Saturday, 28 May 2011

So Scratched into Our Souls #2: Ramones - Love Kills

The Ramones. I have a fair bit to say about them but I'm focusing on this particular song at the moment. Love Kills. It's off Animal Boy, which I always associate with Too Tough to Die, the album that preceded it, but was actually closer in time to Halfway to Sanity. Like all those 80s Ramones albums, it's not an entirely cohesive affair, but it has some great stuff on there. It's got Richie's finest hour in the angry swirling shout of Somebody Put Something in my Drink, my favourite Ramones song in My Brain is Hanging Upside Down, possibly their finest pure pop song in Something to Believe In, a classic simple Ramones number in Crummy Stuff, and this song, Love Kills, a Dee Dee sung ode to Sid Vicious and Nancy Spungen. Punk rock's very own star-crossed lovers.

When I was about 17/18, I was really anti-Sex Pistols. I was on a forum at the time and that was the dominant opinion of them there and I agreed with it, and not just from a desire to fit in. On this forum there would be a lot of polls about the best punk band ever, or the best punk album, or the best punk bassist, or the best punk song about domestic violence. That sort of timewasting Hornbyesque listmaking that is a fun way to find new bands and have good arguments about the differing scrappy slapped-together ideas of a canon, to immerse yourself in the scene and history and find your place within it. It's a pastime that I of course completely reject in my old age (Hickey, Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables, Dave Blood, The Toy Dolls' My Wife's a Psychopath or Chumbawamba's Stitch That). One of these polls was for the bottom eight punk bands, which came out as Crass, The Germs, Sex Pistols, Rancid, Pennywise, Anti-Flag, GG Allin and The Casualties. Some controversial choices there. Some glaring omissions. But who cares, it was what about 50-60 teenagers thought of the shape of shit about six years ago. The point is, in summing up the bands on the list, this is what I wrote at that time about the Pistols:

The Sex Pistols are often revered as the greatest punk band ever. Well if making crap music, having a murdering idiot junkie as a bass player and putting your 'shocking' image ahead of your music are measures of greatest then they are. The Sex Pistols are to blame for every idiot punk band talking about 'anarchy' and 'the antichrist' just because they sound cool. They're too blame for every idiot punk wearing stupid shirts for shock value. In the few years before they imploded with the bitterness and spite that comes with being a bunch of crap musicians who make it big due to having an extremely smart, manipulative manager they put forward the idea of punk as talentless, undeducated music that still lingers today.

I was not a fan, but I've mellowed. Just as someone who spent this period of their life obsessed with The Exploited and The Casualties who now rejects the sloganeering street-punk spit of their youth and embraces the more positive community activist aspects of the culture, I have softened my stance on the dumb shock games of this music and culture that I love. I like a few Sex Pistols songs. Pretty Vacant is fucking great. I've also come to accept the live fast, die young rock and roll tradition which I used to constantly fall in and out of love with because even though I thought a lot about dying young, I was acutely aware that a combination of rereading Catch-22 for the sixth time and fantasising hopelessly about a girl in English class I was too scared to talk to was in no way living fast. I would leave a geeky awkward corpse.

Lately I've seen a lot of people, mostly of the age I was when I penned that little rant, react in that fashion to Sid Vicious and his sad addict ilk, and I'm not going to say you can't feel that way, it'd be horrendously patronising to do so, but I'm gonna try and argue the other side. The side of people who didn't cheer as I did when they first read the Nothing Nice to Say strip 'Sid Vicious is So Punx' because someone totally got their distaste with him.

So I say this from a position of sympathy towards the Vicious-haters, but the fascination is pretty obvious. Sid and Nancy were dumb and pretty and fast kids who lost themselves in the old and slow way of the dulling gnawing of junk. No-one wants to be them, except maybe that brief moment as a 14 year old with morbid fascinations because you don’t have anyone to crush on and a conviction that there is nothing punker than Never Mind the Bollocks, no-one wants to be them, but everyone would die for a Ramones song written about them, and one sung by fucking Dee Dee no less. Another punk rock junkie growling glib Shakespearean allusions and deeply ironic handwringing anti-drug lines over the simplest of riffs. Because that’s one of the attractions of punk rock, the notion that if you invest yourself in the love, the cool, the look, in the self-destructive unsustainable chaotic mythos of the thing then you’ll get an anthem of your own, a eulogy penned by your own cultural heroes. There are dozens of punk songs dedicated to the weird acquaintances of punk bands, the arsehole friends and dumbass scene kings and queens, from The Bouncing Souls singing about Johnny X bound by only six strings to this world, to the seemingly endless selection of Less Than Jake’s oeuvre about people they’ve got drunk and shot the shit with. It’s like an infomercial, INVEST NOW AND YOU TOO CAN HAVE POP-CULTURE HISTORIANS AND PISSY PUNK NUMBERS PRESERVING YOU AS A SNEERING HERO, POURING OVER YOUR SHORT RAMBUNCTIOUS BEING, YOUR BREATHLESS STUPID PASSING THROUGH. Like I said, I’ve never really given much of a shit about the Pistols, whether it was Matlock or Vicious on the bass, and I never didn’t think that the outcome of Vicious and his girl was fucking horrendously pointless, but fuck, a Ramones song. To get a Ramones song, I’d do a lot of dumb shit.

In discussing this matter with my friend Tommy, we came upon an even simpler explanation for the appeal of Sid Vicious. Sid's cool because the Ramones wrote a song about him. The Ramones are cool because Motörhead wrote a song about them. Motörhead are cool because Motörhead wrote a song about them. Quod erat demonstrandum, punks and punkettes.

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