Aidin Vaziri | David Johansen is a proper rock ’n’ roll hero. Rising out of the East Village in the early 1970s, he ignited the punk scene as the growling, cross-dressing frontman for the New York Dolls. Going solo, he transformed into the tuxedo-clad lounge singer Buster Poindexter, scoring a fluke hit with his cover of “Hot Hot Hot,” earning a role as the Ghost of Christmas Past in Bill Murray’s “Scrooged” and hosting a weekly radio show on SiriusXM. Now a regular at New York’s Café Carlyle, the 67-year-old is bringing his revived Poindexter alter ego out for a few select shows, performing a freewheeling cabaret show guided entirely by his whimsy.
Q: How did Buster Poindexter become your main gig again?
A: Well, you know, I was on the road with the reconstituted Dolls for I don’t know how long. We went out to do one show and came home eight years later. I wanted a break from that so I decided to do some Buster shows and it became really popular around New York. But mainly I’m interested in doing Buster because it gives me the opportunity to sing what I want to sing. If I go out as David, there’s certain songs I have to perform all the time.
Q: Buster Poindexter started out as a character, but at this point does it feel like a better reflection of who you are than the guy everyone remembers in lipstick and heels from the New York Dolls?
A: That’s true. I have a friend who says Buster is more like David Johansen than David Johansen. With this, I can do whatever I want.
Q: Despite all the books written about you, you have taken a very casual approach with your career. Are you happy with where you’ve arrived?
A: Well, a lot of times I’ll see contemporaries of mine that are probably doing the same show they were doing 20 years ago, and I always think, “There but for the grace of God, go I.” Financially, it’s probably rewarding for them. For me, doing a show and putting shows together and being with people that you want to be with is such a big time slot in your life that you might as well make it as enjoyable as possible. There’s so many bands that have been together for eons and they rarely speak. It’s just too tedious. I just do stuff and it’s fun — and if it becomes not fun, it’s time to think about retooling.
Q: Do you ever think about your legacy?
A: It’s really kind of a waste of time to think about that. I go into bookstores and see an “Encyclopedia of Rock” or something and pick it up to see what they say. I always think, “Oh my God, is that who I am?” But, you know, that’s your legacy. I’m not a rock ’n’ roll superhero, but I play one on TV.