. . . Joey Ramone

. . .

Our Motto: (via June Brigman & Mary Schmich)
Your medicine
What with nostalgia for when I had more writing time and anticipating when I'll have it again and too many dampened spirits among my compeers and maybe even a trace of Joey Ramone sentiment, I feel like expressing less sheepishness than usual about these web ventures. Although deciding that one's desire is deserving of respect probably fulfills some nutritional need or another, audience members with weaker stomachs may wish to turn away.

Yeah, as another asshole said in the catchiest phrase he'll ever coin, occasional writings are advertisements for oneself. But the reason so many of my treasured friends write well is because they're also advertising something better than just self: curiosity, engagement, humor, anti-solipsistic passion.... It's possible to attract attention for a worthwhile purpose, like mutual satisfaction.

And yeah, the web is vanity publishing. But it's not only vanity: it's also an attempt to add to the evidence that love is other than career. If that's hubristic, at least it's in a tradition of not particularly destructive hubris: Virtually every piece of critical writing I care about came from "amateurs," and quite a bit of the art as well. As a reward for being an amateur at a time when the persistent and cheap publishing medium of the web is available, I get a heartening number of responses from working students and from working artists (although only once from a working academic, I wonder why) -- but the beauty of amateurism is that by definition numbers don't matter. The success of a marriage doesn't depend on how many priests attend the wedding.

So, at Juliet Clark's suggestion (she's been reading E. B. White's wartime essays about his small egg-and-dairy farm), I'm going to stop using all those more unpleasant names and start calling myself a "gentleman critic."

. . .


"But things don't last forever
And somehow, baby,
They never really do.
They never really do."

Joey Ramone's is the first rock death since Lester Bangs to affect me personally, but the affect is happy-happy-happy. Not that I'm happy about Joey Ramone dying. It's just it makes me think about Joey Ramone, and thinking about Joey Ramone makes me happy. (And now maybe the solo album he's been talking about for twenty years will get released.) Anyway it would've been hard to maintain proper respect for mortality, since the two records I played after getting the news ended with "Why Is It Always This Way" ("Now she's lying in a bottle of formaldehyde") and "Every Time I Eat Vegetables It Makes Me Think of You."

The debut album was about sound and songwriting, the vocals merely a fantasy of strangled Liverpudlians. But when the boys left home, Joey's adenoids became true-blue all-American and I became a fan. ("Suzy Is a Headbanger" especially brings back those halcyon Kirksville days....) Later that year, I attended college and my first club show, where I was stationed directly in front of Joey. I remember feeling awed by the magnitude of his discomfort. The ensuing two days of tinnitus lent authority to "THE RAMONES ARE GOD" sign someone'd carried.

Unlike many of my compeers, I kept buying Ramones records after the Spector debacle, mostly 'cause Joey kept loping up the vocalese slopes (albeit sweaty and pale and looking like he was about to faint). At the pinnacle, he managed to cut the originals of both "Little Bit o' Soul" and "Time Has Come Today," which is more than Elvis or Smokey could say.

And through the years, as drummer after drummer was adopted by Ma Ramone and then disinherited, Joey's appeal proved bedrock. Shy, moody, with flowing locks, clammy girlish hands and generous hips, adorable and determined as a mangy abused mutant puppy, he was the ideal bubblegum heartthrob, an all-too-biological object of fascination that still managed to block any thought of physical contact.

A couple of weeks ago, "Space Ghost" re-ran a Ramones appearance. Johnny and CJ did the talking, but every time the camera showed Joey, obviously terrified and obviously delighted, like Daphne's geek brother escaping ravishment by turning into a blighted willow, my heart throbbed loud as ever.


Trivia: When Allan Arkush had Rock 'n' Roll High School's cast and crew spraypaint their choice of graffiti, Joey's contribution was "HELP ME!!!"

. . .

Something to Believe In

First, End of the Century is respectful. Good. It's the Ramones, man; show some respect.

Then, from a rock documentary yet, insight.

Why did Joey/Jeff stay in the band instead of finishing that solo album? Why did Dee Dee snuff out when exposed to fresh air? How could both be so solidly and lastingly led by a guy who couldn't write, sing, solo, produce, or charm? The answer hangs like leather reek over the parade of celebrities who saw a band with "no talent" and realized "anybody could do that."

Wrong and wrong. Songwriting aside, the Ramones had something from the start those other kids didn't and kept it longer than those other kids would care to: Ineradicable irreducible loyalty to the idealized group. A fervor to "succeed" in the sense of not dishonoring that stoopid ideal, no matter what the individual costs might be.

And there was Johnny Ramone's unique talent. Casualties meant nothing to him (except insofar as they impinged on the honor of the ideal); being liked meant shit. He was a self-made drill sergeant who turned 4-F fuckups into jarheads. The drummers took their one tour of duty and sanely returned to civvies. Joey and Dee Dee were lifers.

Those early Ramones lyrics weren't literally fascist like the dopiest parents thought. But they weren't just jokes like me and my jerkoff friends thought either. They were the closest the band could come to describing the near-unstoppable heart of the organism itself. Semper Fi.


Copyright to contributed work and quoted correspondence remains with the original authors.
Public domain work remains in the public domain.
All other material: Copyright 2015 Ray Davis.