I was thinking the other day about music documentaries which feature the bass player as the lead character, so to speak. Apart from some preening promo piece about Sting all I could come up with was “Lemmy” (obviously) and the not-so-powerfully marketed New York Doll: The Story of Arthur “Killer” Kane”
I had seen this documentary a few years ago; Arthur “Killer” Kane used to be the bass player for the seminal glam-punk band The New York Dolls, but after losing everything and hitting rock bottom, he found God in the form of the Church of Latter Day Saints. Or Mormonism to you and me. Then thirty years after the band broke up, he gets a second chance to live the rock ‘n’ roll dream when the Dolls reunite for a special one-off show as part of Morrissey’s Meltdown Festival in 2004 in London.
Kane’s story is to some degree tragic, because after the band broke up, he tried but failed to succeed on his own and at one point, tried to kill himself, before finding salvation in the Church of Latter Day Saints.
From narcissistic rock band to being a Mormon; there’s a fascinating story told here watching Arthur go from his new life in the church back to the glam and glitz of the Dolls, seeing him prepare for their big show while dealing with the nerves of playing again. Kane is a giant of a man with a childlike honesty to him that makes you empathise with him but also ask questions about the effect [detrimental or otherwise] of his time in the Dolls and also his current state of mental and physical health. Some of these questions aren’t satisfactorily answered whilst some emphatically are.
New York Doll includes some great archival footage of the band, as well as interviews with those who were around and about at the height of the Dolls’ fame. It is in fact a tad too celebrity-heavy for my liking; it’s far more interesting to hear Arthur’s elderly co-workers at the Mormon Church talking about him in such a different way, not knowing his previous life of debauchery.
Greg Whiteley’s documentary bounces back and forth from the past to the present; particularly effectively when combining live footage from then and now. There is a tragic epilogue to this story, but it’s emotional to watch Kane have the chance to reunite with his band, and this is a heartwarming documentation of that journey.
And there you go; I’ve accidentally written a review of it. I do totally recommend it and watching it again I can see how I’ve even been influenced by it in making A Curious Life. I might even start referring to Jeremy as Jeremy “Killer” Cunningham from now on…