For me, I suppose the revolution began with Dave Eckenrode in 1984, though the fire had been lit 10 years earlier on a stage at CBGB.
I grew up in a small town in Colorado. It took a long time for things like punk music to filter down to us there. If not for my friend Dave, with his love for German tank tactical board games, Paddington Bear, and punk rock, I don’t know how long it would have taken for me to be introduced to punk.
People who got bit by the punk music bug can name off their list of favorite bands. They wear them like a badge of pride. They were into the Sex Pistols before they were just a t-shirt kids buy at Hot Topic. They remember when Talking Heads and Blondie were still cutting edge. They drew Dead Kennedys or Black Flag logos on their blue canvas 3 ring binders in school. But for me, the sound of punk music will always be the Ramones.
Dave introduced me to the band, probably hanging out in his room reading comics or playing games with other friends, and I was hooked. Undeniable energy, a sense of absurdity (Seriously, have you really HEARD the lyrics to “Pinhead” before?), and packed full with rebellion. They were everything I needed at that age. That year I got two of their albums for Christmas: Pleasant Dreams (1981) and Subterranean Jungle (1983).
There had been long gaps in the 30 years since I discovered them where I didn’t listen to the Ramones. My musical cravings move through cycles. But I recently started going back and binging on the music of my rebellious youth. Notably, those two old Ramones albums in particular, as well as some of the older ones that had lit the fire in me to begin with.
I woke up to the news that drummer Tommy Ramone died today at the age of 62. The last of the original line-up, he had been in hospice care for bile duct cancer. The rest of the band was already waiting for him in the great CBGB in the sky; Joey having died in 2001, Dee Dee in 2002, Johnny in 2004. The Ramones defined an era and shook up a music scene that had been going stagnant.
We decided to start our own group because we were bored with everything we heard in 1974, there was nothing to listen to anymore. Everything was tenth-generation Led Zeppelin, tenth-generation Elton John, or overproduced or jus junk. Everything was long jams, long guitar solos. We missed music like it used to be before it got “progressive.” We missed hearing songs that were short, and exciting, and…good.
It’s easy to listen to Ramones tracks now, decades later dismiss them as just, well, rock. And fairly tame rock at that. Sure, there were songs about recreational electroshock therapy (Gimme Gimme Shock Treatment), drugs (I Wanna Be Sedated and Now I Wanna Sniff Some Glue just to name two), racism (The KKK Took My Baby Away), and violence (Beat on the Brat). But there was a brightness to the sound, an undeniable pop hook that reflected their musical influences: the Beatles, the Stooges, the MC5, Eddie Cochran, the Kinks, and the Beach Boys. Someone coming to the band new in 2014–hell, even 1994–would be missing the cultural context for just what a game-changer early punk was for the music scene of the time.
It wasn’t just music in the Ramones: it was an idea. It was bringing back a whole feel that was missing in rock music – it was a whole push outwards to say something new and different.
You’ll see a lot of retrospectives in the next week: musicians and music writers telling you how much of an influence the Ramones were. They touched a lot of people in their time.
For me, the Ramones were Punk.
Though the band broke up eighteen years ago Tommy’s passing marks the end of an era. The final, sad note of a song we never wanted to end.
Rock In Peace, Tommy. You’ll be missed.