David Johansen

By: Lynn Peril
January 9, 2015

david johansen

In this sartorially challenged era of generic beards and faux nerdy horn-rims, let’s take a moment to celebrate the casual androgyny of New York Dolls-era DAVID JOHANSEN (born 1950). Prettier than Alice Cooper, less fey than Bowie’s Ziggy, Johansen possessed a fully masculine girlishness that befit his voice full of Staten Island gravel. Steeped in the late ’60s ethic of letting one’s freak flag fly and raised in the shadow of Warhol’s factory, all the Dolls appropriated bits of women’s wear. They looked — and sounded! — great in frills, leopard, and touches of mascara, but it was Johansen who seemed most fully comfortable in his polka-dot blouses and high-heeled pumps. The latter were a particularly daring item of clothing. A rocker boy who wanted to push the envelope might wear Cuban-heeled or platform boots and remain secure in his manliness. High-heeled pumps, on the other hand, are a prime signifier of femininity, worn by women and drag queens. Johansen was neither. What’s more, he wore his heels with elan, leaping in the air and pin-wheeling his arms across the stage like Ginger Rogers (another pug-nosed charmer) in some long lost but glittery backstage musical. Meanwhile, bassist Arthur Killer Kane stayed rooted to the spot, his platform boots perhaps contributing to his immobility. Johansen’s pumps weren’t just for stage; photos of the Dolls’ first trip to Los Angeles in 1973 show Johansen out for a stroll on Hollywood Boulevard in cowboy shirt, jeans, and heels. “There wasn’t a lot of intellectualizing going on when we formed the Dolls,” he remembered “…nobody ever said, ‘You wear this’ or ‘you do that.’ It wasn’t like that — everybody was just very ecological with clothes.”


On his or her birthday, HiLobrow irregularly pays tribute to one of our high-, low-, no-, or hilobrow heroes. Also born this date: Karel Capek, Scott Walker, Dick Briefer, Simone de Beauvoir.

READ MORE about members of the Blank Generation (1944-53).


HiLo Heroes, Music, Pop Music