New York Dolls’ Sylvain Sylvain Dead At 69
New York Dolls guitarist Sylvain Sylvain has died at 69, per a post on his Facebook page. He had been battling cancer for the last few years.
Sylvain, real name Sylvain Mizrahi, was born in Cairo in 1951; his family emigrated to New York City when he was 10. Sylvain joined the New York Dolls in 1972 and played on the proto-glam punk group’s two ’70s albums, New York Dolls and Too Much Too Soon, and stayed with them until their breakup in 1977.
He embarked on a career of his own afterwards, starting groups with his former New York Dolls bandmate David Johansen that included the Criminals. He released his debut self-titled solo album in 1981 and followed it up with another LP the following year, the under the name Syl Sylvain And The Tear Drops.
After a move to Los Angeles in the ’90s, he put out a couple more albums, and in 2004 he reunited with New York Dolls. He played on their new records, which included 2006’s One Day It Will Please Us To Remember Even This, 2009’s Cause I Sez So, and 2011’s Dancing Backward In High Heels. Sylvain toured with the band until their dissolution in 2011.
Lenny Kaye, a member of the Patti Smith Group, wrote an obituary that was included on Sylvain’s Facebook page alongside the announcement of his death:
SYL: An Appreciation
Sylvain Sylvain, the heart and soul of the New York Dolls, bearer of the Teenage News, passed into his next astral incarnation on Wednesday, January 13, 2021.
Syl loved rock and roll. His onstage joy, his radiant smile as he chopped at his guitar, revealed the sense of wonder he must have felt at the age of 10, emigrating from his native Cairo with his family in 1961, the ship pulling into New York Harbor and seeing the Statue of Liberty for the first time.
It was he who looked across Lexington Ave. and saw the sign for the New York Doll hospital. Syl and a high school friend, Billy Murcia, were in the rag trade then, the aptly named Truth and Soul, handknit sweaters with a side of rockattitude. Hooking up with another classmate, John Genzale, and then, as bands will, Arthur Kane, and David Johansen, and Jerry Nolan, they became a quasar in the rock firmament; embodying trash, glam, garage-to-punk, the ambisexual affirmation of music played louder.
His role in the band was as lynchpin, keeping the revolving satellites of his bandmates in precision. Though he tried valiantly to keep the band going, in the end the Dolls’ moral fable overwhelmed them, not before seeding an influence that would engender many rock generations yet to come.
The New York Dolls heralded the future, made it easy to dance to. From the time I first saw their poster appear on the wall of Village Oldies in 1972, advertising a residency at the Mercer Hotel up the street, throughout their meteoric ascent and shooting star flame-out, the New York Dolls were the heated core of this music we hail, the band that makes you want to form a band.
Syl never stopped. In his solo lifeline, he was welcomed all over the world, from England to Japan, but most of all the rock dens of New York City, which is where I caught up with him a couple of years ago at the Bowery Electric. Still Syl. His corkscrew curls, tireless bounce, exulting in living his dream, asking the crowd to sing along, and so we will. His twin names, mirrored, becomes us.
Thank you Sylvain x 2, for your heart, belief, and the way you whacked that E chord. Sleep Baby Doll.
His former bandmate David Johansen shared a tribute on Instagram: