If you met the 55-year-old Arthur Kane on the street, you'd never in a million years guess his nickname or how he spent his youth. An almost invisibly bland clerk at the Mormon Church's Family History Center in Los Angeles, "Killer" Kane once stood at the pinnacle of rock-and-roll fame as a founder of legendary glam-rock pioneers the New York Dolls.
Director Greg Whiteley's documentary starts in 2004 as Kane, in shirt and tie, rides a city bus to work. "I've been demoted," he says, "from rock star to schlep on the bus." But the schlep doesn't seem exactly sad about his unglamorous life. If anything, he seems dazed, or anaesthetized. Not too surprising, considering what was in store for him.
The New York Dolls existed only from 1971 to 1975 before falling apart in a haze of booze and drugs. Their insanity and style smashed through the crap rock that ruled the pop scene, and their influence outlasted them by far. They were awesome, but you don't have to know that, or even be a fan of their music, to love Whiteley's movie. Like the best music docs, this is a universal story—about loss, destruction and one guy's patient hope for redemption.
Still, this is probably the only rockumentary that contains interviews with LDS "home teachers" and superimposes songs by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir over rock-concert footage. But then, everything about Kane's story is odd. Even his late-'80s breakdown, after years of poverty and alcoholism, takes an absurdist form: Kane happens to see ex-bandmate David Johansen, a.k.a. Buster Poindexter, on TV. Kane freaks out, drinks a bottle of peppermint schnapps and starts beating his wife "with the cat furniture." Then he leaps out the kitchen window and lands on his head. It takes him a year to walk again. One day, while convalescing, he finds himself with a Bible in one hand and a TV Guide in the other. In the TV Guide is an ad for a free copy of the Book of Mormon. He calls the number. So long, rock star. Hello, Latter Day Saint.
Whiteley and Kane met in church and became friends. In 2004, as curator of the annual Meltdown concert in London, lifelong New York Dolls fan Morrissey asked the group to do a reunion show. Whiteley, lucky for us, seized the chance to film the whole thing.
Even with the movie's numerous fades from young Arthur to old Arthur, it's hard to imagine the New York Dolls bassist and the Mormon librarian are the same guy. But then you see him on stage in London, calm but ecstatic, and it makes sense. The Pretenders' Chrissie Hynde says it best: In Arthur Kane, somehow, "there's room for both." It's a perfect rock story, with an ending that makes it even better.
Hollywood Theatre, 4122 NE Sandy Blvd., 281-4215. 7:10 and 9 pm Friday-Saturday, March 3-4, and Monday-Thursday, March 6-9. Additional shows 3 and 4:50 pm Saturday. $4-$6.