The other night I was flipping through channels looking for something to watch when my interest was caught by a film documentary about Arthur Kane. I had never heard of him or the band he help create. Kane, it turns out, was an original member of the punk bank the New York Dolls and played base guitar. So why would I be interested in a former member of a punk rock band? Because the story of how this man turned his life around and realized his life long dream before the bizzare end of the story was totally captivating.
The band formed in 1971 and released two albums before it broke up in 1977 and the members went their own way. Kane’s nickname was "killer Kane" but on stage he stood very still while playing. In fact, his motionless performances earned him the title "the only living statute in rock and roll." This was in comparison to the wild antics on stage of the other band members.
Kane was forced out of the group before it broke up and spent most of his life trying to find another career apart from the band, none of which were successful. In spite of repeated unsuccessful attempts to create a new music career, his life became one of poverty and obscurity. He was an alcoholic who watched the other surviving members of the band go on to successful careers. When he left the band he and the band lead singer David Johansen had a falling out and remained estranged for many years. The drummer, Billy Murcia died in 1972 from a drug overdose and the replacement drummer Jerry Nolan died of a stroke in 1981. Member Johnny Thunders died in 1991 from heroin overdose. Johansen went on to a successful career in music and even was in movies. In one, he was the taxi cab driver ghost of Christmas past in the 1988 Bill Murray movie Scrooged.
By 1989 Kane was an alcoholic who had been unsuccessful at all of his attempts at a comeback.. He had attempted suicide when his wife left him by jumping out a window, but a canopy had broken his fall. His music career was non existent and he was broke. That year, to the amazement of everyone who knew him, Kane joined the Church of the Latter-day Saints. It was a total transformation for Kane. No liquor, no tobacco and no caffeine, he was a regular church goer. He volunteered to work in the Family History Center at the church headquarters in Los Angeles.
Through the thirty years after leaving the band, Kane dreamed of being back in the spot light and bringing the surviving members of the group together in a music project. Then, Kane became friends with a film maker, Greg Whiteley, through is work with the church. This man developed the idea of doing a documentary about Kane's life. Rock star Morrissy was the curator of London’s Meltown Festival. In fulfillment of Kane’s life time dream, Morrissy decided to invite Kane and the surviving Dolls to a reunion show in London. Whiteley filmed Kane as the prepared for the 2004 performance and during the concert.This documentary released in 2005 New York Doll shows interviews with Kane and all the people involved. It shows a very mild mannered and polite 55 year old man, dressed in shirt and tie, riding public transportation to his work at the church. It shows Kane going to the pawn shop where, years before, he had pawned his guitar and pays off the debt to get it back for the concert. For many years he had been paying $165 a year to keep it from being sold and needed $256 to redeem it which he couldn’t afford. Church members loaned him the money to get the guitar back and for his expenses to London. It shows his excitement at the fulfillment of his thirty year dream to reunite with the group. He and Johansen reunite as friends. The band’s performance is received by enthusiastic acceptance from the audience at the Royal Festival Hall. Critics reported that it was a "sensational comeback" and that the band had never sounded better. The film shows how completely delighted Kane is about the whole affair and how deeply happy he is that his dream has been realized.
The story has a strange and tragic ending. After the concert, there are plans for other shows, but just twenty two days after he returned from London, Kane complained of flu like symptoms and went to the emergency room of a Los Angeles Hospital with chronic fatigue. The doctors diagnosed him with leukemia. Strangely, within two hours of that diagnosis Arthur Kane died.
What an amazing story of achieving stardom as a rock band player and then a drop to the bottom. He remained there for three decades in poverty and obscurity. Then a religious conversion and a totally different religious life followed by the fulfillment of a lifetime dream to reunite with the band. Only to have him die within only twenty two days of the concert and within just two hours of a diagnosis of cancer.
I found the film particularly captivating, sad, and, in a peculiar way, inspiring.