing is, how many of the Dolls died? I think they have only one left, they’ve lost people more than once just from drugs. Drugs, drugs, drugs. Their first drummer, drugs; second one, drugs, I know Johnny Thunders died from drugs.
Sylvain had cancer.
Cancer, you know, sadly.
Regardless of what style of music there was or where people played or what they wore, that particular period in the ’70s in New York was a creative time.
It was a creative time. But New York never understood rock. England understood rock.  The Dolls could have been from Ohio, which is more down and dirty rock bands, but other than the Dolls, that didn’t advance like that in New York, there was more disco. 
 The Dolls were the only band like that, that came out of New York and Blondie is the only band like that , that came out of New York.  New York never had an identity.
But it had a little bit of everything.
 Yeah, a little bit of everything, but the biggest was and continues to be KISS, right?