Sunday, May 20, 2012

The Ramones

I adore punk rock. I love the Ramones, Rancid, Social Distortion, the Clash, Sex Pistols and most other bands, big and small, that fit the genre. I feel like it's my dirty little secret that I didn't really embrace punk until later in life; I feel like such a poseur. But in my defense, I grew up in a place (Wisconsin) where punk didn't really rear its head so much. I had the Violent Femmes & the Smithereens, but not really punk. Or did I?

Back in the late 70s / early 80s, before the popularity of cable TV, cordless phones and home computers. Our TV had about 6 channels (on a dial!). It was a bright day indeed when we got SelecTV, the low-rent cousin of HBO, and one of the first paid-TV options in our market.

HBO had movies and original programming. SelecTV had B movies and late-night porn. But, through my low-rent pre-cable paid TV option, I found the Ramones.

One of the B movies that was shown was Rock & Roll High School. I was maybe 10 years old, and I wanted to be Rif Randall, I knew that down to the core of my being. She was so cool! She brought the Ramones to her school to destroy it! She was awesome. The Ramones were weird; a bunch of dirty ugly guys with long hair who played music like I'd never heard before. I tucked them in the back of my head for future reference, and I continued to pattern my half-hearted stabs at delinquency after Rif Randall.

What did I know of the Ramones? They clearly were weird (said my pre-pubescent self). They had a lot of songs. Kind of underground. Clearly these guys were counter-culture all the way.

What better way to get inside the brain of the counter-culture demigods than through reading Commando, the autobiography of Johnny Ramone, one of the founding members of the Ramones who sadly died of cancer in 2004? You know, the republican, baseball-loving, drug-free guitar player (rated one of music's best by Rolling Stone magazine) for a trailblazing punk rock band. Oh yeah; he? Was not what I expected.

I read this title on Kindle, but if you're interested in it, do yourself a favor and buy the physical book. I saw it at the bookstore the other day & it's an awesome package--like an oversized board book with photos and notes from Johnny. He was a serious man who didn't like bullshit. He took the Ramones very seriously and helped to define a musical style that would go on to effect a change in music.

The band did Rock & Roll High School after playing, touring and releasing albums for 4 years, but still were relatively unknown. Which means that I knew about the Ramones before they got big. So maybe I'm not late to the punk thing after all.

The most important takeaway from Johnny's book was really the idea of what punk is; I had always looked at bands like the Ramones and assumed that to be punk you should be on the fringe; not work for "the man" and not try to fit into the mold that society wants you to fit into. But Johnny Ramone offers a different idea of what it means to be punk: it's working hard, it's not taking any bullshit, it's being true to who you are and what you want and what you believe, and not compromising.

I think in order to embrace the beauty of punk, you have to be at the point where you can understand what it's really all about. Not compromising yourself. Working hard. Working for what you believe in and not kowtowing to anyone. And that's a lesson I learned right about the time I really plugged into punk.

Punk's not for everyone, but that's okay; that's what makes it punk.


  1. You had six channels? We had three on a clear day. Me = Jealous.

  2. I was gonna one is ever too late to punk. It's not a time and space or look. It's an idea, a philosophy and you plugged right into it.