Too Much, Too Soon
The Makeup & Breakup of
The New York Dolls
written by Nina Antonia

link to cover photo

Click here for the promo for the book.

Roughly 25 years after the demise of the New York Dolls, Nina Antonia has finally documented their place in rock 'n' roll history. Nina's book tells the tale in an accurate, concise and involving manner that gives us the dirt and the characters involved. The writing is straight ahead and easy to read so you don't have to wallow through minute details to get at the story. Included are 16 pages of photographs and a detailed discography. If you're looking for a good book on drugs, sex and rock 'n' roll, you'll find it here.

The Dolls carved a place for themselves in modern music history, though they put out only 2 albums before falling apart. They were the link between glam rock and punk that showed how some street wise kids could rock the music biz. Their rise and fall involves a management team that took them far but eventually screwed them. We've all heard how the recording industry, in the early days, paid artists like Little Richard almost nothing for classic work. But it's shocking to read how in the 1970's the recording industry could still get away with the same tactics. Politics also come into play when we see how another band, Aerosmith, saw their stars rise at the expense of the Dolls. If history was just a little bit different, we might be constantly hearing the Dolls on the radio while we try and remember a departed Steve Tyler. You can partly blame the wild lifestyle of the band for their failure but their management also did a lot to pull them down.

Nina relates the Dolls story through the characters involved. Starting with the original lineup including Rick Rivetts and Billy Murcia on to the final Tokyo Dolls that contained Tony Machine and Chris Robison. We get enough personal information to relate to them. Along the way we find out about Frenchie, valet of the Dolls, and Peter Jordan, Arthur Kane's 'stunt double'. Unlike most writing about male groups there's also a lot here about the women in their circles. Cyrinda Foxe and Sabel Starr feature prominently, perhaps to dispel the myth that the Dolls were a bunch of sissy gays. Really the guys were girl crazy and the outrageous attire was not only to shock but also to attract the best babes. I found it interesting to read how Sylvain Mizrah and Billy Murcia ventured into fashion and then into music similar to what happened with Malcom McLaren.

As a bunch of young wild kids starting out in the music biz, the Dolls had their fair share of drugs and sex. Nina recounts these episodes in a matter-of-fact way without preaching or sensationalizing. The consequences of this excessive lifestyle are documented too. Three deaths in the band as a result of drugs has gotta make you think.

Because this is a history written 25 years after the fact, you have to question the accuracy. I can find very few nits to pick however and everything seems in order. George Gimarc's exhaustive 'Punk Diary' was used as a reference. Nina told me that she also had access to Peter Jordan's diary which he kept during his times with the Dolls. This Journal was an excellent source for the dates and times of the Dolls happenings. Nina did extensive interviews with all the living principles and, through her previous book - In Cold Blood, interviewed, the now sadly departed, Johnny Thunders and Jerry Nolan. Even David Johansen was interviewed, which is quite a feat considering he's been trying so hard to distance himself from his early career in the Dolls. While there's not a heavy concentration on the historical details, it is a rock book, there's enough to lock down the time and place.

Photographs in the book are plentiful and well laid out. Nina has raided the archives of Bob Gruen, Leee Childers and the Sylvain Mizrah family for some of the best. It's great to take a look back at some of the fashions of the time because it's hard to describe in words what the attire was like. The discography by Freddy Lynxx is as accurate as you can get considering that new pieces are still getting unearthed. Bootlegs are also listed which is necessary because there are more of them then legit recordings.

In their time, the Dolls were a misunderstood group. Nina has done a lot to place them in context and give each individual a personality. This book is fun and captures some of the energy that went into the original music. It should extend the influence of the Dolls into the next millennium.

Chris Ridpath

Title: Too Much, Too Soon. The Makeup & Breakup of The New York Dolls
Author: Nina Antonia
Publisher: Omnibus Press
Pages: 208 Year:1998

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