the ramones: nyc 1978
Last month, I spent an afternoon putting bookshelves together, and listening to this relatively new live Ramones album from 1978. And I’m standing there, holding a screwdriver, trying to figure out how to not fuck things up so I don’t have to take the damn thing apart and put it back together the right way, when it suddenly hits me. And I mean, hit me for the first time, even though it’s hardly a new thought:
I’ll never see the Ramones again. Ever.
When Elliot Smith died, I was up in the middle of the night, trading links to news reports and commiserating with a 20something acquaintance from a newsgroup I frequent. In one of his emails, he mentioned the fact that Elliot was the first death where he felt it was something that truly belonged to him. He felt that he couldn’t “claim” Joe Strummer’s death as it was before his time, no matter how much the Clash may have affected him. I think that’s how I feel about the loss of Joey and Dee Dee, more than any other rock and roll death these past few years.
As much as I worshipped the Who and was so obsessed for so many years that that’s how anyone from high school remembers me, I felt as though I was a pretender trying to claim Entwistle’s death. As much as I hate to admit it, it was really beyond my generation. I mean, I didn’t become a fan until after Keith Moon was dead. But the Ramones – they were mine. I was a fan in real time. They were from New York. And they were one of the first bands I ever snuck out of the house against permission to go see. When I was in high school, wearing a Ramones shirt was an act of the highest rebellion, and the only thing that would save you from getting beaten up was the fact that you were a girl, and considered so weird, due to your musical interests, that you were not even worth the energy. Can you imagine this today? (this is why I find it extremely funny when mall punks try to menace me on the bus. I just want to say, “Your Hot Topic clothes and Supercuts punk haircut do not frighten me in the least, you know that, right?”)
So I’m dancing around the apartment, assembling this Ikea furniture, singing along at the top of my lungs (I’m still not sure if this makes me really fucking cool, or really fucking pathetic), and then this realization falls upon me like a ton of bricks. Specifically, it hit me during “Let’s Dance” – where I know the song so well I can mark the guitar chords at the exact precise split seconds. That song always stands out for me as the perfect example of why the Ramones were a fucking great band: their razor sharp timing between chorus and verse, Joey’s impeccable phrasing, Johnny’s waves and waves of power chords. You know that feeling where you are just part of the song, there’s no separation between your body and the notes being played? It felt like I was there, like it was live, that I was in the audience singing along for dear life and pogoing along fiercely. I felt that blissful feeling again for a precious few seconds and then I realized that this was the closest I’d ever come to that again, and it made me unbearably sad.
There was nothing like being at a Ramones show. Even in 1995 it still felt almost as defiant as it did in 1980. The Ramones were a headliner at Bumbershoot ’95; Mudhoney was the opening act. However, whoever put that day’s schedule together was clearly smoking crack, because that bill was the exact same time as Patti Smith, and while this was ostensibly a poetry reading, this was the summer when Patti had just returned to playing live after 25 years, and her readings were turning into mini-acoustic shows. So what did I do? I saw Mudhoney, and then pried myself out of the pit and hauled ass over the Opera House to watch Patti and Jim Carroll (See what I mean? On what planet did that make any sense? Anyone who wanted to see Patti and JC damn sure also wanted to be at the Ramones, and not necessarily vice versa). It hurt, but my rationale was that I was going to be seeing them open for Pearl Jam twice the following month. (And, ya know, god bless Pearl Jam for that. The New Orleans Pearl Jam show was actually supposed to have been the Ramones’ last U.S. show ever.)
After the night had ended, my friends and I assembled at Bumbershoot headquarters, the late, lamented Denny’s on Mercer Street. Sitting in one of those ridiculously large circular booths, my younger friends who had been at the Ramones show began relating it back to me:
“Well, they walked out to this Western song…”
Me: “Right. ‘The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.’”
“How did you know?”
“Because they always do.”
“And someone came out wearing a mask during one song, maybe it was Eddie!”
“Might well have been, but someone always comes out wearing a mask to carry the Gabba Gabba Hey sign.”
“Joey wore his leather jacket the whole time!”
“Yep, he does that.”
After a while they realized that they weren’t going to surprise me with any of their observations. They were so crestfallen. To them they thought they were seeing it for the first time – but they were! That’s what I tried to tell them. What did it matter that this is what the Ramones had always done – to them it was the most exciting thing in the world at that moment. And I loved the fact that it had been the same for 25 years but it never felt old and tired, and loved that anyone I ever dragged or forced to go see the Ramones would walk away from the show just bursting with energy and burbling with excitement.
My dream is to start an all-girl Ramones cover band. Just for fun. Some day, I will make this happen. And we will walk out to “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly” and “Joey” will never take her jacket off and “Dee Dee” will always count the songs down “1234!” and “Johnny” will always stand in that familiar half-crouch, leaning back just slightly, flailing away at the Mosrite in a blur. Maybe that will console me somewhat that I’ll never get to see the Ramones again.
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