"Satchmo Demise Spurs Disk Flurry" - so read a headline from Variety that a former boss was very fond of quoting. Yes, it's a natural inclination following the death of an important artistic figure to undertake a sad and detached revisiting of their catalogs. But it was something more than just "oh, another good musician died" reminiscence that made me spend the first hour of my Monday workday downloading Ramones songs I already own on vinyl, and mostly hadn't listened to in at least a decade, to play throughout the ensuing days. (Which, of course, wasn't easy given the state of Napster these days, but between the Romones, the Remones, and some solo live stuff which slipped through, I was able to assemble a good 40-song playlist including "Ramona," "Danny Says," and "53rd & 3rd" as well as the obvious.)
So what was it that drove me to do that (and for that matter, to write this?) Certainly nostalgia plays into it - where are the punk rock snows of yesteryear, and all that - but I think there's something more. The sense of loss that the music world has felt this week shows the key role that Joey and the Ramones played, not just in the music of the past 25 years (!), but also as a cultural influence to a generation of fans like me. (Sorry to get all "Almost Famous" on yer ass, but there you have it...)
SECOND VERSE, SAME AS THE FIRST
Jesus, it's 2001 - we fought the good fight in the record industry, we saw the rise and fall of the "alternative revolution," and what we're left now with is Limp Bizkit. All right, not just them. Now 10-year-old Katie next door sings Blink 182 songs, and "pop-punk" is a concept that even marketing people get. The Ramones' whole approach sounds so obvious now, so much a part of our accepted wisdom of what music sounds like, that it feels nearly impossible to recreate the emotions of a 16-year-old hearing the visceral buzzsaw of "Blitzkreig Bop" blast out of the radio for the first time. I mean, it was fucking amazing, and the die was cast for me.
Yes, knowing more now, it's easy to point out the precursors - the Dolls, the Stooges, the Cleveland contingent, all 8,741 bands chronicled on Nuggets/Pebbles/etc. - but for a kid in New Orleans (and apparently a few others, judging from the response this week) this was our introduction to rock's (sorry Iggy) raw power and energy. And after going back to the vinyl and really listening the other night, I'm happy to report that that power's still there - even after all the beer commercials and stadium chants.
THIRD VERSE, DIFFERENT FROM THE FIRST
Is it too much to say the Ramones were why I chose the path I did? Well, yes. That would be oversimplifying it, but clearly the New York CBGB's scene they had anchored was a key attraction, both personally and professionally, that drew me and many friends to New York after college - even though that scene had really run its course by the time we arrived. Some friends made the journey to pursue meaningful careers, but just as many of us migrated 100 miles up I-95 because the city was the epicenter of the most meaningful cultural force of our lifetime. We had spent our college years doing our radio shows and going to every concert by the Ramones, the Talking Heads, Tom Verlaine, and then the Fleshtones, the Bush Tetras, even the Major Thinkers and Polyrock, and feeling like "we've gotta get to New York, it's where everything is happening." When the time came and a friend who worked at Stiff Records told me I could stay at her sublet at 7 E. 14th St. for a few days, it sounded like the coolest address imaginable. So we rented our crappy apartments near the East Village, we bought our black jeans at Canal Jeans, and we headed down to 2nd Avenue for chicken vindaloo (apparently "East 6th St" didn't rhyme); it's not like we were out at CB's every night, but it was still a New York cultural life that was directly fed and nourished from the underground spring of the city's rock world.
Anyway, I'm not sure when this turned into an elegy for my 20's; I came to praise Joey, not to bury him in minutiae about liberal-arts boho wannabes... Yes, I've come to love diminished minor 7th chords, and sultry bossa nova, and wise and witty Texas songwriters, and imaginative hip-hop, and banghra and classic country and the Memphis sound and 60's pop and more and more ... and actually for the past year most of my musical fan energy has been spent cherry-picking my mental database to compile mix CDs of cool late-night lullabies for The Lad. BUT IN SOME WAYS IT ALL COMES DOWN TO THE RAMONES. That onetwothreefour, those three chords, that power and energy which is ROCK MUSIC AT ITS CORE... The Ramones played a huge role in injecting that sound into the heart of American pop culture, and we should all thank them for it. Not to mention the brotherhood, the goofiness, the fondness for junk culture, Joey's anti-rock-star rock star stance, the powerful rituals of their live shows. And of course, the leather jackets.
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