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SYLVAIN SYLVAIN,
1951-2021

Sylvain Sylvain, the guitarist considered the heart and soul of The New York Dolls, died Wednesday after battling cancer for more than two years. He was 69.

In announcing his death, guitarist/historian/writer Lenny Kaye wrote on Facebook: “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.

“His role in the band was as linchpin, keeping the revolving satellites of his bandmates in precision.

“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.”

Sylvain started playing with a high school classmate, drummer Billy Murcia, and from there the band that would become the Dolls grew with the additions of John Genzale, aka Johnny ThundersArthur Kane and David Johansen. Jerry Nolan would replace Murcia, who died in 1972.

The group heralded a new era in rock 'n' roll by embracing garage rock, glam and an ambiguous sexuality. Started in 1971, they predated punk with a sui generis sound and look that would influence scores of bands despite being dismissed during their short time together.

They recorded two studio albums for Mercury, a self-titled debut released in 1973 and Too Much Too Soon in 1974. Thunders and Nolan left the band in 1975, five months before Mercury dropped them; Sylvain, Johansen and Nolan called it quits at the end of 1976.

At the instigation of Morrissey, Sylvain, Johansen and Kane reunited in 2004 and toured intermittently over the next decade as the New York Dolls with various lineups, releasing three studio sets between 2006 and 2011.

After the initial breakup, Sylvain recorded two albums for RCA: a self-titled solo album in 1979 and a follow-up two years later, Syl Sylvain and the Tear Drops.

On Facebook, Johansen wrote: “My best friend for so many years, I can still remember the first time I saw him bop into the rehearsal space/bicycle shop with his carpetbag and guitar straight from the plane after having been deported from Amsterdam. I instantly loved him. I’m gonna miss you, old pal. I’ll keep the home fires burning. Au revoir Syl, mon vieux copain.”

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