photo & text by nacrowe
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.
photo manipulation & text by nacrowe
there is nothing innately special about the concert film 1991: THE YEAR PUNK BROKE (TARA FILMS, 1992) on the surface.
filmed on tour in 1991 while INDIE ROCK icons SONIC YOUTH was on tour in throughout EUROPE, the film has the requisite backstage antics youd expect from an underground AMERICAN band playing overseas while it was still a novel experience. most of the live songs presented are from SONIC YOUTH, but there is also live footage of BABES IN TOYLAND, DINOSAUR JR, GUMBALL, THE RAMONES and NIRVANA.
and basically everyone who watches this film is well aware that NIRVANA was the band that broke punk into the mainstream shortly after this tour, not SONIC YOUTH. in that sense this film functions as a historical document of NIRVANA, and KURT COBAIN specifically, arguably at their peak before the pressures of success, fame and drug abuse slowly dismantled the group over the next three years. the fact that in this film COBAIN is not the focal point only makes it that much enticing as an portrayal of him during an enjoyable moment in time when he was surrounded by likeminded peers like KIM GORDON, J MASCIS, MARK ARM and the like overseas goofing off and introducing cuts off BLEACH (SUB POP, 1989) and the yet-to-be-released NEVERMIND (DGC, 1991) to new, unsuspecting audiences. watching that is that moment is the real treat of this film.
speaking of goofing off, there is way too much THURSTON MOORE rambling off bullshit throughout this film. at first it is charmingly annoying but by the end of the film it really is just annoying hearing him go off on tangents leading nowhere. but those pointless interludes in between concert footage only goes to show that this film was originally conceived as a SONIC YOUTH vehicle culled from their footage.
is an interesting historical document with some great live performances by legendary ALTERNATIVE ROCK acts, but if you are looking for something more substantial than definitely check out the documentaries HYPE (review linked HERE), PUNK: ATTITUDE (review linked HERE) and WHEN NIRVANA CAME TO BRITAIN (review linked HERE) for additional context.
photo manipulation by nacrowe
the lasting impact of cultural maven DANNY FIELDS is interesting to contemplate. not a musician, producer or a record executive, FIELDS instead worked at times as a press agent, record scout, manager and general facilitator. known for his time as part of the ANDY WARHOL FACTORY crowd as well as his work with legendary artists like THE VELVET UNDERGROUND, THE DOORS, MC5, THE STOOGES and THE RAMONES, where FIELDS excelled was in his vision of seeing and appreciating what others couldnt. at least not yet.
born in BROOKLYN, FIELDS was an excellent student who entered the UNIVERSITY OF PENNSYLVANIA at 15 and attended HARVARD LAW SCHOOL thereafter. maybe due to his exceeding intelligence and/or his membership in two minority groups being a JEW and a HOMOSEXUAL, FIELDS developed a sense of empathy as well as aesthetic interest in avant-garde, outsider art. this led him to GREENWICH VILLAGE and the WARHOL scene, and later to counterculture musicians once the 1960s hit. he worked as an artists liaison with ELEKTRA RECORDS and was of use to the machine in that he was a tastemaker of sorts, able to witness an emerging artist in their infancy and communicate their greatness to a wider public. in a sense the man had taste and was willing to stake his reputation on such, even facilitating countless meetings between artists (BOWIE and IGGY POP, PATTI SMITH and her band, etc.) that paid fruit down the line even after his personal involvement had ceased.
it is this role as a facilitator (and sometimes agitator) that i ultimately found made the recent documentary DANNY SAYS (MAGNOLIA PICTURES, 2015) so compelling. here is a guy that gave underground artists an opportunity yet he is largely and unknown, with his worth celebrated internally within the industry by key executives and artists alike. his name isnt highlighted in liner notes or mentioned in interviews, yet his influence is unmistakeable. the bands he directly worked with set the foundation for all modern rock music whereby intention trumps virtuosity. to be a musician didnt mean one had to be a master at their instrument, instead it meant communicating a feeling in the most direct and efficient manner possible. those were the bands he facilitated, managed and garnered press attention for. and we are all the better for it.
makes you consider how many other unknown key industry players there are out there who invisible hand we have all been touched by in our musical tastes and cultural obsessions. the closest thing to this film i have witnessed is the RODNEY BINGENHEIMER documentary (review linked HERE) entitled MAYOR OF THE SUNSET STRIP (2003) about the influential AMERICAN DJ or any number of BBC television documentaries over the years celebrating the ENGLISH DJ JOHN PEEL. whats interesting about the BINGENHEIMER documentary as it relates to DANNY SAYS is how both showcase a life servicing others and getting lost in the shuffle. the idea of making deep connections with talented friends who you help push to artistic and cultural peaks of achievement. but such heights are ultimately not your own and you are left contemplating your own needs and desires. both documentaries showcase two seemingly exceedingly lonely people. both are figures that are very interesting to contemplate.
i feel DANNY SAYS is a must-watch for anyone interesting in modern music history or the nature of the music business, especially as it relates to marketing and the influential yet opaque machinations that take place behind closed doors.
photo & text by nacrowe
sometimes the less you know the better.
that was definitely the case with COMMANDO (ABRAMS BOOKS, 2012), a posthumous autobiography by PUNK ROCK icon JOHNNY RAMONE written during his final years while battling prostate cancer. its not that i dont appreciate or love his music. shit THE RAMONES are one of the bedrock bands of my entire music listening life, its practically them and THE BEATLES in my mind for most consequential bands in ROCK N ROLL history. its just the dude on paper comes off as a real DICK. and not even a likable one.
i understand that there is a bit of hagiography going on when writing one's memoir, that makes sense. it is after all a book where the author and subject are one in the same so there should be some blurring of that line of credibility. but COMMANDO seems intent on making JOHNNY RAMONE the center of the narrative at all times. it makes sense that TOMMY wrote the preface forward because he is the only other band member that is not characterized as an adult juvenile delinquent. that was unfortunate, given that by the time of its being written, JOEY RAMONE had been dead for more than half a decade. and that is the flaw of this book: its remarkable pettiness.
JOHNNY loves presenting himself as a working-class AMERICAN to point of caricature. he really digs into the concept of an ugly AMERICAN, criticizing EUROPEAN countries for being lackluster because their television was horrible and not in ENGLISH and he didnt like the food (he wanted BURGER KING). its laughable until i realize the unique opportunity this guy had traveling the world only to have his own EGOTISM and MYOPIA step in. for him to think, even in retrospect, that such was cool or to be celebrated is just SAD and PATHETIC. he comes off like a real small person and for him to think that such was him being a REAL AMERICAN makes me cringe. and it appears he wholesale believed such. i really feel for JOEY. JOHNNY RAMONE seems like the quintessential UGLY AMERICAN.
this and his repeated use throughout the book of MISOGYNISTIC and HOMOPHOBIC slurs leads one to believe that he was in fact the emotionally, intellectually and psychologically stunted member of the group. or just another cretin, pinhead or (ENTER YOUR PREFERRED RAMONES REFERENCE HERE). his criticisms of JOEY or anyone that disagrees with him seem to be simple projection. even his assessment of his peers and the early PUNK ROCK bands out of ENGLAND was their similarities to THE RAMONES. its not like he couldnt understand how PUNK ROCK as a template could be expanded by THE CLASH or others with different sounds. its as if he could understand how they wouldnt want to purely emulate THE RAMONES. its total egomania. furthermore, he cant seem to handle the world as it is with any complexity and relied heavily on easy, and unreliable, signifiers of value.
which bring me to his bizarre recurring preoccupation and fascination with MONEY. i understand that all of THE RAMONES felt that they were never paid what they deserved over the arc of their career, especially given rise of 1990s ALTERNATIVE ROCK and PUNK-inspired bands of that era who made a killing. i get that. but no fan really cares about their finances. to the fanbase, their music has a non-pecuniary value. so hearing him relate value with money is just off-putting and makes him come across again, as selfish and self-interested.
interestingly, the closest i have come to this level of NARCISSISM in a memoir is PAUL STANLEY's FACE THE MUSIC (review linked HERE) and GENE SIMMONS' KISS AND MAKE-UP (review linked HERE). in both cases, the KISS frontmen, who came from the same era as JOHNNY RAMONE, were upfront and transparent about their ambitions from the outset of attaining fame and wealth. all aspects of KISS (from the songs, artwork, stage presentation, personnel decisions, marketing, etc.) where made from that perspective. they werent necessarily concerned with personal expression, artistic integrity or even any notion of authenticity. it was really odd hearing this same line from one of the key members of THE RAMONES. it was actually pretty sad to hear. like KISS, JOHNNY RAMONE speaks about how the band would film themselves (even at the outset) and basically choreograph their stage show. i couldve lived without knowing that.
i will admit that at least JOHNNY RAMONE was honest. ill give him that. with regards to his apparent NARCISSISM, MISOGYNY, HOMOPHOBIA, AVARICIOUSNESS and even his REGRESSIVE RIGHTWING POLITICS (the dude was a DITTOHEAD, after all), i could have done without knowing how small his world actually was.
i cant advocate COMMANDO because i wish i didnt read it. i dont know whether to blame his publisher, his editor, his estate or even JOHNNY RAMONE himself. in my opinion this publication should never have been made available to the public as it tarnishes his reputation. makes me want to search out films and books that focus on other members now. specifically JOEY, who seems a more fitting PUNK ROCK icon for the ages than this sad man.
i dont question his influence or greatness, but he is now a part of another subset of notable artists with terrible flaws. like RICHARD WAGNER, R. KELLY, PHIL SPECTOR or even MICHAEL JACKSON.
photo manipulation by nacrowe
PUNK: ATTITUDE (3DD PRODUCTIONS, 2005) by legendary DJ / MUSICIAN / DIRECTOR and original PUNK ROCK scenester DON LETTS is probably the most comprehensive documentary about the beginnings and evolution of PUNK ROCK, both stateside and in ENGLAND. it includes an exhaustive yet entirely impressive cast of participants, many now deceased, whose insights provide an appreciation for the wide array of interests and backgrounds that led to the formation of the genre. this includes, but not limited to, musicians such as JOHN CALE (THE VELVET UNDERGROUND), JELLO BIAFRA (THE DEAD KENNEDYS), MARTIN REV (SUICIDE), CHRISSIE HYNDE (THE PRETENDERS), DAVID JOHANSEN, SYLVAIN SYLVAIN & ARTHUR KANE (THE NEW YORK DOLLS), MICK JONES & PAUL SIMON (THE CLASH), DARYL JENIFER (BAD BRAINS), POLY STYRENE (X-RAY SPEX), HENRY ROLLINS (BLACK FLAG), WAYNE KRAMER (MC5), PAT SMEAR (THE GERMS), SIOUXSIE SIOUX (SIOUXSIE SIOUX & THE BANSHEES), TOMMY RAMONE (THE RAMONES), CAPTAIN SENSIBLE (THE DAMNED), ARI UP (THE SLITS), STEVE JONES & GLEN MATLOCK (THE SEX PISTOLS), THURSTON MOORE (SONIC YOUTH), K.K. BARRETT (THE SCREAMERS), RAY CAPO (YOUTH OF TODAY), GLENN BRANCA (THEORETICAL GIRLS), KEITH MORRIS (BLACK FLAG / CIRCLE JERKS), ROGER MIRET (AGNOSTIC FRONT), PETE SHELLEY & HOWARD DEVOTO (THE BUZZCOCKS), DEE POP (THE BUSH TETRAS), ALICE BAG (THE BAGS), RICHARD MANITOBA (THE DICTATORS), JAMES CHANCE (JAMES CHANCE & THE CONTORTIONS) and film director JIM JARMUSCH, CBGBs owner HILLY KRISTAL and various managers, writers, artists and photographers.
i think one strong suit of this documentary is its ability to elucidate the long line of influence that followed one band to another over time. how bands like THE DOORS influenced THE STOOGES who influenced THE SEX PISTOLS and BLACK FLAG and NIRVANA and so on. in essence you see how bands such as THE VELVET UNDERGROUND, SUICIDE, THE DEAD KENNEDYS, PATTI SMITH, THE DAMNED and THE RAMONES (among many others) are all linked and part of a greater movement towards challenging, complicating, questioning and, in turn, revitalizing the form of ROCK AND ROLL.
examples provided included the concurrent POST PUNK and NO WAVE that came about after the first wave of PUNK ROCK. both took the ethos of originality and freedom and applied such to the music, creating new takes on song structures and experimented with expanded palette of instruments.
the HARDCORE scene of the 1980s was the opposite of such in that songs got condensed and sped up even faster. scenes that began with first wave PUNK adherents more interested in art and originality were taken over by HARDCORE bands that were largely aggressive and violent. part of that anger was political at the REAGAN administration as well as a feeling that their lives were set to be disrupted by economic uncertainty. that scene begat the ALTERNATIVE ROCK scene of the 1990s, or as JELLO BIAFRA puts it "punk inspired rock bands." as the 1990s dragged on you get bands like KORN and LIMP BIZKIT with their dumbed down break down sections and shocking lack of social consciousness.
there was nothing revelatory about this documentary, but it serves as a welcome definitive statement about a genre for anyone new or interested in the place of PUNK ROCK in music history. it really gets at the core idea of the genre in spite of its many permutations: that being the value being an individual. finding your voice, whatever that may be, and speaking your truth vociferously with an almost disregard for the opposition. thats a healthy sentiment for anyone to learn.
my only gripe with this film is that they spends way too much time talking about THE CLASH and JOE STRUMMER, but that is my own personal bias making itself apparent. i still find that band, despite their influence, to be full of themselves. just my opinion.
parodies by nacrowe
ive been on a tear these past few months consuming several books by or about people involved in the PUNK ROCK explosion of the late 1970s including STEVE JONES, RICHARD HELL, VIV ALBERTINE, JOHNNY ROTTEN, DEBORAH HARRY, and JOE STRUMMER.
so with the topic still very much on my mind i wanted to revisit a show from 6 months ago that delved into the topic of where PUNK ROCK originated and how it influenced culture on both sides of the ATLANTIC. even now some 40+ years later with HIP HOP long taken over as the vehicle for the voice of the youth, classic PUNK ROCK is still very much relevant and has been a touchstone for every youth movement since. that is something that cannot be said about the mod, teddy boy, skinhead and GLAM ROCK cultures that preceded it.
a subject that is always fascinating, please check out our show of first (and some second) wave PUNK ROCK below.
parody by nacrowe
tonight's episode of DEER GOD RADIO at 8PM on MAKERPARKRADIO.NYC is all about the PUNK ROCK movement on both sides of the pond, including a few PROTO-PUNK bands as context for safe measure. gonna be a fun show, make sure not to miss it!
past episodes of DEER GOD RADIO as well as other MAKERPARKRADIO.NYC shows like MAKE HER SPACE, NOWHERE FAST, THE SYNTHESIZER SHOW and CLASSICAL-ISH WITH NUTMEG are available here at the DEER GOD website.
and if you haven't done so already get the FREE PHONE APP for IOS/ANDROID and enjoy listening to MAKERPARKRADIO.NYC 24/7 at your convenience!
photo by nacrowe
essentially this is the book on punk.
ENGLAND'S DREAMING (ST. MARTIN'S PRESS, 1991) by JON SAVAGE goes into the cultural and socio-political morass that was 1970s england, which birthed the whole scene in tandem with their american counterparts.
central to the whole story is the singular figure of enfant terrible MALCOLM MCLAREN who was essentially the precursor to what we would now deem an internet troll. his whole cause célèbre was coming up with interesting attention-grabbing press events to both stick it to the uppercrust of the british establishment and promote his businesses, including a boutique store called SEX that he sold garments and wares designed in consultation with his partner VIVIEN WESTWOOD.
so essentially the SEX PISTOLS were assembled to promote a business, which is a fact i love. they are as manufactured with intent to exploit a dormant market as the BACKSTREET BOYS, N'SYNC and NEW KIDS ON THE BLOCK were decades later. its just a fact, i still love them and appreciate their artistic contributions to modern music. its just an interesting fact given the later 1980s HARDCORE and INDIE ROCK scenes that channeled this scene into their own local scenes with a heavy DO IT YOURSELF ethic. this scene was anything buy DIY given that most of the major players on both sides of the pond were on major labels, including THE CLASH (CBS), THE RAMONES (SIRE), PATTI SMITH (ARISTA), TELEVISION (ELEKTRA) and of course THE SEX PISTOLS (EMI / WARNER BROS / VIRGIN).
you can also see punk as a return to basic rock formula's of the 1950s as most of these bands initially started out retreading then 20+ year old CHUCK BERRY riffs, despite their claims to the contrary and supposed revolutionary posturing.
i think the reason later musicians, most notably KURT COBAIN who later sought out SAVAGE for interviews in the british press specifically because of this book, respect this book is due to its empathy for the subject matter without romanticization or worse, hagiography. SAVAGE largely comes off level-headed in his analysis of the movement, at times letting his subjects speak for themselves and complicating a very messy period with a very messy influence on modern music.
bottom line: this book is a must read for anyone interested in punk rock. read this first and then everything else.