Never fading away
One of my oldest friends sent me an email today congratulating me on a review that appeared in the Globe & Mail for my book, Ocean Titans. The Globe - for those of you outside Canada - is our national newspaper and getting a review in it is great, even if it won't pay the rent.
Dave, who is now a parliamentary correspondent in Ottawa for CTV News, went on to post a nice piece about me on his blog, but I have a beef with my friend's thoughts about our past. He talks of our love for the music of The Jam, XTC, The Buzzcocks and the teenaged affectations of the mod lifestyle. And lord knows we thought we were pretty cool: while others were listening to Hall & Oates or Rick Springfield, Dave and I and countless others were discovering soul, r & b, Motown, even ska and reggae. It was a much more comprehensive musical education than most of our schoolmates.
But in the midst of this was the unmistakenably raw sound of The Clash, The Pistols and other great bands. And at the apex of that raw sound was the one band that Dave forgot to mention in his posting: The Ramones.
In the thirty years since they broke on the scene in their native New York, The Ramones have been lionized as progentiors of a new form of music, a group who laid the framework for The Sex Pistols, Clash and whatnot.
But what gets forgotten when writers remember Joey, Johnny, Dee Dee and Marky (let's not get into Tommy and all the others), is that they were first and foremost performers. To see them play live was to experience something unlike any other group; they didn't mince words, play to the local crowd or act like rock stars. They just did it. And they could do it like few others.
Case in point: A teenager in a small Canadian city hears that The Ramones are coming to town, and are going to play in the gymnasium of a local high school. He wants to see them, but doesn't want to go to a concert alone. Yet nobody - nobody - he knows could care less about going to see a bunch of New Yorkers in leather jackets playing two minute songs that all sound alike. But he eventually finds somone to go and they trek down to the high school, sit in the bleachers normally used for basketball games and watch a ninety minute set of the music that changed a generation. The Ramones didn't care that they were playing in a school gym - they just cared about playing. Relentlessly. Joey never once (that I remember) looked up from his mic, nor did Johnny for the matter. Dee Dee may have glanced at us, but it was with a scowl, like the rest of them, asserting that we should be glad to be seeing them. But it wasn't arrogant. It just was. It was The Ramones.
Thank god Dave Akin went with me. And bless you Joey, Johnny and Dee Dee wherever you may be - you changed our lives.