Back in June of 2004, when Morrissey, as the curator of the Meltdown Festival in London, persuaded the New York Dolls to reunite, director Greg Whiteley found himself in a unique position to chronicle the event. He’d already made contact with the group’s original bassist, the imposing yet sadly shy Arthur “Killer” Kane, a broken man who’d fallen into an embittered alcoholic existence before joining the Church of Latter Day Saints in 1989 and finding some sense of salvation. “I was demoted from rock star to schlep on a bus,” a candid, clean-cut Kane admits on his way to work at the Mormon Family History Library.
Meanwhile, Morrissey, Iggy Pop, Chrissie Hynde, Sir Bob Geldof, Clash guitarist Mick Jones, and a cast of other characters who’d been around for the Dolls mid-’70s implosion weigh in on the band’s relevance as images of a young Kane on stage with fellow Dolls David Johansen, Sylvain Sylvain, and the late Johnny Thunders and Jerry Nolan are juxtaposed with his workaday library life. Already we’ve got the makings of a poignant tale of redemption as details of the post-Dolls Kane come to light, from the drunken 1989 spat with his former wife that ended with him leaping from a third-story window to his jealousy over Johansen’s continued success to the hand-to-mouth life he’d been reduced to in LA. “I thought he was dead,” one British fan admits. “I thought he went missing in action in Los Angeles after the riots . . . ”
Whiteley remains an unobtrusive observer as Kane reunites with Syl and Johansen in NYC and moves on to London for one last dance with destiny. But tragedy and pathos, recurring themes in the story of the Dolls, lurk in every shadow. The proto-punk band lost original drummer Billy Murcia on the eve of their first British tour and then broke up in a mess of alcohol and addiction before they could capitalize on what they’d help create. Thunders and Murcia’s replacement, Jerry Nolan? Lost to heroin. And Kane, well, when we meet him he just seems lost, his bass in hock, his dreams deferred. Whiteley has asked reviewers not to reveal the “surprise” ending. But any Dolls fan knows that Kane, a sympathetic figure who rises to the occasion in Great Britain, leading a quick prayer before taking the stage, was sadly no longer with Johansen and Sylvain when the band toured the US last year.