Artie Kane was in a band called The New York Dolls.
They were one of the founder punk bands.
Maybe even pre-punk/post glam-rock, if you’re purist.
Anyway they broke up in the mid eighties I guess.
Excess of everything as usual, drugs, booze, bad behaviour.
They were generally naughty boys.
Morrissey, who had been leader of their fan club when he was young, asked them to reform for a concert at The South Bank.
This was a godsend to Artie, who had been destitute since they broke up.
He’d been just about surviving in LA.
Living in a dump, spending every day finding some way to get wrecked.
He got badly mugged while stoned, and was near death for a while.
He said the only people who gave a damn were the Mormons.
So he joined their Church.
When he found he was coming to London for the concert he sent tickets for me and my family.
Artie and I had been mates at art school in New York in the late sixties, and shared an apartment.
I told my kids all the stories about those times.
I don’t think they believed me.
Until they met Artie.
He came to stay with us for the weekend following the concert.
Artie started reminiscing about the industrial quantities of drugs we (he?) did.
Grass and hash were like offering a cup of tea, merely a courtesy.
Then there was speed, LSD, seconol, Valium, Thorazine, DMT, THC, pscyllosibin, glue, coke, and heroin.
Oh yeah, and when he had no drugs, Artie would shoot whiskey straight into his vein.
We had a fridge full of Ready Whip cans that were useless.
These were cans of spray-on whipped cream, but the cream only dribbled out because Artie had sucked all the gas out.
He thought it was curious that when he’d come home with heroin I’d refuse to use a needle.
I’d say, “I’ll snort it Art, but I’m not shooting it.”
He’d say, “What are you Mr Straight, a fucking bank manager?”
In Artie’s world I was an eccentric Englishman.
Our ways parted about the time I graduated.
I wanted to work in advertising, Artie wanted the world of rock and roll.
So fast-forward thirty years.
After the concert, Artie was staying with us and we thought we’d take him to a restaurant for Sunday lunch.
My wife thought Pont de la Tour would be good.
Americans like it because it has view of Tower Bridge.
Then she met Artie and realised Tower Bridge wasn’t going to be his scene.
Camden Town would be more appropriate.
So we spent Sunday there, and Artie felt right at home.
To my kids he was like an eccentric old uncle.
They were walking around the market trying to make conversation with him.
My son pointed to a T-shirt with The Ramones on it.
He said, “Did you know The Ramones, Artie?”
Artie said, “Yeah, I used to go out with the same chick as Joey Ramone. She stabbed him in the ass and me in the hand.”
Well, he did ask.
Anyway, later that evening we had a quiet moment together, and I said to Artie, “Isn’t it time you thought about settling down, no more groupies?”
He said, “Yeah, you know I’ve met this chick I dig a lot.
She’s like very attractive you know.
In her thirties, with short blonde hair.”
Artie got strangely coy at this point.
“I’m kinda thinking of, you know, maybe asking her to marry me.”
I said that sounded like a good idea.
Artie said, “Yeah. But I think I have to ask her to stop hooking first. Waddya think?”
I said yeah, that was probably a good idea too.
The Mormons came to visit us while Artie was staying.
They were making a film about him that was eventually released as “New York Doll”.
They filmed Artie and me talking about the days at art school in Brooklyn.
But none of it made the final cut.
I don’t think the subject matter was what the Mormons really wanted in the film.
Like Artie talking about the time we took his friend’s Camaro up to Harlem to try to score.
We were so trashed we were driving around with the top down in January.
So everything inside the car, including us, was covered in a couple of inches of snow.
We crashed into a cab in Times Square while we were doing doughnuts.
I don’t think the Mormons wanted that in the film.
Or how we stole the 20’ long side off a truck to make two beds, and ended up being chased with it through the streets of Bedford Stuyvesant by the locals.
Or how we ate dog food because we were saving our money for dope.
(If you’ve ever seen a comic called ‘The Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers’ by Gilbert Shelton, cross that with ‘Midnight Cowboy’ and you get the idea.)
I used to ask Artie if he wasn’t worried about getting addicted.
He used to say, “I ain’t worried because I’m not addicted to any particular drug, I’m just addicted to getting high.”
That sort of summed it up really.
Artie remembered things about those days that I’d forgotten.
He remembered I had nicked the domed top off a huge rubbish bin and sprayed it pink.
Then drilled a hole in the centre and put a bottle of Jack Daniels behind it, and a baby’s teat in the front.
Then hung it off the wall so we could all stand round sucking it.
I didn’t remember that.
But I did remember when Artie dropped out of college and I had to nag him to get a job to pay his share of the rent.
He got a job as a cabbie.
The first night out, on the Brooklyn Queens Expressway, he got a puncture. So he lit up a joint while he pondered what to do.
Then he noticed a liquor store nearby.
So he went and got a bottle of blackcurrant brandy to help him ponder some more.
Eventually he decided he was in no state to change the wheel himself.
So he called the cab company and they sent a guy in a truck.
When he’d finished changing the wheel Artie had finished several joints and the bottle of blackcurrant brandy.
He was too wrecked to drive.
So they had to tow the cab back to the garage.
The next morning I asked Art if he had the rent.
He said not only did he not have the rent, he now owed the cab company twenty seven dollars.
So he quit driving a cab and got a job servicing phone boxes.
One day his supervisor came with him to check why the takings were way down.
They went for a coffee and Artie offered to pay.
He took out a large bagful of dimes from his coat pocket and poured them on the counter.
So that job didn’t last long either.
In those days we all felt it was important to try absolutely everything.
Not to be repressed, it was important to break taboos.
One day Artie was discussing this with another guy in a coffee bar in the East Village.
They started discussing how they had never tried homosexuality, but felt they should.
I asked Artie what happened.
He said, “Well you know, we went back to his place, and I said whaddya think we should do? And he said, I dunno, we should probably take our clothes off or something.”
So I asked Artie what happened next.
He said, “Well, we’re standing around in our underpants and I say, maybe we should like do some foreplay. And he says okay. So I say, hey you look kinda cool you know? And he says, thanks you look kinda cool too.”
So I asked what happened next.
Artie says, “Well we kinda felt like we should maybe touch each other to get in the mood you know. So we sorta stroked each other a bit.”
And I asked what happened then.
Artie said, “Well like, we couldn’t think of what else to do next you know. So we both got dressed and I guess that was kinda it really.”
So Artie’s attempt at being gay didn’t really work out after all.
Anyway, after reminiscing for a while it was around midnight.
In the old days that would have been time to start going out.
But it was Sunday night, and Cathy and I had work tomorrow.
So we went up to bed.
And Artie and our two kids, Jade and Lee, went out onto the front steps to smoke a joint.
Just like me and Artie would have done thirty years ago.
The kids said, while they were passing the spliff back-and-forth, Artie was talking to them, something about The Book of Mormon.
Then he sort of drifted off.
So the kids just sat there, toking quietly.
Then after a while he came back and said, “Hey, what was I saying?”
They said they weren’t sure.
He said, “Whoa, when I’m talking at least one of us should be listening to what I’m saying, you know?”
In Artie’s head that made sense.
That’s why it was great that Artie spent that weekend with us.
And it was great that his band got reformed and people were making a film of his life.
On Monday I took him to Paddington station and put him on The Heathrow Express.
Two weeks after he went back to LA he died.
It was all over in two hours.
He got pneumonia, checked into hospital, and after all the years of abuse his body just couldn’t take it anymore.
At his last performance, at The South Bank, he had a T.S. Elliott quote filling the stage behind him.
“The end of all our exploring.
Will be to arrive at the place
Where we first began,
and know it for the first time.”
What was great for Artie is that he went out on a high.
In more ways than one.