Pop Aspirations

Don’t call David Johansen a punk—the New York Doll is anything but

“It was like falling off a bicycle,” David Johansen says about restarting the New York Dolls in 2004 at the behest of no less a fan than Morrissey. “We’ve been doing this longer than the original band. It just feels right. We get together; we do a record. It’s kind of an enjoyable way to spend your time. If we reach perfection, we’ll know there’s nowhere to go.”

Johansen has inhabited several musical personas over the years—as loony lounge Latin crooner Buster Poindexter for much of the 1980s, and a stint going old-timey fronting a band called the Harry Smiths. Working with longtime collaborator Syl Sylvain, the only other surviving member of the original Dolls, makes Johansen most comfortable.

“I was reading about Americans and confidence, and how deluded they are,” Johansen says. “Like, way overconfident. We think we can do everything. We can’t do anything! Well, I require that kind of confidence to go into the studio and in three weeks make a record with Syl, and to get into rehearsal tomorrow and get up onstage next week.

“Every time I go through a trip like the Harry Smiths thing, it nurtures me,” he says, “and nourishes me, and gives me, subconsciously, so much information that I like, and it’s with me when I start writing, but it just kind of comes out.

“What makes a Dolls song doesn’t have as much to do with what we started out doing,” Johansen says, “which was making up songs around what we could play. So there was even less criteria then. But that’s not something you can really intellectualize. We never set out to make punk rock. We didn’t have that word back then, even. That U.K. deal, burn it down, that was their thing. And that punk was the most limited genre. If I was gonna put a name on it, the farthest I would go would be pop music; I just wish it was popular! But ‘punk,’ I don’t like.”

Aside from the weekly show he hosts on Sirius Satellite Radio, Johansen is defiantly analog in his tastes.

“I used to love to go into Tower Records up on the West Side; there was a guy there named Sasha, and I really liked a lot of the records he liked, and then that leads to exploring other things about that artist and all. I miss it. I don’t lament it, but it was good.”