Thursday, September 16, 2004

Punk's Only Reaganite? Johnny Ramone is dead. (Long live Johnny Ramone.) He pretty much invented the punk guitar attack -- two fuzzed-out minutes of blister-popping power chords in a progression melodic enough to work for a girl group -- and was violently opposed to guitar solos, especially guitar solo wankery. Very little can be done in rock and roll today that doesn't filter through Johnny. He was the anti-prog rock holly stake, the coup de grace to monsters like Yes and ELP.

My favorite Johnny story is about him meeting the very young members of an unknown group called the Clash in London. They told Johnny they felt they need time to polish their sound before they tried to take their act out publically. "Come see us tonight," Johnny supposedly replied. "We can't even play our f*cking instruments."


Razor said...

Odd how 2/3 have died so relatively young. Not to say that perhaps their mode of living didn't contribute to an early demise, but then again, how do you explain Keith Richards? But, I think it only adds to the mystique.

Now, here's one for you Eno, as much as you rightly extoll Johnny's blitzkrieg cord progressions, would you say the Ramones' music, lyrics or attitude was the single most important factor to their success? I vote on attitude. Yes, the music was a great mix of pop and emotion, and the lyrics a blend of nonsense ("Rock N Roll Highschool") with sincere if twisted message ("Do you wanna Dance"; "I wanna be sedated"), but without their ugly mugs, the complete absence of glam or fashion, and their irreverent demeanors, they would have been nothing more than a couple of songs on the radio in 1979 that we vaguely remember.

Instead, the Ramones were the death-knell to Disco - the contrived, coreographed and carefully polished image which was light on emotion and heavy on a danceable beat. The Ramones raised a collective middle finger to us all and said: "We don't care."

enobarbus said...

I'm not sure you can parse it out that fine, Razor. Off the top, I would say that the lyrics mattered the least, though much of the Ramones' attitude was indelibly stamped into their lyrics (viz. the numerous paeons to glue sniffing). And the attitude was huge. But one can't discount the music itself. It was punk before the term was really current. It slashed ornamentation to the bone, focusing attention on the riff, the hook. Lots of bands have hooks. Even Yes had hooks ("Roundabout," for instance). But so many bands of the 70s buried their hooks under layers of sonic shaving cream, rococco frills, and wanky virtuosity. The Ramones shoved the hook in your face for two minutes; the only thing ostentatious was their refusal to adorn it at all.

Upshot? It was the music, in its diametrical opposition to the larded pretension of prog rock, that made you take notice. But the attitude closed the deal.