Ancient Champion reminded me of our encounter with the New York Dolls’ Sylvain Sylvain from the time before there was an Ancient Champion. The year was possibly 1993 and alongside a medium-sized group of Tower Records workers we’d all spilled into a faux-Irish pub somewhere in Orange County, California. Costa Mesa, if memory serves. Right along the 55 Freeway, you know the place if you made the scene.
We knew the venue, we’d been there before for a benefit; but the particulars are fuzzy. To me, it was just another night out with friends at a bar with a lineup of several Orange County bands. Evenings like those happened at least three or four nights a week, you couldn’t avoid friends’ bands. But this evening was a little more special than most.
Again, I don’t remember much about the night other than two things:
One: There was a band on the lineup called The Globe that opened. It was a three-piece power pop band, although you could call them a quartet if you count the drum machine that needed its buttons pressed between each song. About mid-way into their set, I noted that the bass player looked familiar. Upon closer inspection, I recognised that he was a huge brutish fellow I knew from college by day, and an undercover loss prevention mall cop at night. As manly as they come; a real masher for a renaissance man.
Immediately after the set, he hopped off the stage and raced for the exit -- bass still strapped to his broad, chest. When I chased him down, I yelled, “Hey! is that you?”
“Dude” he pleaded, “I thought that was you [in the audience] -- you can’t tell anyone you saw me here like this.”
As he stood before me in black vinyl trousers, platform boots, and a matching fishnet muscle shirt (think Martin Gore, circa 1986), eyes streaked with mascara and teased hair (all which was the style of the day), I thought, “Is this guy embarrassed that I caught him in drag, or is he embarrassed because his band was so horrible?”
Two: For some reason, Sylvain Sylvain was in the club and everyone was abuzz over the fact that a real life New York Doll was among us tapping his toes and knocking back pints with Orange County’s great unwashed masses.
Sylvain left New York for sunny Los Angeles during the early ‘90s and that night he was slumming it in Orange County. Why the great rhythm guitarist of the New York Dolls was in that dirty pub with the rest of us is anyone’s guess, but his grace turned what was sure to be just another ordinary night into a small event.
Sylvain Sylvain was born on Valentine’s day and was and will forever be a rocknroll romantic. He died last night at 69, the first significant rock death of the new, young year. Cancer. It’s terrible that he died at such a young age, it’s truly disturbing that he had to create a GoFundMe campaign to aid with medical bills.
The man who co-wrote "Frankenstien" and "Trash" shouldn’t have had to resort to online panhandling. The New York Dolls informed an entire generation: their look, their music, their attitude, and Sylvain -- one of the founders of the Dolls -- played a major part of the band’s lore.
His wife, Wanda O'Kelley Mizrahi, announced Sylvain’s death in a Facebook post on Thursday:
"As most of you know, Sylvain battled cancer for the past two and 1/2 years,” Mizrahi wrote. “Though he fought it valiantly, yesterday he passed away from this disease. While we grieve his loss, we know that he is finally at peace and out of pain. Please crank up his music, light a candle, say a prayer, and let's send this beautiful doll on his way."