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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 three 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.

Friday, October 7, 2016

Archie Meets Ramones



The Ramones existed as a band from 1974 until 1996. The original members of this dysfunctional band o' brudders--singer Joey Ramone (Jeffrey Hyman), guitarist Johnny Ramone (John Cummings), bassist Dee Dee Ramone (Douglas Colvin), and drummer Tommy Ramone (Tommy Erdelyi)--have all gone on to the great Bowery in the sky. But it's not an exaggeration to say that the group has become legend, a universal pop-culture touchstone whose image and music are summoned as pervasive talismans in movies, print, TV shows, advertising--virtually everywhere except on the goddamned radio--and whose impact and influence are recognized by anyone and everyone who understands the history of rock 'n' roll.

 Archie was created by cartoonist Bob Montana, and debuted in Pep Comics # 22 in 1941. The title character Archie Andrews has been described as "America's typical teen," and has bumbled and/or braved his way through 75 years of comic mishaps. The most common central conflict of Archie stories has been the unresolved love triangle of Archie and his would-be girlfriends, down-to-Earth Betty Cooper and pampered rich girl Veronica Lodge. Archie's best bud Jughead Jones and rival Reggie Mantle complete the core cast of Archie; Archie and his pals and gals have starred in comic books, newspaper strips, a radio series, and TV cartoons, with a new, purportedly edgy live-action TV series called Riverdale due on The CW in 2017. The fictional quintet has also performed in comics and cartoons as a rock group called The Archies, who crossed over to real-world chart success with the # 1 hit single "Sugar, Sugar" in 1969.



Archie and The Ramones. This does not seem like a match made in Heaven; what highway to Heaven could possibly lead through both the make-believe Riverdale and the all-too-real Forest Hills? And yet, the one-shot comic book Archie Meets Ramones is perfect. Lemme emphasize that again, with the sledgehammerin' precision of New York's Finest: Perfect. Perfect! PerfectPerfectPerfect!

When this book was announced last year, I heard complaints from some Ramones fans, whining that a crossover with the squeaky-clean Archies would be an insult to The Ramones' memory, a whitewash of the group's grungy, street-level depravity and inspiration. True, there was never any likelihood that a Ramones-Archies book would include glue-sniffing, heroin, violence, casual sex, male prostitute Dee Dee turning tricks, or Hilly Kristal's dog crapping on the floor at CBGB's. These were all integral components of The Ramones' formative years, and they have indeed been politely ignored in the pages of this comic book.

But if you think any of that is really what defines The Ramones, then I'm sorry to say that you don't get it. At all.

You can protest, but I don't care, I don't care, I don't care, etc. I don't care if you're the biggest Ramones fan this side of Riff Randall, I don't care if you were there at CBGB's or Arturo Vega's loft, and I don't even care if you're Danny Fields, The Ramones' first manager (though I think Danny would get it--he was among the first to really get The Ramones). If you believe that The Ramones are defined more by the seediness of their origins than by the brilliance of their pop music, then you need to check back with Miss Togar for some remedial sessions at Rock 'n' Roll High School.

Remember: The Ramones wanted to be a pop band. When I interviewed The Ramones in 1994, Johnny told me, "We started off, and I think we wanted to be a bubblegum band. At one point, The Bay City Rollers were becoming popular. They had written 'Saturday Night,' and we then sat down and said, 'We have to write a song with a chant in it, like they have.' So we wrote 'Blitzkrieg Bop.' Somehow, in our warped minds, I think we thought we were a bubblegum group."

Also remember: The Ramones were a pop band. Indisputably. Their songs were concise and catchy, immediately unforgettable, and made transcendent via velocity and force of will. But the songs are great songs at any speed, played in any style; I've heard elevator versions of Ramones songs, earnest acoustic versions of Ramones songs, surf instrumental versions of Ramones songs, and Y2K girlpop versions of Ramones song, and each disparate version has retained the spark and panache The Ramones bestowed upon the original version. The durability of this catalog suggests a band greater than the sum of its vices.


 




Moving on to The Ramones' only feature film, Rock 'n' Roll High School, it's worth pointing out that Johnny Ramone specifically and firmly nixed the idea of any scenes showing The Ramones doing drugs. Nein. Verboten! It was not the image The Ramones wished to project. No, in the film, pizza would be their stimulant of choice! 




After all the Carbona huffin', and the chainsaws and the lobotomies and the beating on the brat with a baseball bat...The Ramones still wanted to be a bubblegum band. Johnny said they wanted to be The Bay City Rollers; it would have been just as appropriate for them to be The Archies.

Archie Meets Ramones suddenly makes a lot of sense in that context.  

The comic book's story, "Rock 'n' Roll Riverdale!" (written by Alex Segura and Matthew Rosenberg, with simply gorgeous artwork by Gisele Lagace), begins with The Archies tanking at a high school battle of the bands. Frustrated and angry, The Archies are ready to give up this silly notion of being in a rock 'n' roll band, but things change with a gift from Archie's friend Sabrina the Teenaged Witch: an enchanted copy of The Ramones' debut LP from 1976. As Archie plays that record, as the sound of "Blitzkrieg Bop" washes over Riverdale, The Archies find themselves magically transported back to '76, standing in front of the iconic club Max's Kansas City, and face to to face with Joey, Johnny, Dee Dee, and Tommy.

The tale is breezy and energetic, full of love for The Ramones, and loaded with an endless barrage of Ramones references. Sure, you know how the story's gonna end long before The Archies realize it, but just getting there is more fun than a barrel of Sheenas. And that's a lot of fun! There's even an uncredited cameo appearance by Talking Heads. The book is just pure joy, from start to finish, the kind of pure joy I already recognize from listening to The Ramones.

Joy. That may not be a word often associated with The Ramones, but we should use it more often. We know of the troubles the individual members of The Ramones faced, of their bickering and battles, Dee Dee's addiction, Joey's OCD, Johnny's authoritarian prickishness, Tommy's nervous breakdown; but that's not what I hear when I listen to The Ramones. I hear joy. Pure, loud, rock 'n' roll joy. This comic book captures that joy completely. And to say that something's as good as a Ramones record? I don't know of a greater compliment I can give.

Take it, Betty! 1-2-3-4...!