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October 11, 1981 - Image 7

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Michigan Daily, 1981-10-11

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.

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ARTS

The Michigan Daily

Sunday, October 11, 1981.

Page

7

The Ramones 2et serious

sort of

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1

By Marty Lederman

ONTRARY TO popular belief,
the Ramones are not dumb. I know
that they write songs about glue and
pinheads and lobotomies; I know that
their punk-cum-leather-jacket Queens
nioron image is not really an image; I
know that Dee Dee cannot complete a
sentence without sounding like a com-
plete imbecile (personal example,
Lederman: "Was it easier to work with
Glenn Gouldman than with Phil Spec-
tor?" Dee Dee: "Well, ya know, man,
Sike, Phil was a nice guy, man, but, like,
you know, he was an Al-Key-HAUL-ic,
man, ya know, man?") (And this guy
writes half the songs.) I know that pizza
,,nd an ambivalent-at best-flirtation
with militarism and pseudo-fascism
-are not exactly the marks of mature ar-
*tsts. But the Ramones are not dumb.
or . simplistic. Simple, maybe.
Minimalist, probably. But dumb? Like,
ya know, NO WAY, man.
If it's dumb you're seeking, try
Nugent, or Journay, or Gary U.S. Bon-
ds or Paul McCartney. None of these
rockers are necessarily bad; in fact, all
except Journey have a reason to exist, a
knack for writing catchy songs, and
anything from a modicum to a great
deal of talent. But they're all silly (and
dumb). The Ramones aren't; at least
not any more. Not that they've become
intelligent or 'meaningful'. Far from it.
If you happen to be dumb or silly or a
little crazy or young and insecure
or,... don't worry about losing the
Ramones. "Gabba, Gabba," they still
accept you. In fact, except for those of
you who do like Journey and/or REO, .
they still accept everybody. (Witness
the .diverse collection of style and
background at last Monday night's
Second Chance show.) The problem is
that no one can quite bring themselves
to accept the Ramones.
Most of this dilemma is caused by the
very scope of the Ramones' music it-
self. Making music that is potentially
appealing to a diverse set of groups
inevitably.{ turns off most of those
groups due to a "Well, if those types
like it, it can't possible by up my alley"
mentality. The Ramones' inability to
break into the megapopular pantheon
of heavy-rptal We're-SoBig-We-Can-
Fill-The-Garden-For-A-Week working
class heroes is grounded in a few major
obstacles: 1. They're not heroes; that
is, they don't represent any paradigm
of an almighty sexual (read: sexist)
beast, a la David Lee Roth, and they
don't romanticize the gruesome
escapist alternatives that such role-
models represent. In fact, they 2.
romanticize the humble underpinnings
which make working-class life so mun-
dane and the noble underpinnings
which make working-class life so
liberating (e.g., "It's Not My Place in
the 9 to 5 World"). 3. On top of
everything, they are saddled with the
"so dumb they're not banal anymore"
image given to them by. their roots in
the punk movement. This theory insists
that their appeal to th ,Manhattan
counter-culture proves that they have
substance. Substance simply does not
hold a candle to the cultural superiority
and sexual prowess symbolized by Van
Halen and Aerosmith, or the "grounded
in reality" kick ass or cry in your beer
mentality epitomized by Geils and
Seger. In summary, we don't under-
stand the Ramones, and there are too
many better things to do, so why
bother?
On the other hand, the Ramones'
inability to break into the micropopular
pantheon of heavy-metal we're-so-cool-
we-don't-want-to-be-able-to-fill-the-Gar-
den-ever ruling class heroes is groun-
ded in a few different dilemmas: 1.
They're not heroes; that is, they don't
represent any paradigm of an impotent
cerebral (read: pseudo-intellectual)
brain, a la David Byrne, and they don't

romanticize the "getting in touch" with
realty alternative that such role
models represent. In fact, they 2.,
romanticize the noble underpinnings
which make working-class .life so
liberating and the humble underpin-
nings which make working-class life so
mundane (e.g., "7-11"). 3. On top of
everything, they are saddled with the
"so banal they're dumb already"
image given them by their roots inthe
mass culture of everyday bohemia.
This theory insists that their appeal to
Podunk anti-culture proves that they
are trivial. Triviality simply does not
hold a candle to the meaningful and
cerebral progress symbolized by
Talking Heads and Eno, or the "goun-
ded in reality" stand-tough-or-dance-
tough position of the Clash and the
Dolls. In summary, the Ramones don't
understand us, and there are too many
more important things to do, so why
bother?
What's more of a problem is that
their original devotees (composed
primarily of the second group) believe
that the Ramones are stagnant in their
own narrow cultural milieu, while
"serious" bands (e.g., the. Gang of
Four) continue to develop and place
everyday life in some sort of grander
social and political context. Typically,
the Ramones are thought of as a great
dance band and nothing more. Which

Clowntim e is over;
is this ajoke?

contrary to popular belief, is not
gorgeous. He is an ugly, ugly person.
Therefore the Jock/Groupie types will
never catch on. In the meantime, the
original fans (not to mention freaks and
pinheads. and working-class outcasts)
are left out in the cold. Conclusion: fun
movie, counterproductive P.R. t
Next step: Phil Spector. This was
supposed to make the Ramones more
popular (and more 'relevant'), by ad-
ding "depth" to their music. But Spec-
tor merely took simplistic remakes of
past Ramones songs and threw them up
against his wall of sound. It was as if
the Ramones had, themselves, gone
backwards, preferring to give a rehash
of Leave Home to a producer so that he
could "fix" it up good. Joey now says
that End of the Century was more or
less a favor for Spector, and the
results reflect that. The Ramones let
someone else do the work for them, and
a passive Ramones -is like no Ramones

transcendence of "Sheena" or
"Pinhead" or even "Rock and Roll
Radio." Instead, we are treated to a
more dense (as opposed to overblown)
sound and a tone that implies, "We're
sick of being treated as if we were an
easily manipulated, disposable circus
act." No longer is it enough to "just
wanna have somethin' to do." That
somethin' has to have substance as
well.
Pleasant Dreams is the Ramones as
they actually are, something we
haven't seen since Rocket to Russia.
And if their appearance on the
Tomorrow Show is any 'indication,
they're tired of trying to win approval.
If no one else'is'willing to listen, that's
their problem. And if the old fans are
willing to stick by them, that's fine too.
Just don't treat them as if the fact that
they're in some significant sense a joke
makes the joke any less important than
it once was. As Tom Carson wrote, their
"musical and lyrical bluntness of ap-
proach ... conceals a wealth of com-
plex, disengaging ironies underneath."
This is especially true of the new
album. But the small shifts in nuance
that Carson correctly claimed had
"enormous implicit resonance" have
been replaced by a large-scale shift in
demeanor and Y approach, and the
resonance is now explicit, but no less
enormous. The Ramones' perspective
ha'sn't changed a bit, but there is no
question that their attitude has. And
that is not the sign of a dumb band.
In concert, nonetheless, all subtleties
in attitude are squashed beneath the
momentum of the sound itself. At the
Second Chance last Monday night, the
Ramones performed their usual 30
song/80 minute set, with nary a respite
other than the tension-filled Joey-goes-
berserk break in the midst of "Surfin'
Bird." The new tunes went over just as
well as the old ones, despite a pleasant
change in tempo on such songs as
"Airwaves" and "This Business is
Killing Me." In fact, ,the Ramones
seemed to bridge the gap between the
bohemians, the pseudo-punks, the frat-
types, the suburban academics, the
displaced Grand Rapids expatriates,
etc., by the sheer joy of the music. At
some point (maybe between "You
sound Like You're Sick" and "I'm Af-
fected"), the Ramones ceased to be a
joke, and became a truly transcendent

band. (Contrary to the usual method,
however, it was bullshit they were tran-
scending, not real life.") "Sheena" and
"I Just Wanna Have Something to Do"
seemed, at least to those of us sardined
on the dance floor, to have some com-
munal spiritual life force that somehow
negated the tension created by the few
assholes who felt it necessary to disrupt
the carefully packed sweatbox by ac-
ting as drunk as possible.
But maybe I'm dreaming. Maybe
most of the concertgoers will go to class
or work and merely recollect a good
dance with-a dumb band. The basic dif-
ference is that these people
(justifiably) believe that the Ramones
can make them temporarily forget
their problems, while I think (or hope)
that they help us transcend or over-
come them. A subtle difference, but
important, nonetheless.
Joey, who was wide-eyed and spirited
prior to the show, and pitch-white and
extremely shaky afterwards (attesting
to the fact that he was uncharac-
teristically strong both vocally and
physically onstage), seems to under-
stand how the Ramoneg might poten-
tially eclipse their status of ephemeral
entertainers. 'He explained that the
show goes over just as well, if not bet-
ter, in Barcelone and Yokohama' as it
does in Manhattan and Detroit. Less

'Pleasant Dreams'

pretentions and fewer preconceptions,
you see.
Then he told me about a note he had
received from a pair of 13-year-old giels
who wanted to thank him for making
their first rock show so wonderful. "I
think that's just great", Joey ex-
plained, "I mean, we give them a real
rock and roll education. Just think what
could have happened. They could have
started with REO." Well, exactly. After
seeing the Ramones, it should be qu4e
difficult for anyone .to Jake R1
seriously. After all, REO is dumb; of r
the Ramones, dumbness is hard to l-
cept.

sun

N. &

PHOTO
(AMATEUR AND COMMERCIAL
PHOTO FINISHING)

-- 7-7-
Gadget Bag Sale ;

ri
U4

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Off

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Sale ends Nov. 27

a

Photo by DEBORAH LEWIS'
Sure; you can dance to them, but what do they

The Ramones:
really mean?

brings us back to the idea that they're
dumb. You see, dumbness will only get
you so far (i.e., approximiately 4
albums) before it begins to seem
redundant and reactionary. So the
Ramones have taken on the challenge
of proving they can get a larger audien-
ce while regaining their old fans by
"branching out".
The strategy for doing so has con-:
sisted of three stages: First, strengthen
the image by romanticizing it. Enter
Rock and Roll High School: a great
film, but' not up to the task of winning
over either target audience. You see,
the Ramones don't appeal to the Riff
Randall or Tom Roberts types, except
on the level of a joke. Joey Ramone,

at all. As Dee Dee says, "I don't even
count that as a real Ramones album,
man. Like, I mean, it wasn't us, ya
know man?"
So now we get to step three: Pleasant
Dreams, the new disc, wherein the
Ramones get serious. "Ain't gonna take
it/It's our time/We want the world and
we want it now/ ... We want the air-
waves." Or, as Joey told me, "We just
had. to' get a little more direct. We
couldn't afford to be subtle anymore".
Pleasant Dreams my ass. The ominous
shadow on the cover reveals the caustic
nature of that title, if the music inside
isn't enough evidence. This album is not
happy, and neither are the Ramones.
Nowhere to be found is the hopeful

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by "Scoop" Weiss
In yet another step aimed at
carryng out his "smaller is
good" platform, President
Harold Sha- 0o terd'
annr
ti-

metaphysical poetry. Such comments
may work in the classroom, but on the
streets, smart-aleck remarks cost
lives.
"Face it, a six year old with a butter
knife could control your every'move,"
Frye warned tU new alums. "Try
I eowu or ill him about
sa s boli, in

The LSA Internship Program-
Will Be Accepting Applications
for Summer and Fall Internships, 1982
October 12-Aoolications Available

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