As covers go, The Ramones first album was no Sargent Pepper, just four surly dudes in black leather jackets, ripped jeans and too-small t-shirts, slouched against an alley wall, screw-you looks on their faces and page-boy haircuts (Wha-what?). As I placed the needle on the record—God, I miss that scratchless moment when needle hits virgin vinyl—knowing that I wasn’t going to hear self-conscious art-rock ala King Crimson, or sad introspective singer-songwriter balladeering, or arena-theatrical crocodile rocking, or god-forbid shake-shake-shake your booty-disco dreck. No, The Ramones were the antidote to all that, but I wasn’t quite sure what that would sound like. And then:
Hey Ho, Let’s Go! Hey Ho, let’s go!
They’re forming in straight line
They’re going through a tight wind
The Blitzkrieg Bop
The kids are losing their minds
And followed by
Beat on the Brat
Beat on the Brat
Beat on the Brat with a Baseball bat
What the hell, what the hell, what the hell! Fourteen songs, each about two-minutes-long delivered slam-bam in your face. God, I just laughed at the audacity and I probably shook my head and wanted to pound something.
I was 26, a young teacher in Snohomish, but I knew I was already too old for punk, and yet I was probably the only person listening to the Ramones. When I tried to play the Ramones for my middle-school students they screamed at me to “turn it off, play Peter Frampton, Bates!” They were the ones who should be growing Mohawks, throwing themselves into the crowds of rowdy, spitting, screaming teenagers, but it was their teacher who longed to dye his hair and spit in the face of authority.
Joey Ramone on the Morton Downey, Jr. show in the mid-’80s
And thus was born Punk (although I would point to The Sonics, early Who, Kinks and Stooges—heck even Blue Cheer—for its true origins). And I loved the Clash, Patti Smith, Television, Talking Heads, The Modern Lovers, X, angry young Brits, Elvis Costello and Graham Parker, and in the ‘80s, The Minutemen, Meat Puppets and Husker Du. Passion and power chords trumped slick glitz and pompous self-importance in my book.
For a number of years it seemed that the Ramones were the Peter Pans of Punk, never growing up, still doing more in a few minutes, armed with a few chords and a daft sensibility, than most rockers could in entire careers. 22 years, over 2,000 shows, alcohol and drug abuse, mental illness, even ideological disputes made for a tumultuous run and the group paid for it. By 2004 all but one of the original Ramones was dead, and last week Tommy Ramone went gaba-gaba goodbye.
With the exception of Joey, that 6-8 beanpole who really rocked that pageboy, I would have been hard-pressed to identify Marky, Joey, Dee Dee, Tommy or any other adopted Ramone boys. There were no studly solos, no pyrotechnics, just scorching, stripped-down two-minute masterpieces that exalted the joys of taking the music to “11,” and yes, sometimes about sniffing glue. R.I.P. Ramones.
A Live Show in London
Against Me seems to be a logical extension of the Ramones
And a nod to the granddads of Punk, The Sonics, here playing in Toronto in 2009
This past week has been tough on music makers: famed conductor, Lorin Maazel; jazz bassist Charlie Haden (he will get his own post later), and then this morning, Johnny Winter.