- I'm the co-host of THIS IS ROCK 'N' ROLL RADIO with Dana & Carl (Sunday nights, 9 to Midnight Eastern, www.westcottradio.org). As a freelance writer, I contributed to Goldmine magazine from 1986-2006, wrote liner notes for Rhino Records' compilation CD Poptopia! Power Pop Classics Of The '90s, and for releases by The Flashcubes, The Finkers, Screen Test, 1.4.5., and Jack "Penetrator" Lipton. I contributed to the books Bubblegum Music Is The Naked Truth, Shake Some Action, Lost In The Grooves, and MusicHound Rock, and to DISCoveries, Amazing Heroes, The Comics Buyer's Guide, Yeah Yeah Yeah, Comics Collector, The Buffalo News, and The Syracuse New Times. I also wrote the liner notes for the four THIS IS ROCK 'N' ROLL RADIO compilation CDs, because, well, who could stop me? My standing offer to write liner notes for a Bay City Rollers compilation has remained criminally ignored. Still intend to write and sell a Batman story someday.
Saturday, April 9, 2016
CLOSING ARGUMENTS: Joey Ramone
On Easter Sunday of 2001, we learned that Joey Ramone had died. No celebrity death had affected me anywhere near as much as this since John Lennon's murder in 1980. This piece was solicited by Pat Pierson for his great rock mag Yeah Yeah Yeah. It's been 15 years. I have nothing more to add at this time.
The Ramones were the greatest (i.e., my favorite) American rock 'n' roll group of all time. They were second only to The Beatles in my personal pop pantheon, and I've taken recently to referring to them as "The American Beatles." And if that statement makes you roll your eyes or presume I'm kidding, then you're a cretin, plain and simple. Granted,The Ramones never came anywhere near The Beatles' massive record sales--if The Ramones were ever to issue a counterpart to The Beatles' 1, they'd have to use a negative number--but they were just as important, just as invigorating, just as much the salvation of rock 'n' roll as that other Fab Four.
The passing of Joey Ramone was not a surprise--many people knew how sick he was, though few spoke of it--but the news of his death on Easter Sunday still hit hard, making my eyes sting and my teeth clench. I never met Joey (though I had the pleasure of doing a very lengthy telephone interview with him several years ago), but I still felt a sense of personal loss.
And it is a personal loss, really. My life would be at least a little bit different if not for The Ramones, and my view of music would be radically different. I've written elsewhere of how The Ramones' 45 of "Sheena Is A Punk Rocker" is the one record that changed my life, the magical track that opened my eyes and ears to a new sense of how great and transcendent rock 'n' roll could be in the (then-) here and now, not just in the Beatle-occupied past.
This wasn't the first time I'd heard The Ramones--I'd been requesting selections from their debut LP for play on my college radio station,and was already becoming a fan--but when I bought that single out of curiosity and finally let it play, I was hooked, body and soul, now and forevermore. And it friggin' MYSTIFIED me that the rest of the world didn't get it! Why weren't these guys on the radio? TOP 40 radio? When the "Do You Wanna Dance"/"Babysitter" singlecame out in '78, I was convinced, CONVINCED that it'd be a double A-side pop radio smash. And I'm still right that it should have been; the rest of the world is wrong for not making it so.
I saw The Ramones…what? Nine times, I think. The first was in '78, on an incredible triple bill that gives me chills to consider even now: The Ramones, The Runaways, and The Flashcubes, for four bucks at a dive called The Brookside in Syracuse, NY. A little over a year later, they were back in Syracuse (at a recovering disco called Uncle Sam's), this time with an exclusive Central New York debut showing of their new movie, Rock 'n' Roll High School, followed by blistering live sets from The Flashcubes and The Ramones. (All for five bucks--still a bargain, inflation be damned!)
The personal importance of that second show cannot be overstated. Earlier that week, a good friend of mine had killed himself--blown his brains out, the bastard. He'd come by to visit me the very night he died, offering no clue of his intent, nothing I can pick up on even in hindsight. It crushed me, and I couldn't even bring myself to talk with anyone much about it. The night after his death, I went to see The Flashcubes play at a private party, numb, pissed-off, devastated, and determined to have a good time. I got stupid fucking drunk, the way that only emotionally-charged teenagers can do, and held on to The Flashcubes' super-charged show as if my own life depended on it, and then got up to go to work the next day. Never told anyone at work what had happened, never gave any reason why I was more sullen and tightlipped than usual. None of their fucking business. Went to the wake, though not the funeral. Spent a lot of time being angry and depressed.
And at the end of that hellish week, The Ramones came to town. Believe me, out of all the shows I've seen over the years, no two were more important to my sanity and well-being than the above-mentioned Flashcubes gig and that incredible Ramones show at Uncle Sam's. Lou Reed was right: my life was saved by rock 'n' roll.
The still-lingering emotional punch of that week heightens my awareness of what The Ramones (and The Flashcubes) have meant to me, but even without the tragedy, the facts remain: I would not have ever written about music professionally if not for The Ramones. Just as they inspired a DIY revolution in rock 'n' roll, they were one of the key catalysts of my first setting fingers to typewriter to pound out my thoughts on music. My first-ever piece of rock writing was a critique of the state of music in 1977, extolling the virtues of The Ramones. I still regard The Ramones as the single most exciting live band I've ever seen (at least on the days that I don't award that designation to The Flashcubes). More than any other band, even more than The Beatles, The Ramones still inspire within me a near-religious belief in the power of rock 'n' roll music. There has never been another band like them, nor will there ever be.
On July 4th of this year, as my wife, daughter, and I were walking to our car after a fireworks display in Syracuse, my wife stopped me and asked me to listen. I didn't pick up on it at first, but slowly I began to make out the sound of Joey's unmistakable Hey, ho, let's go! blastin' outta someone's car speakers somewhere. It almost brought a tear to my eye. It always brings a smile to my face. I'm pretty sure it always will.