Tuesday, July 15, 2014

The 4th

Which brings us to the impossible unity of the Ramones. They all had the same last name. They all wore the same outfit and haircut. All the songs started with “1 2 3 4.” The monolithic, unified roar. And, most importantly, all the songs seem to come from a musical universe that they were the sole inhabitants of. Although their eagle logo and leather-clad image invited dopey imitation in the way all of rock music’s orthodox rebellion does, the Ramones’ original iconography not only illustrated they were tough, but that they were one. For an earlier music generation, the Beatles’ idea of the band as a gang, jumping over hilltops together, was part of their initial appeal. The Ramones were a gang as a band. A few years before his passing, Dee Dee Ramone complained about when he was starting with the band being forced to get a “Ramone” haircut. Having that small part of their image dismantled that way broke down more of the image of the band for me than I anticipated.

It is preposterous to call the Ramones performance art, but is there a more intentional, self-contained creative performance? The Ramones weren’t a band “about something.” While there were other high-concept bands that rival their singularity of statement—like Kraftwerk, the Residents, or Devo—those bands revolved around technology and enigma. The Ramones were self-reflexive: a rock band that was about the idea of a rock band. They took comic book violence and the deadest tropes of Beach Boys lyrics and placed them alongside tales of New York hustling as if it all was one piece. Authenticity wasn’t an issue. Authenticity was a joke.

From John Flansburgh's post-Tommy in memoriam on The Ramones. They Might Be Giants, Flansburgh's own band, occupies a different niche than the boyz from Queens, but he seems to get them.

After only a couple of years, Tommy decided that having been in the Ramones was great, but that he didn't want to keep doing it. Understandable, given the personalities involved. Still, he'll be remembered with them.


susan said...

Without The Ramones there would have been no Clash, Sex Pistols, Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Metallica, U2, Stone Temple Pilots, Sonic Youth, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Dead Kennedys and many more. It's true to say Tommy, Joey, Dee Dee and Johnny crashed through the doors of mainstream rock and nothing was ever the same.

Tommy hadn't been with them for a long time the last time we saw them in Portland (the last tour before Joey died), but it was a wild and wonderful show.

The article you linked to was excellent.

Ben said...

I thought it was very nicely written, yes.

The Clash definitely had a Ramones thing going on. Listening to their early stuff you can hear the influence.

It sounds like when you saw them last they might have had Clem Burke from Blondie playing as Elvis Ramone. He hadn't joined yet when I saw them. It was an intensely fun show, in any case.