BOOK REVIEW | "GABBA GABBA HEY!: THE GRAPHIC STORY OF THE RAMONES" BY JIM MCCARTHY & BRIAN WILLIAMS
the unlikely story of PUNK ROCK originators THE RAMONES is one for the ages. coming out of the QUEENS cultural wasteland known as FOREST HILLS, the group was made up of three social outcasts that could not be more different in demeanor and personality, i.e. the FRANTIC speed freak bassist DEE DEE, the RECALCITRANT RIGHT-WINGER guitarist JOHNNY and the NERVOUS and SOCIALLY AWKWARD BIPOLAR singer JOEY. original drummer TOMMY was their initial manager and producer who took up the sticks as a means of necessity and made way for MARKY after a two albums. the fact that such a VOLATILE and IN-COHESIVE mix of clashing personalities managed to survive as a creative unit and have the LONG-LASTING impact on AMERICAN culture writ large as they did.
THE RAMONES did nothing less than revitalize a DEAD, BLOATED corpse and breathed AUTHENTICITY and confrontational INTENTION back into the form, paving the way not only for PUNK and HARDCORE, but virtually every major ROCK N ROLL variant and sub-genre thereafter, from ALTERNATIVE ROCK, POST HARDCORE and POP PUNK to STONER ROCK, METALCORE, INDIE ROCK and GRINDCORE.
the graphic novel GABBA GABBA HEY!: THE GRAPHIC STORY OF THE RAMONES (OMNIBUS, 2013) very much gets at the heart of the DYSFUNCTIONAL inner-workings and INTIMATE inter-relational dynamics of the LEGENDARY band. most of which center around JOEY and JOHNNY who for decades didnt speak after the latter married the former's ex-girlfriend. that SCHISM was one which never got repaired. how the unit functioned was one of differentiated labor in which JOEY's sphere of influence was the lyrics and vocal melody and JOHNNY (with help from DEE DEE and drummer/producer TOMMY) as the de facto musical director. that is not to say that such a state of affairs is UNUSUAL in ROCK N ROLL history, where CELEBRATED songwriting tandems from ELTON JOHN and BERNIE TAUPIN, HENRY ROLLINS and GREG GINN to MORRISSEY and JOHNNY MARR had differentiated responsibilities in the process.
there is a thread throughout of the FUTILITY of such a BROKEN MARRIAGE within the band. the fact that they never achieved the financial success that they felt they earned, despite decades of touring and creating consistent quality records. watching up-and-comers like NIRVANA, GREEN DAY and the like take their innovations to the bank was an ever-present FRUSTRATION, despite the EFFUSIVE and constant PRAISE of both for THE RAMONES in the press. the picture presented of their career almost feels analogous to that of NEW YORK YANKEE great MICKEY MANTLE, who in his rookie season he infamously tore his ACL on a drain pipe while deferring a pop up to JOE DIMAGGIO in centerfield at YANKEE STADIUM during the fifth inning of the second game of the 1951 WORLD SERIES. as hard as it is to believe, in essence MANTLE's whole HALL OF FAME career was conducted on one good leg, thus creating one of the biggest "what ifs" in sports history. it just makes you wonder how the career of THE RAMONES may have been DIFFERENT if the two leaders of the group actually spoke with one another for the majority of their career. maybe such would never happen given their INCONGRUOUS personalities, but one would think they may have been better able to take on new opportunities if there was a better meeting of the minds rather than kicking those decisions to outsiders like managers. feels like their whole career is HANDICAPPED in retrospect.
and with that self-imposed limitation in place, they are still on a short list of the most INFLUENTIAL ROCK N ROLL bands of the 20th century, easily right up there with THE BEATLES, THE ROLLING STONES, LED ZEPPELIN and BLACK SABBATH. which is an INCREDIBLE accomplishment for a few glue-sniffing pinheads from the eternal cultural abyss known QUEENS.
GABBA GABBA HEY is lovingly written by JIM MCCARTHY and illustrated by BRIAN WILLIAMSON and is most definitely worth checking out.
back in the 1980s there was a distinct cultural moment were everyone got excited over bloated charity singles that often featured a chorus of god-knows-how-many notable artists singing in unison. two that come immediately to mind was the MICHAEL JACKSON/LIONEL RITCHIE-penned "WE ARE THE WORLD" (COLUMBIA, 1985) for USA FOR AFRICA (over 45 POP musicians) and the RONNIE JAMES DIO-penned "STARS" (POLYGRAM, 1986) for HEAR 'N AID (made up of over 40 prominent METAL musicians), both of which raised funds for famine relief in ETHIOPIA. buying these singles was less about musical enjoyment, since the songs were objectively horrendous, and more a form of altruism. although it begs one to wonder why the artists just didnt advocate for direct funds as there is no doubt corporate record companies made a pillaging off these recordings.
enter STEVEN VAN ZANDT.
during this period he had recently departed BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN's infamous E-STREET BAND right at the cusp of the release of what would become their commercial breakthrough BORN IN THE U.S.A. (COLUMBIA, 1984) record. at the time a journalist friend that had reported on the horrors of APARTHEID in SOUTH AFRICA suggested he write a protest song as a charity-style single. at the time it was still deemed acceptable for prominent musicians to perform at the SUN CITY resort/casino in SOUTH AFRICA. in fact prominent acts at the time such as QUEEN, FRANK SINATRA, ELTON JOHN, LIZA MINELLI, ROD STEWART and LINDA RONSTADT had done just that to their own shame in retrospect. the "SUN CITY" (EMI, 1985) single took aim at the resort specifically and the regime and its racist power structure politically at a time that the UNITED STATES still supported it. even in retrospect its a pretty bold and impressive statement, even if the song is a little bland. participating artists in the ARTISTS UNITED AGAINST APARTHEID activist protest group (who similarly took a vow not play in SOUTH AFRICA until the abolishment of APARTHEID) included the likes of BOB DYLAN, GEORGE CLINTON (PARLIAMENT FUNKADELIC), BOBBY WOMACK, LOU REED (THE VELVET UNDERGROUND), RAY BARETTO, RUN-DMC, KEITH RICHARDS (THE ROLLING STONES), JIMMY CLIFF, BONO (U2), HERBIE HANCOCK, GIL SCOTT-HERON, PETER GABRIEL, HALL & OATES, KURTIS BLOW, STIV BATORS (THE DEAD BOYS), AFRIKA BAMBAATAA, RINGO STARR (THE BEATLES), BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN and JOEY RAMONE (THE RAMONES) among many other JAZZ, R&B, ROCK N ROLL and early HIP HOP luminaries. PAUL SIMON was offered and declined participation due to his friendship with LINDA RONSTADT and the fact that he was then working on his GRACELAND (WARNER BROS, 1986) album at the time with SOUTH AFRICAN musicians, of which he has received (well-founded) criticism ever since for cultural appropriation. that recording was also in violation of UNITED NATIONS cultural boycott against APARTHEID. so there is that.
in this digital era we are all too comfortable with the idea of charity telethons and hashtag activism getting the word out on efforts to encourage fundraising for disaster relief efforts or the victims of the latest international tragedy. its part of the fabric of how our capitalist society functions at this point. but an activist single that take aim at altering AMERICAN foreign policy stances with regards to one of its allies. that i cannot find another example to compare. its a complete anomaly. and a singular achievement for all those involved, especially VAN ZANDT.
fuck PAUL SIMON.
my dad is from NEW YORK CITY and growing up in SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA i was schooled and made well aware from a young age about all things RAMONES. in fact i cant remember a time when "BEAT ON THE BRAT" wasnt jokingly brought up throughout my childhood when my brother and i misbehaved. again i should stress, it was jokingly evoked.
what i love about the RAMONES and their debut record RAMONES (SIRE, 1976) is their humor as well as ability to cut straightaway to the heart of the matter. no extended drum breaks, extraneous guitar solos or superfluous filler, this record is all killer. obvious highlights include the aforementioned "BEAT ON THE BRAT" as well as "53RD & 3RD," "JUDY IS A PUNK," "I DON'T WANNA GO DOWN TO THE BASEMENT," "HAVANA AFFAIR" and, of course, "BLITZKRIEG BOP." the RAMONES' formula is so simple that it is difficult to grasp at times how revolutionary it was in the late 1970s when PROG ROCK was at its zenith and to be a musician still had something to do with knowing theory, charts and scales. the RAMONES essentially wiped those notions to the side and made the creative intent the paramount ingredient in discerning what constitutes modern ROCK N ROLL. they were a paradigm shift because countless musicians looked at JOHNNY RAMONE's guitar playing on thought (wrongly), yeah, i can do that.
what i love most about the RAMONES record and the band in general is JOEY RAMONE. out of all the classic ROCK N ROLL frontman, he was always the one i personally identified with the most. their was an understated confidence that transcended his gawky and gangly demeanor. he represented to me someone who understood that he didnt meet the jock expectations of society and decided to succeed anyway, with a sense of humor intact. and people forget how dark some of these songs are, whether they are DEE DEE RAMONE-penned lyrics about turning tricks around TIMES SQUARE or not wanting to go down to the cellar for fear of abuse (presumably by one's parents). what made them work was JOEY's completely believable and seemingly authentic everyman persona. what a talent.
obviously the RAMONES' debut is something that should be heard by everyone. it was one of the first PUNK ROCK records and its influence both stateside and in the UNITED KINGDOM cannot be overstated. it is a touchstone influence for not only all PUNK ROCK that followed but seemingly every iteration of ROCK N ROLL that came after.
it is most definitely required listening and has remained a consistent spring of joy since childhood. definitely seek it out and give it another listen.