TICKETS TORN IN HALF: The St. Valentine’s Day Massacre of 1974 with THE LIPSTICK KILLERS
Who are the mystery girls? Androgynous,what the hell is that? Are they boys?Girls?Neither? Both? See through silk blouses, high heels, strange hats, a bass player about nine feet tall wearing a New York Rangers jersey with tights and red knee high boots.Teased hair, pink drums, whew, this band will be a treat.
All this leads up to an event on February 15, 1974 known as the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre held at the notorious Academy of Music. New York City at that time was a dirt hole, a freakin’ sewer. Subway cars smelled of urine,their walls, doors, and windows covered with graffiti, all this decoration/distraction making for a great ride at 3 o’clock in the morning. The streets surrounding 14the Street, the demarcation between the hip south siders and the snobby uptowners, were filled with bums, drunks, hookers, and drug addicts. Nobody was using cocaine as their drug of choice, it was too expensive and passe, here it was heroin. This descent into hell started ages before but culminated musically, socially, when five guys put together a band known asTHE NEW YORK DOLLS. David, Johnny, Billy, Arthur,and Sylvain, collectively these five guys could be found playing everywhere in Manhatten. Every Thursday morning searching the Village Voice one could immediately find an ad for that band and plan a night out, all for about five bucks.
At that time 1971/72 there were not many places that allowed an original band to perform “their” music. In the Village you could find the jazz clubs, a folk club, and some small venues that would employ “recording artists”. The Fillmore East closed so the bigger acts, those that refused to play Madison Square Garden needed to find another venue.That’s when THE ACADEMY booked bands on a regular basis.
Some bands had a history with small New York City theaters. In the mid/late sixties THE MOTHERS OF INVENTION played every Wednesday at the Garrick Theater on Bleecker St. The FUGS played seven nights a week at the Players Theater on MacDougal Street and by 71 THE VELVET UNDERGROUND played twice a night, five days a week at Max’s Kansas City.
Things changed around the time THE COCKETTES/ SYLVESTER and HIS HOT BAND were booked for a five week gig Halloween of 1971 at the old Anderson Theatre on Second Avenue. To the uninitiated this was a big event in the art/ theater environment known as New York City, a must see show for the A-listers.The COCKETTES were a San Francisco drag-queen troupe of aging LSD hippies. NYC was a buzz, tickets sold out in hours, and a few lucky college radio folks like me grabbed some complimentary tixs. One just needs to check out Sylvester and His Hot Band and/or The Cockettes on youtube.com to see how the hippie world of the Woodstock generation was dying off. It was a “new dawn”
(Wiki)“News of the 47 Cockettes boarding the flight was covered by local television and the group took over the plane in full drag. Once in New York they were housed in a dingy hotel where heroin was easily scored but spent most of their time as celebrated guests at dozens of parties where they could eat and drink for free, running a tab at a local diner and getting free taxicab rides”.The Cockettes were still transitioning from being “a happening” to actually doing structured performances.The group had one week to prepare but they had few resources and little energy after all the parties. They were however the talk of town and their show was the hot ticket”. The Anderson Theater in New York City had no sound or lighting systems and needed a curtain. The stage was also twice the size of the Cockettess’ usual one so all the sets had to be rebuilt from scratch in six days.They opened with “Tinsel Tarts In a Hot Coma”, a send-up of films about Broadway in the 1930s.What had seemed so fabulous in San Francisco did not translate well in New York City. For most New Yorkers, it was “You’ve got to be kidding!,” and the celebrities the Cockettes had so wanted to impress were not impressed.Later, the Cockettes tried to explain their New York failure by commenting “the New York audiences did not understand us,” (although it appeared perhaps New York had understood them). After a week of disastrous “Tinsel Tarts…” playing to empty houses, they performed their original musical “Pearls Over Shanghai” for the remaining 2 weeks of their contract, and the Village Voice gave it a rave. But it was too little too late.Sylvester and his band was the lone exception but he disassociated himself after several nights on advice from his business friends.
So here we are at the precipice of change, the “new dawn”,moving from the long-haired, tie-dye T-shirt, patch jeans, and work boots of the LSD 60s, to the tight jeans , satin shirts, platform shoes teased hair of the heroin 70s.
THE NEW YORK DOLLS opened for Long John Baldry (June 72) at My Father’s Place in Roslyn, to less than favorable reviews from my friends who attended. “They suck”…but they also mentioned laughingly that I might like them, as I am the “musical snob who hates MOUNTAIN”. So this outing will be a test. It’s Tuesday night in August 1972, hotter than hell in NYC,smoking a Marlboro Red while standing in the crowd outside the Mercer Arts Center, just north of Bleecker Street at the end of Washington Square. All are anticipating what can only be best described as a true NY happening.The “I’ll see you next week” crowd is there, dressed as provocatively as one might expect of the band.The New York Dolls had a standing Tuesday night gig in the Oscar Wilde Room of the said Mercer Arts Center. This engagement started in early June and had been regularly reported in the local newspapers, television, and a few magazines. The only problem for a local tunnel boy like me would be that the show starts at 10 PM and one had endure two bands before “THE DOLLS” came on. I had work at 7AM Wednesday morning.
One could find THE DOLLS everywhere in NYC. They would be at The Palm Room of The Hotel Diplomat, then doing five nights at Max’s Kansas City, Tuesday’s back at Mercer Arts Center, mostly with The Magic Tramps in tow.
THE NEW YORK DOLLS were everything one could imagine, and to some, nothing. They were five guys who hit the stage, entertaining a crowd which adored them or hated them. They were offensive, brash, bold, and wonderful. You either walked out or you begged for more. Some night they were the best band in the world and other nights the worst (Voted BEST and WORST BAND by the readers of Creem Magazine 1973)
September 72, the band agrees to open for LOU REED, five nights in England. However, after their first sound check, for whatever reason, either being too good or too bad, Lou declines to allow them to play. Stuck in England,they soldiered on, even recorded a few tunes as demos. Then, the premier gig, they opened up for THE FACES at an outdoor festival.Some say they stole the show. A few days later Billy Murcia, the drummer, dies. New York City’s most popular unsigned rock’n roll band is without their drummer.
Returning back to New York the band calls on Jerry Nolan,a known entity, pink drums and all. The second incarnation of The New York Dolls plays on December 22 at the old Fillmore East in a series known as “Bands of the 1970’s” with The Magic Tramps and Teenage Lust. New Year’s Eve they are back to the Mercer Arts Center with The Magic Tramps (another unsung band of NY music), Queen Elizabeth(w/Wayne County), The Modern Lovers, Ruby and The Rednecks, in what is to be called “the endless party of 1973” a show starting at 11 PM and ending when the sun came up, maybe.
The Dolls played in various clubs; Kenny’s Castaway up on 84th St. Street and Third, opened up for Captain Beefheart at Town Hall (February 24) and then on St. Patrick’s Day of 1973, they perform on a bill with Larry Coryell, along with The Mahavishnu Orchestra at the State University of New York in New Paltz. My brother, Kevin Patrick, a student there, called me the next day, he being a huge fan of The Mahavishnu Orchestra, stated… “who the fuck were those guys, how could you possibly like them”. Two days later the New York Dolls sign a two album record contract with Mercury Records for $25,000. July 27th 1973 THE NEW YORK DOLLS (debut) is released.
THE DOLLS were now all over New York. They played the Gaslight Au Go Go, Coventry in Queens, Memorial Day weekend at The (formerly Electric) Circus with Barnaby Bye. August 3 while opening for MOTT THE HOOPLE at The FELT FORUM of Madison Square Garden, the Mercer Arts Center collapses to the ground.Its been reported that the unauthorized renovations of 1969 took out some weight bearing walls. Many in THE DOLLS camp looked at this as a bad omen,losing your home base. For the rest of August The Dolls head over to Max’s Kansas City for a residency. In late September they leave on the West Coast tour where they performed on TV show “The Midnight Special.” It would back with Mott The Hoople traveling through Canada for most of October and returning home for the notorious “Homecoming Halloween Bash” at the Waldorf Astoria’s ballroom. The press coverage alone for this event was unbelievable, decadence to be sure, and tickets for fans virtually impossible to obtain.
It’s a “Costume Party” at $7.50 a ticket featuring THE NEW YORK DOLLS. Over 2000 nut jobs arrive early. First problem is the venue as opulent as it is ,with all its prestige, only holds about 1000,legally. And some/most of that 1000 would be A-listers. The band is scheduled to perform after the “costume contest”, a contest of costumes one can only imagine.Doors were to open at 11PM but don’t until 1AM.The band is drunk/high/in poor spirits/hate each other/whatever.
“Oh my God, the Waldorf-Astoria regrets that gig! Hundreds of FREAKS strolling around the entire lobby area, blowing minds. The Dolls made us wait like an extra 90 minutes and then were hilariously drunk. They were totally awful, but, looked great. It made sense somehow.” stated Blinky Phillips, guitarist for THE PLANETS.
To promote the album they embark on an ill fated European Fall Tour. There the press straight out hated them, labeling the band as “mock rock” and a poor imitation of the ROLLING STONES.
With their tails between their legs they are back home to the safe environment know as NEW YORK CITY, February 15, 1974, on a show advertised as “The St. Valentine’s Day Massacre”, at the Academy of Music with Elliott Murphy, tickets sell out in minutes. The stage is readied for THE DOLLS, the lights dim, and a newsreel montage of Hitler invading France is played.WTF? Next a film “The Lipstick Killers” is shown, hey, that’s THE DOLLS…
Film ends…”Puss N Boots” kicks it off. THE DOLLS are on, not just on… but ON. “Bad Girl”,”Looking For A Kiss”, “Who Are The Mystery Girls?”, “Trash”, “Stranded In The Jungle” “Great Big Kiss”, “Chatterbox”, “Personality Crisis”, “Babylon” “It’s Too Late”, “Pills”, and “Human Being”…applause… “you want more?… “Jet Boy”, “I’m Your Hootchie Coochie Man”, “Back In The USA”.The universe is back in balance. The guys can do it, they can be stars.
Two months later, April 14,1974 the band performs at My Father’s Place in Roslyn, with The Miamis opening. “Babylon”, “Puss n Boots”,“Looking For A Kiss”,“Trash”, Stranded In The Jungle”, “Personality Crisis”, “Bad Girl”, “Pills”, “Hoochie Koochie Dolls”, “It’s Too Late”, “Chatterbox”, and the show closer “Human Being” all broadcast by WBAB-FM.
May 10,1974 “IN TOO MUCH TOO SOON” is released. It bombs and Mercury drops them almost immediately. THE NEW YORK DOLLS virtually disappear.
The band tours for a few months with Johnny Thunders and Jerry Nolan in a true heroin dependency while Arthur “Killer” Kane is an out and out drunk.
I didn’t see much in the press or hear much of The Dolls after their release, I do know they played the “Little Hippodrome” the small place between Second and Third Avenue, dressed in red leather. My friend said it was terrible. The band was falling apart, the spirit and the camaraderie that once existed between the performers and the audience was gone.Now, you didn’t know if Arthur was going to show up sober, didn’t know if Jerry was going to stand up,or if Johnny was going to throw up. David and Syl we are trying to keep the band together. However, in that short period of time THE NEW YORK DOLLS go from the sweethearts of New York City, to playing on a bill with THE FACES in Europe, on tour with MOTT THE HOOPLE, now relegated to playing shitty little holes with nobody, I mean nobody, nobody there.