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.