Sunday, 27 October 2013

RAMONA

Probably the greatest song ever written about the Ramones is R.A.M.O.N.E.S. by Motorhead, originally on the album 1916, later covered by the Ramones themselves, which rolls through, with vision and thunder, a flash of images of the Ramones urban knucklehead milieu: “Black leather, knee-hole pants/Can't play no highschool dance




Then there's Guitar Wolf, who bite the styles of Motorhead and the Ramones in equal measure, Japanese noise superheroes in black leather, everything louder than everything else, cramming words together in a sort of impressionistic punk rock fuck you, where you can tell exactly what they mean, but also are incapably of explaining exactly what they’re saying, heirs to the ultimate cool of the Ramones, black leather jackets and simplicity, crunching out the surf-garage throb of the song Kung Fu Ramone Culmination Tactic.

Ramones tributes often come at their subject from the same sort of angle, with the same sort of shimmy, careening around in a 100mph coming together of that black leather, ripped up jeans, speed and noise, jukebox romance, communal shouts of the backpatch-cool stupidity slogans "GABBA GABBA HEY!" and "HEY! HO! LET'S GO!", an emphasis on the Ramones as a combination of teen heartthrobs, dangerous herberts and cretinous goobers. And an overwhelming desire to be joined with them somehow, to imitate, to hang with that crew, like on The Migraines I Wanna be a Ramone, which packs 40-odd Ramones references into its 3 minutes, going deep beyond the pinheads and the beaten brats, managing such lyrical feats as rhyming Mama's Boy with Animal Boy. There are also at least three other songs with the same title.  

A similar desire for assimilation exists on I Wanna Be Like Dee Dee Ramone by The Parasites. “I Wanna Be a Blitzkrieg Bopper/Wanna Be a Real Punk Rocker.” It's pleasingly reckless in its fuzz and scramble, but it does have the problem of focusing wholly on the punk rebel icon at the expense of the series of life experiences that defined Dee Dee, The Parasites never mention their desire to be a rentboy in 70s New York, have a lifelong heroin addiction, play in GG Allin’s band or release an unbelievably bad rap album that demonstrates all the flow and lyricism of a cartoon moose on barbiturates.

 The Spazzys have the song I Wanna Cut My Hair Like Marky Ramone, about wanting to cut your hair like Marky Ramone, but acknowledging "It's gonna look dumb, but it's gonna be fun." For the Spazzys, they don’t care if it means they can’t get a boyfriend, looking like Marky is way more important. A shitty momcut as being part of something greater, cheap self-mutilation to join the cult. Kinship with this group of impossible freaks.


 This is in the subgenre of songs specifically about minor Ramones. Generally the songs that focus on the Ramones revolve around the main core of Joey, Johnny and Dee Dee, Tommy, Richie, CJ and Marky kinda gets kicked to the curb or just short shout outs, though there is Tommy Ramone by The Vapids, a two minute biography that follows their first drummer from his awkward teenage years, "TROUBLE ALL AROUND!" is its repeated refrain. Elvis doesn't even get one song to my knowledge, but then again he only played two shows, whereas Marky was in the band for 12 years and even gets the indignity of usually being left off the iconic logo shirt in favour of Tommy. (Also, when the Ramones covered R.A.M.O.N.E.S. they changed the lyrics from “Hear Marky kick some ass” to “Marky takes it up the ass”)

Even Kung Fu Monkeys' I Miss the Ramones has to add "Let’s not forget Marky!" almost as an afterthought. I Miss the Ramones was penned around the Ramones break-up, serving as  framing them in a larger cultural narrative, running through post-war music history from the 50s onwards heralding the Ramones as heroes arriving in the nick of time “to save the day and take back radio” from the turgid indulgence of classic and prog rock. An idea which does have some merit, though the implication that the Ramones were also somehow responsible for exposing the Watergate scandal is probably a bit farfetched.

The Mr T Experience End of the Ramones says goodbye to the Ramones with a transcendent final show, everything coming together for a last 1-2-3-4 where the pang of goodbye is temporarily obscured by the blazing exit in spite of, or maybe because of, the beating life has given the four not-brothers “Joey is a vegetable Dee Dee's going bald Johnny got kicked in the head but the kids still love them all” 

They do and they still miss them. The loss is often palpable. Punk Rock Club RIP is mournful, the passing of a venue where good times were had, the Ramones were seen, friendships were made and jaws were broken, it's as sad as a song that bubblegum can really be and you can read the grieving for a show space as grieving for the Ramones also. Their mention is often punk rock shibboleth, a touchstone, like in The Queers anti-hippie anthem Granola Head, “I’d rather be at home, listening to the Ramones.” or in Screeching Weasel’s I Need Therapy as the painful result of this obsession lamenting the fact that he’s "O.D.'d on The Ramones cause I just sit around at home"

MTX, The Queers and Screeching Weasel being the Joey, Johnny and Dee Dee of the 90s Ramonescore revival, simplistic sharp catchy punk cuts on love and isolation and loss. Buzzpop barbs of that inspired the likes of The Transgressions with Baby I Love You (But I Need Someone to Talk to About the Ramones), in this, as in (The Huntingtons Jeannie Hate the Ramones, and The Creeps My Girlfriend Hates the Ramones) adoration for the Ramones is a relationship acid test. It’s probably Ramones-worship at its most juvenile, which is pretty fucking juvenile in a field which is an endless shambling parade of four-chord arrested development. Stylistically not amazingly interesting, the The Transgressions at least get out in 40 odd seconds of screaming, the Huntingtons and the Creeps rely on a mix of terrific pace and sloppy vocal collisions between dry whoa-ohs and snotty scrapes, to sustain themselves, until the Creeps song gets kinda slower and a bit boring. What it really points too though is that sort of teenage shortsightedness, music taste over all, judgemental punx exclusivity, a ridiculous shiteheaded personal integrity over compromise and happiness. How many people are there out there suffering just cos some girl ain't into. Is it really as common a problem as these bands make out? Similarly dumb but coming from the other directions are The Come Ons with She's Ugly But She Likes the Ramones (though that does put the Spazzys fears of loneliness to rest).




It might be these sort of bands which are put on blast by the goofball iconoclasm of Boris the Sprinkler’s Kill the Ramones released on a double A-side single with the song Kill the Sex Pistols, by a band that clearly loves the Ramones as much as anyone, once recording a whole album cover of the Ramones’ End of the Century. The Ergs! offer a less drastic solution pleading over a ripped off and muddied-up Teenage Lobotomy riff Xerox Your Genitals, Not the Ramones.

Of course, Kill the Ramones was written before the main three Ramones had actually died. Since the end of the century Dee Dee, Joey and Johnny have all bought it. My favourite version of Motorhead’s R.A.M.O.N.E.S. is on the 2005 live bootleg Stagefright where Lemmy introduces the song with a growl of "I was gonna stop doing this song last year, but then another one died, so I had to start all over a fucking again.”

Since then Ramones songs have leant even more towards the mournful, dug further into the loss, it works as well as the kisses and adoration, because the Ramones weren't just about the teenage bounce and gangs, Joey's voice was always capable of an edge of sadness in stuff like Danny Says and She Talks to Rainbows

 Joey Had to Go, a mid-tempo stomper, from Nomeansno ramonescore side-project, The Hanson Brothers, draws a vivid portrait of Joey as a sort of braindead intergalactic traveller, "He couldn't count past four. But he didn't need a whole lot more. He was weird all spindly and tall. Standing in his leathers up against the wall.” an impression probably fostered by their most famous on screen appearance in the Roger Corman classic Rock and Roll High School where the entire band comes across like spaced-out weirdos struggling to grasp the fundamentals of human interaction, Dee Dee endlessly baffled by the prospect of eating a slice pizza. Here Joey’s an alien being passing through, bestowing his wisdom and then he’s gone, more worlds to tear up, more galaxies to get hoppin. 




The Sloppy Seconds, still aren’t at that stage of acceptance yet, with the tightly-rhymed slamdance denial of You Can’t Kill Joey Ramone, “NO! NO! NO! JOEY DON’T GO!” it screams, “Save your prayers for Dee Dee” it pleads.

Not all of the songs deal with love and loss, imitation and destruction, for instance,  Frenzal Rhomb explicate the art/artist division in the song Johnny Ramone was in a Fucken Good Band But He Was a Cunt (subtitled GABBA GABBA YOU SUCK) but that’s an outlier. Most of them get their kicks in romance and pinhead longing.

 The crush of Helen Love’s Joey Ramoney, which portrays a long-distance desire over a sweetly skipping keyboard riff, sampling Joey’s hey-ho’s and running away with its own silly love. “There’s a girl who loves you on the other side of the world” it reassures Joey, perfectly capturing that bedroom-poster closeness you feel towards your teenage idols. Certainly more pleasant than The Maxies’ Sandy with its promise of “For you, Sandy, I’d dig up all the dead Ramones.”


 Amy Rigby’s Dancing with Joey Ramone, is, at least at first, mellow dancefloor seduction, with a possibly spectral Joey, who keeps his distance, as she copies every move he made. On the initial listen you get caught up in the gentle shuffle, and it comes across as resembling the adoration of Joey Ramoney, but on relistens it gets weirder and more aggressive ("I tried to say something/He said "Girl, shut your mouth, they're playing Papa Was a Rolling Stone") and besides, if you're copying every move he makes, Joey Ramone’s main move was leaning forward and looking scary as he shook his head about arrhythmically so really the scene’s less romantic than it might appear. At the end the unreliable narrator finds herself alone, but still stuck with those warm gluey memories as the song suddenly speeds up into Ramones pastiche.

 Sleater-Kinney’s I Wanna Be Your Joey Ramone focuses on this heartthrob idea, usurping Joey’s place as an idol, with a rebel yelp. It's equal parts that imitation and destruction. Joey's a god, but one to kill. "I wanna be your Joey Ramone/Pictures of me on your bedroom door/Invite you back after the show/I'm the queen of rock and roll."

Delay’s Everything You Hate brings together that metaphorical power together with the complex interpersonal relationships, the tension and loathing that characterised the band for most of its existence, synthesising their place as icons with their reality as humans. “You say you don’t like the Ramones/But I think we’re a lot like the Ramones/Cos we look good together but we don’t get along/We’re a lot like the Ramones.”

Modern Life Is War's D.E.A.D.R.A.M.O.N.E.S. similarly mixes the reality with the fantasy. It's got that assimilative desire, but it's also from a point in time when the Joey, Johnny and Dee Dee are in the ground so it's way darker and more tortured in its cry of "Now I just wanna go back home and turn up my stereo/Until the rhythm melts my bones 'cause I'm a Dead Ramone"

Shonen Knife, known also as the Osaka Ramones, who have also released full albums of Ramones covers and played entire Ramones cover shows. The song Ramones Forever, tells the tale of a life lived through the medium of Ramones. It’s a simple process that has played out all over the world for the last 35 years. Day 1, hear the Ramones on the radio. Day 2, buy a Ramones album. Day 3. Start a fucking punk rock band. 

 The song triumphantly climaxes with a scene of Shonen Knife supporting the Ramones, which actually happened. This is one of the ultimate attractions of punk rock, that you can start a shitty band in your shitty town and then be sharing the stage with your heroes not long after, but, more than with any other punk band, the Ramones lend themselves to hero worship as much as best-friend fantasies the Ramones are definitely on pedestals. 

The inclusive/exclusive balance, the build-it-up/tear-it-down counterplay, where you can be part of something, you can change your last name to Ramone, but you're not a RAMONE-Ramone. You can wish to obliterate every idol, but you still need heroes somehow, that impossible thing to aspire to. You can get close, but you still got that gap. You’ll never quite be one of those four sloppily uniformed thugs, leant against the wall looking cool, but almost trying too hard to look badass and disaffected and ending up like some weird broken simulacra of teenage cool, all the more desirable for its sliced and mangled take on that languid adolescent pose. The Ramones are gone, whether you think them benevolent aliens or just a bunch of fucked-up dudes from New York, they're gone, but when  Shonen Knife sing “RAMONES FOREVER! MUSIC FOREVER! RAMONES FOREVER! PUNK ROCK FOREVER!” you don't really feel like they are, you feel like they're just around the corner, something eternal and drawn in the stars and much as their etched in brick and scrawled on toilet doors and commemorated in a thousand bad tattoos, a couple hundred sloppy punk rock songs. They meant something, they did something, yo, cuz 13 human beings have walked on the moon, but only 8 have been Ramones.




Not all of these songs are available on youtube, but you can track most of them down somewhere online. For a more complete detailing of songs about the Ramones, see this excellent list which I stumbled across while editing this piece.

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