“Remember Action City?” the regular says, referring to an old bar. Johansen’s used to this. Sure, he remembers, he says, politely brushing him off—and by the way, “the world-famous Sylvain Sylvain” is standing right over there. The guy doesn’t get the hint: He goes on about Action City—the pretty girls, the crazy times, the great shows from bands like the Dolls. “We were action city back then,” Johansen says with his wry smile.
After the regular goes back to the bar, I tell Johansen that in all the stories that have been told about the Dolls, I’ve never heard of that bar.
“I don’t know if we played there,” he says.
“People say we inspired punk and hair-metal bands. You have to laugh—it’s like having Cain and Abel as your spawn.”
At this point, there are so many stories about the Dolls that Johansen doesn’t remember them all. The fans do. The Dolls mean something, even to people who don’t remember the band itself: Not long ago, Urban Outfitters was selling T-shirts with the group’s lipstick-scrawled logo, even though its second album, Too Much Too Soon, was out of print.
“After the Dolls, I had a band and Syl was in it and we didn’t call it the Dolls, but it was the same kind of lineup,” Johansen says. The group didn’t get much attention. “It wasn’t”—and here he falls into a faux-rock-geek swoon—“ ‘The Dolls.’ It’s like with a Chevrolet—it’s the logo. It’s the Dolls.”
He pauses. “What can I say?”