Sunday, September 19, 2004

IN MEMORY OF JOHNNY RAMONE

Yes, I'm a few days behind and by now this is nothing but old news which just about EVERYBODY on the planet knows, but Johnny Ramone is dead. And given the fact that Mr. Ramone is no longer with us I thought that (for a change) maybe I should honor the man for what he did, especially considering the faint (and heavy) damning with "praise" that has been heaped upon the memory of Mr. Ramone over the past week. Believe me, I really hate writing obituaries which is why you haven't read too many of them in the past few BLACK TO COMMs (probably because now that I'm getting older and closer to the grave myself, maybe a sense of chill is rolling down my back), but considering some of the half-baked remarks and oh-so-chic asides being made by various self-appointed commentators (and there's nothing wrong with that, just as long as said blabber engages peanut-sized mind before typing away), I thought that maybe I should set aside some quirks of mine and write something decent about the man that at least honors his memory w/o any of the cutesy-pie ca-ca that I've been inundated with as of late.

First off, I gotta admit that I never was a big fan of Johnny or any of the Ramones. I doubt that you could even call me a "fan" in the basest sense...all I have in my collection Ramones-wise are three legit LPs, one cassette (a collection), one bootleg, a few singles and some lives tapes dating from 1975-6. Hardly enough to qualify as being a faithful follower, or even a peruser of the Ramones lifestyle for that matter. In fact, I remember when the Ramones were first making their mark on the teenage psyches of many a kid worldwide...there was some cafeteria-level hubbub in my school as perhaps there was in your circles (given you were old enough), but I never really felt any affinity with regards to their style and what they had to offer. At this point in time, I was only beginning to hone my, er, "listening aesthetics," and the likes of Frank Zappa, Lou Reed, Eno and a whole lot of import rock both excellent and so horrid I haven't listened to since those days was taking up a huge portion of my music-related time. The Ramones??? They seemed like one of those instant cut-out groups that I would probably be savoring in two years time when the mode of my music changed from less art to more garage, that is, if they became a one-LP wonder and/or cheap-o bin champions like the Flamin' Groovies. I mean, Television looked enticing and Talking Heads seemed just as interesting as the then-hyped Modern Lovers debut album, but to me the Ramones came off like the stupidest excuse for rock 'n' roll music to offend my sense of propriety!

Of course, this is before I discovered that maybe stupidity and rock 'n' roll proprieties pretty much go hand in hand, and with art rock taking a dynamic slide into the rock pooper-shoot as the decade creeped to an end maybe it was that "stupid" stuff that was what this whole rock game was about! After all, wasn't it that ridiculous fifties rock and pre-adolescent bubblegum music that really spoke for the mass of moronic teens who used to buy those scratchy singles you still find at flea markets this far down the line, at least before those said teens devolved into the stoner fuzzy-lipped boxboy types who used to listen to metal with a passion before going rap? A lotta the prog slosh that made up part of my listening habits suddenly seemed not only incredibly passe but downright evil! I turned away from most of the more, er, refined music of my early-listening days with a passion, and began spending my time listening to not only old garage-band classics and primitive fifties/sixties proto-garage instrumental-type "junk," but all of the new groups that seemed to take these roots and go in whatever direction they chose to, along with varying degrees of Lou and John (and I'm talking Harrison and Cage as well as Reed and Cale) tossed in for superfine results.

Maybe it was then and only then that I really becan to appreciate Johnny Ramone's entire schtick, just like I began to NOT FEEL BAD over having spent my third-grade days listening to the Ohio Express. True Johnny's guitar playing wasn't exactly Frank Zappa's, but it was as good as Lou Reed's on those early Velvet Underground albums not to mention all the $29.95 guitar careening that was happening on those great proto-punk discs that were hitting the cheap bins, and given how I began to see Zappa as some over-praised shuck once I hit the age of eighteen ("Night of the Iron Sausage".....mmmmmmmmph!) it was that "vile" and "uncouth" rock 'n' roll music that the Ramones and their followers created which made all the more sense to me!

It's funny, but after doing a lotta research on the Ramones in the eighties, I came across a number of writeups from their pre-LP days which compare da brudders with the early-Velvet Underground and Johnny's guitar playing with that of Reed's on WHITE LIGHT/WHITE HEAT. Gee, maybe if I had only read these reviews during my formative listening years when the Velvets were beginning to take an ever-so-slightly hold on my being (before bear-hugging it to death) then maybe I would have picked up on them even earlier!

But still, I began to get to the gist of 'em at this post and eventually the Ramones became a band that I...well...liked. It wasn't like I was buying everything with their name on it like I was buying Velvet Underground wares since I couldn't afford that, but it wasn't like I was turning down the occasional flea market find that still adorns my collection. So after all's said and done what I gotta say is...no, I can't regale you with detailed accounts of Ramones fandom nor could I rattle off their discography and innermost thoughts like a lotta you can, but I can sit down, listen to and enjoy the Ramones even this far down the line when they and their music seemed like rock 'n' roll's last hope in an age of light metal and singer/songwriter dreks.

But yet, with his death being only a few days ago, I must complain, complain about the reams of horrid accolades and total crapola being touted by people I thought were supposed to be "fans" of the man, people who I thought were bigger followers of Johnny and the Ramones than I could ever be and who thusly SHOULD HAVE KNOWN BETTER!!!! I'm mainly talking about the utter heap of dung that has been placed upon Johnny and his memory via various elements of this internet culture who as usual fell way short in their paens to Johnny, almost to the point of damning him with praise that isn't faint, but perhaps isn't even praise at all! Now, Lindsay Hutton's farewell on his NEXT BIG THING blog was fine enough as I would expect...after all, the man has been writing for himself and others ever since 1977 and he was hip-hip-hooraying it with regards to the Ramones for a longer time than anyone could imagine. But as far as Jay Hinman's blog goes, ferget it!!! Hokay, there is more than a bit of sour grapes involved with me singling him out as you've probably would have guessed, but Mr. Hinman's good-bye was one of the saddest excuses for an obituary of this legend I have yet to come across. "Oh, he influenced Tom DeLonge (whoever that is!) and all you living ex-Ramones better start eating right and ladies, don't get uptight when we complain about those prostate tests!!!!" Yeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeesh. I mean, I'm not maniacal over the Ramones true, but seeing the memory of Johnny treated in such a cavalier fashion is enough to make me want to bathe in concentrated Lestoil just to wash that oily coating of condescension away.

The comment box on the post was telling as well. A fellow named John Righter, who seemed like a halfway-intelligent being despite him thinking my "existence" is "pathetic" (hey John, how do you know me anyway??? Don't recall meeting any phony intellectuals as of late!) said that Johnny was one of the few "right-wingers" he liked...I guess if you're the post-hippie-freak total-government control goon-squad type that Righter probably is (yeah, I guess I can dwell into your makeup from your various posts just like you can get me dead to right by reading the musings of a couple unmitigated imbeciles!) then right-wingers would be on your short list, eh? Barry Goubler had an interesting retort about how long it would be before the lefties would start to rag on Johnny's political bent which seemed to open a whole can of worms, and really, I can't think of a better can to open in this day and age! Now frankly, I don't think that voting for "Ge'ogre Bush" as Tim Ellison called him is necessarily a good way to honor his memory (playing Ramones records is!!!), but then again jumping all over the guy for having political views that go against the grain of the so-called accepted young hipster norm has always had this taint of rock elitism, which certainly ain't the good, healthy elitism of Mencken but it's far from the even healthier populism of a Pat Buchanan! Now I don't hate Ellison one bit for his political views just as much as I don't hate Goubler for his (it's just that I probably would have a lot more to agree with Goubler than Ellison, at least from what I can discern), but I gotta say that the last twenty-plus years of neo-communism (for wont of a better term...write in with yours today!) has sure watered down the energy and drive of rock 'n' roll as a truly vibrant force. From that guy in Theolonius Monster (or was it Camper Van Beethoven?) who was disappointed that many of his fans weren't supporting Jesse Jackson (which reminds me of Pauline Kael's shock at Nixon winning a landslide since all her friends were voting for McGovern!) on through the stodgies at the Crass commune who were so adament over people enjoying their music (why, it was the MESSAGE that was important...how dare you buy our wares just for the mere pleasure of it all!), there has been a grim dinge of film covering much of the rock scene thanks to its "leftification," whether it be John Lennon and Bruce Springsteen getting NEW YORK TIMES editorial space as if they were as important as the usual pasty-faces writing for "The Newspaper of Record" (a.k.a. the newspaper of Walter Duranty and Jayson Blair), or your average ranting basement band wearing "MAO MORE THAN EVER!" t-shirts (probably made by Chinese prisoners of conscious). And if you don't think rock 'n' roll on a whole has been the worse for it all these pretentious years, then I guess you can go back to your small clique and enjoy talking to others JUST LIKE YOU at the next li'l cocktail party. Just leave me and the rest of the REAL PEOPLE who live outside your boho environs alone, please?

Anyway, back to the comment box. As far as idiotic comments regarding the death of Johnny Ramone and his politics go, this year's Karen Quinlan award definitely should be given to one J. Neo Marvin for the following astute response: "As for his politics, who cares? He didn't write the lyrics anyway." With insight such as this, I guess we have years of exciting and wonderful music (not to mention blog comments) to look forward to from the "man."

I mentioned that yeah, maybe I had some sour grapes I wanted to squash with regards to Hinman and his pals...after all, even I will admit that I'm a petty, vindictive (make that JUSTICE-SEEKING) man who never gives up on grudges, and if that means I'm going to stew in my hate until it destroys me, I guess that's better than taking it with a stiff upper lip and putting on the ol' Ghandi routine. However, I don't have any sour grapes to direct towards Robert Barry Francos. After all, he seems like a decent guy who put out the great FFANZEEN in the seventies and eighties, and that fanzine deserves an award for lasting so long and with such quality despite being a second-stringer (as opposed to a nth stringer like BLACK TO COMM). However, I hate to admit it but even Francos had to go out of his way in praising Johnny by damning him even stronger than John Righter would have dared..."Yeah, Johnny Ramone was an asshole. A fascistic, right-wing fanatic who was anti-gun control and was a big supporter of GW Bush, the Iraqi invasion, etc. But he was also OUR right-wing fascist." Oh, now he's not just a "conservative" or a "right-winger," but an actual wool-dyed fascist! Well, if this was the case then GOOD FOR HIM (after all, a student of history like me has come to realize that maybe the Spanish brown shirts were a WELCOME RELIEF from the Stalin-backed communist forces of the day, not to mention their "useful idiot" lackeys from England and the United States). But hey, I guess if you've committed ONE sin againt "the people" you've committed 'em all. OK, I am against gun control for the same reasons I'm against drug control, FCC control, government control (of your money) and a whole buncha other controls out there that are imposed on freedom-loving types by people who act as if they know more than enough about us than we do ourselves, and believe-it-or-not but I still think that the Iraq Invasion as well as most military endeavors are useless and more harmful than good in the long run (as Thomas DiLorenzo recently wrote, if a peaceful solution to slavery was worked out the nation would be a much better place today). Not only that, but I plan on spending November 2 hiding under the bed which is what I think anyone who cares about this world of ours should do. So I guess that puts me in the same bag as Johnny Ramone? Well, considering Johnny, and considering the back-patting alternative lefties out there (wow, what an alternative!!!), it would be a much better sack to hop into.

Of course I'm not the kinda guy who goes around pegging bands as "good" or "bad" necessarily because of their politics or lack thereof. After all, I can like the Ramones even if Joey was a kneejerk liberal and Johnny wasn't. Now, it may be hard for me to listen to a band that goes way beyond the pale as too many do, but if I eschewed groups for even straying slightly from the norm, then I wouldn't be listening to anything!!!. But hey, if you're going to go on hating certain rock types (no matter how much you go on saying you love them anyway) strictly for their conservative/right wing politics, then you're probably going to be hating a whole lotta people and not only the obvious ones like Sammy Hagar and Ted Nugent (who I only dislike because they perform such low-energy music!), but John Cale, Sid Bishop, Edgar Breau, J. D. King, Tom Hazelmyer, Eno (well, he is a staunch anti-communist so I'll give him credit for that!) and a few others whom I'll probably remember about a minute after I post this. As far as rock scribing goes, I don't think that Billy Miller and Miriam Linna, while not exactly Eagle Forum cheerleaders, are Che Guevara enthusiasts by any means, though one of my favorite fanzine editors, Russell Desmond of CAN'T BUY A THRILL fame, can definitely be counted on as being on the side of the right (though we did have a friendly discussion after the death of Ronald Reagan, he saying that Reagan was great as far as his role in the end of the Soviet Union went amongst other things while I poo-pooed him as an over-rated cornball who expanded the government while claiming to limit it...yes, you can disagree in a fine, amiable manner!). What really makes me laugh over all this is that the standard lumpen lefties get all shocked and discombobulated over someone who has one foot in hipster credentials yet also has strong non-left convictions...they don't know how to react!!! Reminds me of the time Justin Raimondo was on Bill Maher's old POLITICALLY INCORRECT television show, and he got Maher and his cooler-than-thou guests (including Dweezil Zappa) all stymied because yeah, Raimondo's a fag, but he's a right-wing libertarian fag with ties to Pat Buchanan! Kinda threw the typically one-dimensional views of Maher and company into a tither!

As you've probably guessed by now, this post was nothing more than an excuse not only to twist a few knives into some old enemies but to toot my own political horn with regards to a couple of things that've been bugging me as of late. Just kidding...I intended and only intended to honor Johnny Ramone, and in doing so I had to airwick out some of the putrid flatulence that a number of self-anointed swabs who came to not praise, but bury Johnny, have sputtered about these past few days. Anyway, I guess I've said way more than enough, but I'm glad I said it, and frankly I'm glad that Johnny went out of this world a little "cooler" than his fellow bandmates. Now, I don't know all of the Johnny stories that may be flying around, but I think he was a lot more decent than Joey, who once wandered around some college campus banging on doors asking if he could get high, or Dee Dee who made extra money on "53rd and 3rd" and ended up looking like a malnourished ghost even more ragged than your standard low-class jeeter at the end. Maybe Johnny could have stooped to lows such as this and maybe not. At this point, God's already judged him so we'll leave it at that. Let's just say that Johnny will be forever etched into my mind as that guy with the leather jacket and 1966-era long hair (in an age of feather-cuts and mullets) who I only thought was just a year or two older than I was (while he was actually pushing thirty!), cutting a fine path and (yes) playing a mean guitar all the while. Just like Alfalfa will always be the kid with the cowlick and Bob Denver the sailor-capped red-shirted Gilligan. And maybe there's nothing wrong with that, no matter how much the arbitors and people looking out for "our best interests" complain.


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