Yesterday, there was a peace rally in my town, because of what’s going on in Gaza. I joined in, shouted PEACE! NOW! until my throat was raw, but I felt like I should be shouting Hey! Ho! Let’s Go!, and I left after less than an hour. When I got home, I sat in front of my computer, drank a beer (didn’t sniff any glue, sorry), and thought about Tommy Ramone.
It’s not that I don’t care about what is happening in Gaza, or that I don’t understand the magnitude of some things versus others. I know that the death of one more old punk rocker doesn’t have any kind of grand impact on the world, at least not the way war does. But I don’t know how to write about what is happening in Gaza - I can speak out against it, say it is terrible, but I can’t explain why. I’m not politically savvy enough; I don’t know the full story or the right terminology. I can’t describe how horrific it is, because it’s too horrific, and I don’t have the language for that kind of violence. And it’s not my place to write about how sad and angry it makes me - because it’s not about me. At all.
I don’t know how to write about what is happening in Gaza, but I do know how to write about being sad about Tommy Ramone dying, and expressing my grief over that is my way of expressing my grief over everything - over the state of the world.
Although, I’m not even certain I know how to write about Tommy Ramone’s death, or about The Ramones. What do I say about a band that hundreds of people have written millions of words about. What can I say?
Except… Discovering The Ramones was a revelation. I was a teenage weirdo, gabba gabba hey, and The Ramones were the ur-band for teenage weirdos. They were weirdos; four strange-looking guys - angry, thick-necked Johnny, angular-gangly alien Joey, street-tough, junkie Dee Dee, and scrawny little Tommy with his shirt cropped and his belly-button exposed - playing sped-up rock’n’roll songs about cretins, pinheads and The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (that’s mass-a-cree). Four freaks from Queens who wanted, not to eradicate the mainstream, but to be the mainstream, and could never quite manage it* because they were too strange, too raw, and most people thought they were a joke band. A joke band that was telling a joke no one got. Discovering them - and getting the joke - felt like joining a club. We accept you, you’re one of us.
The Ramones and their fans were the Us in the eternal struggle of Us vs. Them. They made the punks and the disaffected teens, the ones who didn’t wanna be learned and didn’t wanna be tamed, the Us. Everyone else - the parents and teachers and square society - was the Them.
Maybe you were a quiet, skinny boy who got his ass kicked every day and got called a fag. Maybe you weren’t very good in school and got accused of being d-u-m-b, but you secretly drew epic pictures of monsters and superheroes. Maybe you were a geeky bookworm girl who had frizzy hair and small tits and thought that no boy (or girl, for that matter) would ever wanna kiss you. Maybe you were a j.d., the kid who smoked joints under the bleachers, and all your teachers told you you’d never amount to anything, and your parents said you were a bad seed. Those are all broad generalizations, but my point is: they made being one of Us feel like the best thing we could possibly be. Cuz they were also juvenile delinquents, geeks, dummies, ‘fags.’ Cuz they were just four strange-looking guys playing strange music, but they were also cool as hell - with their hair shrouding their faces, their smirking mouths and glaring eyes, their leather jackets. Listening to them made you feel like maybe all you needed to do was put on a leather jacket and pick up a guitar, and you’d be cool too - no matter what you looked like, no matter what any of Them thought of you.
And maybe you’re someone like me, who is in their 30s now but still feels like a disaffected teen half the time, still feels like you don’t fit in anywhere except with the other freaks.
"Adolescence was sure tough," said Dee Dee. Tommy added, "Especially when you don’t grow out of it.”**
What can I say?
Except… The Ramones are the sonic version of my worn-in leather jacket. Comfortable, as familiar to me as my own skin, but putting it on still makes me feel more badass, and more like myself, than almost anything else. I have heard their music practically every day for what feels like my whole fucking life, and there’s still nothing else like it. I hear that 1-2-3-4, I hear those simple, pounding drumbeats, that chugging bass, the grind and whine of the guitar and the spaced-out nasal throaty voice, hey ho, and I am ready to change my name to Jessie Ramone and declare I will love Joey and Dee Dee and Tommy and Johnny until the end of time.
Joey Ramone passed away in 2001, and was followed by Dee Dee in 2002 and Johnny in 2004.*** (And just a little over a year ago, Arturo Vega - creator of the iconic Ramones logo, and so-called “fifth Ramone,” passed away.) And then there was one.
Tommy Ramone (born Erdelyi Tamas on Jan. 29, 1949, in Budapest, Hungary) played drums on the first three Ramones albums - Ramones, Rocket To Russia, and Leave Home - and everyone knows those are the three best Ramones albums. He wrote “I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend,” one of my favorite Ramones songs, one of the most perfect love songs of all time. He also wrote “Blitzkrieg Bop.” (One aspect of The Ramones’ brilliance was that they could sing Do you love me babe? What can I say? just as convincingly as they could sing Hey, ho, let’s go! Shoot ‘em in the back now.) He played drums on “Slug,” and his bass drum ba-dum in that song is like the beating of my own goddamn heart. He was also a recording engineer and record producer - he co-produced not only the first four Ramones albums, but also produced another of my favorite albums by another of my all-time favorite bands - The Replacements’ Tim.
Now he is dead, and there are no original Ramones left.****
Yesterday, I went to a peace rally, then spent the rest of my day thinking about Tommy and The Ramones, blogging about Tommy and The Ramones, listening to the first three Ramones albums, and reading a small fraction of the thousands of articles, op-ed pieces, and blog posts that have been written since Tommy’s passing was announced on July 11th. Some of the pieces I read declared that the death of the last Ramone means that Punk is now, officially and without a doubt, Dead.
Last night, after my son fell asleep, I watched Rock’n’Roll High School (I know, it was made after Tommy left the band, but there was nothing else I wanted to watch). I thought about punk being dead and I laughed: either punk died a long time ago, or it will live forever, and really, who fucking cares either way? The death of Tommy is a total bummer, and it may be the end of an era, but it would take a lot more than that to kill off all of Punk. I thought: maybe we should take a tip from “Rock’n’Roll High School” (the song): I don’t care about history / cos that’s not where I wanna be. Not to say that we literally shouldn’t care about history, but that - and this is coming from the most nostalgic person ever - what’s more important is what’s happening now. Whether it be war, protest, punk rock music (or any kind of music), literature, our daily lives - the past may have hurt us, inspired us, brought us to where we are today, but the present moment is more important than a thousand yesterdays.
I watched Rock’n’Roll High School and I thought: hell, as long as there are still disaffected teens whose lives are being saved by The Ramones, as long as there are still people who take the spark The Ramones created and do their own thing with it, punk will never die.
Punk will never die, but The Ramones are dead.
Sing it with me: 4, 5, 6, 7, all good cretins go to heaven.
Long live The Ramones.
ENDNOTES: *Though The Ramones were one of the best known and most influential punk bands of all time, it took 38 years for their self-titled album to sell 500,000 copies. (http://www.theguardian.com/music/2014/jun/12/ramones-first-album-goes-gold-after-38-years)
**Paraphrased from this article (http://www.rollingstone.com/music/news/the-ramones-are-punks-and-will-beat-you-up-19760812) by Charles M. Young, which appeared in Rolling Stone in 1976.
***If you’d like to read more of my feelings about The Ramones, and Joey, Dee Dee, and Johnny’s deaths, you can read “The Ramones Are Cooler Than You,” which I wrote in July 2012. (http://www.forcesofgeek.com/2012/07/mix-tapes-from-midwest-ramones-are.html)
****Yes, I know Marky Ramone - who was in the band for many more years than Tommy was - is still alive. I have nothing against Marky. He is arguably a better drummer than Tommy was. Whatever. I’m talking about the original quartet, here.
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