Saturday, July 12, 2014

RIP Tommy, remembering the Ramones


   Just the other day I saw a kid wearing a Ramones t-shirt, a common occurrence. The band represents a certain unnamed truth, a gritty, seminal element in rock music, a quality long departed that people clutch at, trying to touch something real. To catch the murmur of an after-echo. The shirt showed their unexpected-yet-perfect presidential seal logo, which somehow perfectly fit a band that crashed out chords, shouted out garbled lyrics and that was about it.
    And I almost said to the guy wearing the shirt, "I saw the Ramones once." At the Agora, a famous bar in Cleveland, a city that once prided itself as being the soul of rock and roll. With my girlfriend Sue. A long time ago. It had to be 1980, because it was their "End of the Century" tour —I still have the t-shirt — and that's when the album came out. Thirty-four years. Ouch. Still, several things remain clear. The dark bar, packed people, a few tables pushed to the side of the stage. The way the three band members stood on stage, four feet away, it seemed, their pipe thin legs spread wide, furiously thrashing at their instruments, Joey holding the microphone stand. How they would, on cue, turn, sweep one knee up in the air. The near innocence of it. The driving force of the simplistic, one-chord party music. All of us in the room, hopping up and down.
    "Twenty-twenty-twenty four hours to go....I wanna be sedated..."
     That, and how, at one point Sue got up on a table ... I must have helped her up ... and danced.
     That's it, that's my contribution to the oral history of rock music fandom. It isn't a moment that resonates with much of my life, before or after, which is why I cherish it, and don't trot it out much, lest it get spoiled by overuse.. But now seems apt. It's the thought that comes to mind when I see those t-shirts, and did when the sad news came that the band's last surviving member, Tommy Ramone, the drummer, had died. Rock and roll has been of limited use lately, since you weren't supposed to get old. But get old it, and we, did. At least, being old, you have the memories of rock and youth. And a bit of wisdom, enough to hold back bragging to strangers wearing a certain band t-shirt. It's lame, which is the opposite of rock and roll. Or at least I hold back, so far. Supposedly this old thing gets worse. Tommy Ramone's real named was Tamas Erdelyi; he was born in Hungary. He was 62. 


12 comments:

  1. Still not yearning for your old stomping grounds? Tommy gone, James on his way.

    John

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  2. Mr. Steinberg writes in part:

    “”Rock was of limited use, in that you weren't supposed to get old. But at least, being old, you have the memories of rock and youth.””

    That is one side of a debate that I am having with myself and others. Certainly 95% of pop music is garbage – but does the remaining 5% have lasting merit?

    I believe that the music of my youth –Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Joni Mitchell, and CSN & Y has lasting merit. They are as fresh today as when I first heard them.

    The music of the mature Sinatra has lasting merit. Almost everything by Leonard Cohen has lasting merit.

    --JerryB

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  3. Lots of music of any era has merit. It's just not up to us to decide. Generations after us hear it in new context and, ideally, the cream rises to the top.

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    Replies
    1. """Lots of music of any era has merit."""

      Wrong!

      ""It's just not up to us to decide.""

      Why not?

      "" Generations after us hear it in new context ""

      Essentially untrue! Kids are kids! Each new generation of kids believe they have invented sex and music.

      ""ideally, the cream rises to the top.""

      Agree!

      --JerryB

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  4. Rock. . . Old? So the originals are so irrelevant that rap & pop sample their recordings instead of creating their own music & bridges? News article that Sir Paul is once again touring included notice not to look for tickets because already sold out. Netflix told me yesterday that Beware of Mr. Baker is finally arriving today after months on the Hold list of unreleased dvds. My cherished memory: Cream live (before ear protection became available) & my silver concert poster. Janet M Fendrych

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  5. "Certainly 95% of pop music is garbage" - oh great, it's the return of Alan Bloom. Top 40 pop music has the ability to elicit emotions in young people as strong as any classical music, if eventually the hooks wear out and have to be replaced with new songs. Nobody knew that better than the Ramones, which is why their songs live on at stadiums, tv commercials and even people buying and playing their records, while critical darlings like Portishead live on...somewhere.

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  6. '''Top 40 pop music has the ability to elicit emotions in young people as strong as any classical music, if eventually the hooks wear out and have to be replaced with new songs.'''

    Precisely!

    --JerryB

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  7. Sturgeon's Law applies to all art forms. Once asked by a journalist if it wasn't true that 95% of science fiction (which Sturgeon wrote) was shit, he replied "95% of everything is shit." Truer words never written. The vast majority of music written in the past is justly forgotten. 95% of rock, jazz, blues, classical, you name it. Ditto novels, poems, plays . . . .I suspect in the comments genre of the internet, the percentage edges up to 98%. The past gets glorified because the best of it survives. Beethoven and Mozart each had plenty of contemporary musicians writing away whose work we don't hear because it is part of the 95%.

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  8. Bill Savage:

    I agree totally.

    And as a corollary -- should we strive to remain forever young or should we strive for a timeless understanding which enables us to recognized what belongs in the 5% even if it was created yesterday?

    The “young” were never free and open. Rather they are the ultimate “herd animals.”

    --JerryB

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  9. While 95 percent of everything is indeed shit, I have to point out that a common, ego-driven mistake that people make is assuming a relationship between what they like and what is good. Musically, it's possible to like really mediocre stuff, while being unmoved by masterpieces. I never liked Frank Sinatra. Who I did like was Al Jolson. Now I would never argue that Jolson was "better" than Sinatra. He was of a different era, 40 years earlier, and the reasons I liked him had nothing to do with his songs, per se, as much as with his biography. Taste is relative and subjective.

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  10. “””“While 95 percent of everything is indeed shit, I have to point out that a common, ego-driven mistake that people make is assuming a relationship between what they like and what is good.””””

    That is indeed a valid point.

    That is why I am still having a debate with myself and with others as to whether ---

    “””.... the music of my youth –Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Joni Mitchell, and CSN & Y has lasting merit’’’’ – objectively speaking.

    Mr. Steinberg asserts – “””Taste is relative and subjective.”””

    My response: Somewhat!

    Moby Dick, The Bear by Faulkner, and The Old Man and the Sea – especially speak to me since I am a hunter and have been “on the water.”

    I can’t stand anything by Henry James and Jane Austen although I readily concede that they are significant writers. I knew a woman who just loved The Tale of Genji and another woman who hated -- as much as I loved -- Beowulf-- Seamus Heaney translation -- and the take thereon by John Gardner.

    On the earlier thread I conceded that I like some good sci fi by Lem, Asimov, and Herbert and some good porn by Lawrence, Nin, and that southern lady that wrote Sleeping with Soldiers. I concede that that stuff is not great – except for Lawrence and Lem – and yet it speaks to me. But then again – the above sci fi and erotica are great within the respective realms of sci fi and erotica.

    --JerryB

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  11. Older than most here, I look back fondly on a time when popular song lyrics were the work of accomplished, if minor, poets rather than drug addled adults and witless teens. The days of Ira, Lorenze, Oscar, Yip, Cole, et al. Lorenze Hart's "I could write a book," from "Pal Joey," is a perfect lyric, worthy of Herrick. The wittiest couplet: Ira Gershwin's "I viewed the morning with alarm. The British Museum had lost its charm." The second wittiest: almost eveything Cole Porter ever wrote.

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