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.