Everyist Blogcast: Teenage Lobotomy (with guest Risha from Read Me Anything)

then and now- risha

Looking back on my entries in this blog, and other blogs I’ve had in the past, I’ve noticed that a lot of energy is spent on figuring out exactly what songs mean to me, and why they ended up being part of my personal canon. Were they simply forced into my life by virtue of their overwhelming ubiquity, or did I personally pick them and place them there? I also find myself examining my earliest writing, and being equal parts amused and horrified by the ways in which I’ve chosen to document my existence in this big old rock. Music and memories. This is what we’re discussing in this new installment the sporadically-updated podcast portion of the site. Joining me this time around is my friend Rishita Nandagiri.

Risha and I met through a website called Twenty-Something Bloggers, which is a blogging community that my friend Rease convinced me to join several years ago (and proceeded to completely abandon shortly thereafter). 20SB, as the name implies, is a group of bloggers uniting under the shared experience of the itching uncertainty of our 20s, as well as a near-pathological need to document every little thing in the form of a blog post. Like every online community made up of semi-anonymous strangers, there’s good and there’s bad. At its best, it’s a vibrant community of like-minded, creative individuals sharing ideas and gently nudging each other towards some kind of path. At its worst, it can feel like a bunch of needy sycophants trying to make themselves famous, toppling over each other in a mad scramble to be the one voice that cuts through the fog and becomes The Next Big Thing. It can be both things, and can lead to some interesting connections, which makes it more than worth the time spent in its forums and (now woefully neglected) chatroom.

Risha has a fantastic blog named You Can Read Me Anything, and also hosts a podcast of her own, The Quietude. She’s also one of the brightest people I know. I invited her to have a conversation with me about music and memories, and was thrilled when she accepted. As per usual, I tasked her with putting together a playlist of songs to share. Risha and I are in similar places in life: entering our late 20s and not quite certain of what exactly we’re doing, tracing steps back in the sand behind us. As such, she picked six songs from +/- ten years ago, to test out whether they still held up to scrutiny or if they were simply a proximity infatuation.

Here are the songs Risha selected:

Placebo- “English Summer Rain”
The Arcade Fire- “Neighborhood #2 (Laika)”
Ratatat- “Seventeen Years”
Camera Obscura- “Teenager”
Modest Mouse- “Float On”
Wolfman feat. Pete Doherty- “For Lovers”

Click the embedded player below to listen to our conversation. Do it.


Download link: http://jorgefarah.files.wordpress.com/2014/09/risha.mp3


BoJack Horseman and the Art of Dropping the Ball

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I can’t stop thinking about BoJack Horseman.

And it’s not like I think Netflix’s original animated series about a washed-up sitcom star who happens to be a talking horse is any good. In fact, I… I kinda hated it. At first, I hated it with some hesitation, remembering that a lot of comedies don’t really find their footing until well into their initial season, when the characters are already established and there’s a solid foundation to build on. But then, when I realized that it really wasn’t going to miraculously get a million times funnier, I just plain hated it. Realizing that I was already past the mid-season mark, and that I was somewhat invested in this stupid fucking show and its cardboard cutout cast of characters, I kept watching. And I continued to hate it.

So why did I hate it so much? And why can’t I stop thinking about it a full week after I finished it? And– perhaps most pressing a question– why have I rewatched several episodes multiple times?

The premise is simple. BoJack Horseman is the abrasive, alcoholic, self-destructing former TV star trope personified– part Charlie Sheen, part Bob Saget. His glory days are well behind him at this point, and his career has grown stagnant. He spends his days in a drunken stupor, watching reruns of his old sitcom to catch last lingering vestiges of his former glory. In an effort to revitalize his career, he teams up with a ghostwriter to release an autobiography. He has a slacker roommate. He has a snarky ex-girlriend who is also his agent. He’s a callous prick with a heart of gold. Based on all this information I’ve provided you, you can pretty much figure out how the show is gonna go– to a T. It’s been done. Everything about this premise has been done before, a thousand times, by a hundred better movies and TV shows. In fact, the one thing separating BoJack Horseman from every other hacky sitcom pilot you’ve ever seen is that it takes place in a world where humans and anthropomorphic animals coexist as equals. A huge chunk of the humor that works is derived from this, and aside from the immensely talented voice cast, it’s what keeps it from being a complete failure.

The main problem with BoJack Horseman is that, much like its insipid premise, the comedy is utterly uninspired. It’s like someone who watched one too many seasons of Archer decided to “take a stab at this adult cartoon thing”, without realizing they lacked the wit and cleverness to pull it off. It all feels very constructed; characters speak in meticulously crafted one-liners that seem like they were written for the sole purpose of becoming gifs on tumblr. In the social media age, where the average denizen of “weird twitter” is more interesting and insightful than most TV writers, this kind of ham-handedness seems particularly contrived and off-putting. The jokes plod along and, with the exception of the aforementioned animal gags, there is hardly a laugh to be found throughout the entire season– which is, you know, kind of a big deal when you’re ostensibly a wacky cartoon comedy.

And yet…

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What works about BoJack Horseman, works so fucking well. It’s infuriating. You want to quantify it and put it on a pie chart and point at it aggressively with a stick and yell at the writers’ face. “LOOK. LOOK HERE. THIS IS GOOD. THIS WORKS. DO MORE OF THIS.”

The show is at its best when it prioritizes the bittersweet character moments over superficial yuk-yuks. It’s like, if you stripped away all the rapid-fire Charlie Sheen comedy, it would work really fucking well as a wistful drama– and I’m in full knowledge of how ridiculous that sounds when talking about a cartoon about a talking horse. But BoJack Horseman almost feels like it was meant to be a drama– like somebody took the basic scripts for a somber live-action IFC drama about the futile nature of human relationships, made it a cartoon and filled it with animal jokes and soon-to-be-horrifically-outdated pop culture references. Either that, or whoever wrote BoJack– Wikipedia reliably informs me it’s somebody by the name of Raphael Bob-Waksberg, which sounds made up– just wanted to write an incredibly bleak story about failure and utter despondency, and was forced by a bunch of execs to half-assedly shoehorn a bunch of tepid FX comedy into it. Clearly that’s not actually the case, but it’s how it comes across sometimes.

Ultimately, BoJack Horseman is a show about disappointment. Every character seems to be unsure of their place in the world, ill at ease with their current station in life, always feeling like they’re not quite doing what they’re supposed to be doing, hurling towards a certain doom. My favorite episode of the season is “Say Anything”, which focuses on BoJack’s tenacious yet long-suffering manager/ex-girlfriend as she deals with capricious directors, fickle movie stars, opportunistic rivals and BoJack’s own proclivity towards self-sabotage. At the end of the ingeniously crafted 25-minute-long episode, she’s dealt with every crisis and expertly solved every issue, but she’s left alone in an office with no one to celebrate with. In a genuinely touching sequence at the end of the episode, she gazes longingly out of her office window into the Hollywood night sky as Lyla Foy’s “Impossible” plays. She gets a cell phone notification. “Happy birthday, Princess Carolyn. You are 40.”

There’s a sadness which permeates the entirety of season 1. There’s the feeling that, for each of these characters, time is quickly running out as they scramble for that thing– that dream project, that book, that million-dollar idea– that will finally earn them some semblance of significance, that’ll give some meaning to the madcap struggle. In the parlance of the times, I know that feel. As I approach the end of my twenties, as I stare at my growing pile of unfinished projects, as I struggle to come up with ways to explain to my friends why that script that I sold hasn’t gotten made yet, it all condenses into a subdued shrug and a weary smile and the knowledge that all I can do is keep trying. That there’s something big about to happen, but it’s just out of reach, just over this hillside. The very best moments of BoJack Horseman tap into that feeling, and– especially towards the very end of the season– it’s sweetly poignant.

Netflix Original Series continue to be an exciting idea that hasn’t quite lived up to its promise. Between the wacky (and tonally inconsistent) antics of Orange is the New Black, the tawdry soap-opera proceedings of House of Cards and now BoJack’s failed comedy, I remain unimpressed by a medium that has all the promise in the world. I really wanted to like BoJack Horseman. I really did. But then, I guess for a show about disappointment, it’s only fitting that I’m so frustratingly underwhelmed.


Everyist Blogcast: Elvis Costello Special 60th Birthday Extravaganza!

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This kid is 60 years old today. What?!

That’s right, folks. The gangly, acerbic, perennially-at-odds-with-himself young man is now a veritable elder statesman of song, and may soon be transitioning to a new career of yelling at kids to get off his lawn. No, but seriously, Elvis Costello is 60. Isn’t that crazy? Doesn’t that make you think about your own mortality? It should.

Regardless, I am a massive fan of EC, so I thought I’d take this opportunity to dedicate him his very own podcast episode. So what we have here is a SPECIAL ELVIS COSTELLO BLOGCAST– two and a half hours of Elvis Costello music and chat! Featuring over 30 songs, mostly overlooked gems, alternative versions and live performances that you won’t find on a Greatest Hits. It’s sweet, man. A Costellian dream.

Click here to listen:

Download link: https://jorgefarah.files.wordpress.com/2014/08/full-pod.mp3

I also invited a few other writers and podcasters to contribute, chiming in with their own favorite Elvis songs. Here’s the list of contributors, in the order in which they appear in the podcast:

David Jones is a cartoonist, writer and Chief Creative Officer for Third Street, based out of Chicago. Find him on Twitter. Also here’s his website.
Nikki is the host of the excellent Everything and the Kitchen Sink podcast. Listen to it here, and find her on Twitter.
Graeme Thomson is a Scottish journalist and biographer who’s written books on Elvis Costello, George Harrison and Kate Bush. Find him on Twitter and check out his official website.
Kevin Davis is an author and musician from Peoria, IL. You might remember Kevin from the guest post he wrote for this website about Elvis Costello’s North, or from the time I interviewed him on the podcast about his book Mystery Pill. I don’t think Kevin is on Twitter, but this is his blog.
Jeremy Dylan is a filmmaker and podcaster from Australia, host of the excellent podcast My Favorite Album and director of the documentary Jim Lauderdale: The King of Broken Hearts. Find him on Twitter.
John Qualls is a musician from Huntington, New York. He plays in the band Costello’s Flying Circus, performing covers from all periods of Elvis Costello’s career. Check them out on Facebook.
Connor Ratliff is a comedian and performer at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre in NYC and on The Chris Gethard Show,. He does a podcast called 12 Hour Day With J.D. & Connor. Each episode is literally 12 hours long, and recorded in real time. Check out his website and find him on Twitter.
Alexandra Naughton is a poet based out of San Francisco. She’s the author of I Will Always Be Your Whore: Love Songs For Billy Corgan, runs Be About It Press, hosts That Lit Podcast and blogs at The Tsaritsa Sez,

I am debating whether I should post a full tracklist of the show. Kind of feel like that would take away some of the “fun” of listening to a project like this. Well, if I make my mind up I’ll post it below. In the meantime, happy listening and happy birthday, Elvis!

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Everyist Blogcast: Working Out All of Our Kinks (with guest Nick Nagy)

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The world lies torn asunder by hate. Rivers run red with blood as brother turns on brother, streets crowded with dissent, thousands of angry limbs thrown in protest against a system built on oppression and dehumanization, rigged in the favor of suited-up settlers and thieves. In every corner of the globe we see it: war, injustice, famine, pestilence and death. Anger turns to terror, then to total crippling despondency. In light of all this plight, what do we turn to? What can we do? What is there left?

Well, we spend an hour and change talking about rocknroll records.

In this edition of the Every ist and Every ism Blogcast, I’m joined by musician Nick Nagy. Known to his friends as Mr. Multitask, Nick is a Pennsylvania singer-songwriter with a penchant for melody and bizarre puns. He’s also a fervent fan of The Kinks, and we decided to dedicate an entire podcast episode to the exploration and discussion of the work of Ray Davies and company. Of course, this being my podcast, we also digress into a lengthy discussion about boners. Par for the course.

Nick dug up six excellent Kinks tunes to showcase for this podcast. Go buy them. Explore. Immerse yourself in the richness of their back catalogue. Carve out a spot for these songs in your daily life, where they can nestle in comfortably among the old-faithfuls. The song selection is as follows:

“Underneath the Neon Sign” (from Soap Opera, 1975)
“Oklahoma USA” (from Muswell Hillbillies, 1971)
“Art Lover” (from Give the People What They Want, 1981)
“King Kong” (B-side to the “Plastic Man” single, 1969)
“Acute Schizophrenia Paranoia Blues” (from Muswell Hillbillies, 1971)
“Scrapeheap City” (from Preservation Act 2, 1974)

In addition to these Kinks songs, Nick was also kind enough to share two of his own tunes– the breezy, wistful “Foot in My Mouth”, and the Kinks-inspired rave-up “Come On Home”. Stream our conversation by clicking the player below. Go on then. You know you want to. Cliiiiiiick it.

Be sure to check out Nick’s music on his soundcloud stream here. And listen to more Kinks.


Cover Songs That Decimate the Original in Just About Every Way: “Wild Horses” by The Sundays

sundayss

I tend to bristle at the idea of crediting an artist of performing the “definitive” version of someone else’s song. It just feels unfair to me, like it trivializes the craft of songwriting or renders it subservient to the performance. People are so smug about it, too. I know they’re not consciously doing it, but the kinds of people who heap that kind of praise upon someone who’s doing a cover version seem to treat them like they’re tearing down some dilapidated old structure and building a new, better song in its place. I dunno, it seems icky to me. A good cover version can be ten kinds of mind-bendingly beautiful, but not if the base song is absolute garbage. You’re shining a new light on an existing object, and it can bring out dimensions that weren’t immediately evident in plain sight, but unless you’re overhauling it, your work is to explore and expand.

That said, it’s hard to argue against the sheer deliciousness of British indie-pop band The Sundays’s gorgeously plaintive take on the Rolling Stones’s “Wild Horses”. The original is a real nice song, and I mean no disrespect to the Stones– though I’m not by any means a fan of theirs, I think there’s an undeniable level of craftmanship in their very best songs, and “Wild Horses” certainly falls in that category in my book. Thing is, I can’t really stand listening to the original. It drags and it plods and it’s a laborious country ballad with some lovely moments of tender sincerity but not much in the way of mellifluousness. Unlike the sheer magnifiscence of stately “Moonlight Mile”, which I wrote about a while ago, I find it difficult to sit through.

The Sundays version, though? A quietly transcendental arrangement of echoey, flickering-streetlight guitars over the silkiest acoustic base since Johnny Marr gave us “Please Please Please Let Me Get What I Want”, Harriet Wheeler’s beguiling vocals carrying us gently along. I love this version. I love it a thousand times more than it’d be physically possible for me to love the original. It’s more yearning, more wistful, more uncertain, just more of everything that I love about music They took a plodding trudge of a song and carved it into something that feels that much more real, more intimate; whispered words between lovers in the dead of the night, a shared moment from across the room, something existing quietly and gladly beyond any grand gesture. Not only do they elevate an already-solid song to new heights, they craft a new, distinct emotional space out of it, and spend the next four minutes and forty-five seconds loitering placidly within it.

And really, only a reading this sublime could make a line as dopey as “let’s do some living after we die” sound like anything other than a discarded Dashboard Confessional line circa 2003. I don’t care that this version was in a beer commercial and in the Buffy soundtrack. This is the version that defines the song for me. And it is glorious.

Listen to The Sundays teach the old coots how it’s done by clicking the embedded player link below.


Mr. Programmer, I’ve Got My Hammer: Five Ramones Gems Worth Revisiting

I was in the middle of writing this blog post when news broke that Tommy Ramone passed away. His death coincides quite freakishly with a sudden surge of enthusiasm for the Ramones’ music– I wrote about it last week–  that I have no real explanation for. This made me very sad. I really liked Tommy. He always struck me as the most mature of the Ramones. He lacked most of the neuroses and anxiety that seemed to afflict the rest of the band, so in a way it made a whole lot of sense to have him manning the drums. He may have only occupied that spot for a few years, but he played on their three biggest albums: Ramones, Leave Home and Rocket to Russia; albums that essentially kickstarted a musical revolution both stateside and abroad.

Those first three albums are absolute masterpieces. Though most folks will talk about that first record (and it is a fine record), my personal favorite is Leave Home, an album which more accurately reflects their live sound, without the pronounced channel separation of their debut. I wrote a bit about Tommy last week, and posted what I consider to be their greatest live document: a video of their legendary (and riot-inducing) 1977 performance in London’s The Rainbow. But I also wanted to discuss some of the unheralded Ramones classics that Tommy wasn’t a part of. Of course, everyone knows “I Wanna Be Sedated” and “The KKK Took My Baby Away”, but I thought I’d take a look at some of those later songs that nobody really talks about. So for your listening enjoyment, here’s recorded proof that the band just wouldn’t let up: five Ramones gems you probably haven’t paid much attention to.

“Questioningly” from Road to Ruin (1978)

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Easily the poppiest, most melodic, most unabashedly sugary out of all the songs from the first four albums (save for maybe their wonderful cover of Sonny Bono and Jack Nitzche’s “Needles and Pins”, but that’s a cover so it doesn’t count). This beautiful little number was overshadowed by other Road to Ruin cuts like “I Wanna Be Sedated” and “Don’t Come Close”, but to my ears it’s much more affecting. Penned by bassist Dee Dee (mind you, the same person who’d written earlier songs like “Now I Wanna Sniff Some Glue”), this song displayed a sense of romantic vulnerability that, while somewhat present in earlier songs, was buried under buzzsaw guitar riffs and ridiculously high tempos, as well as the band’s trademark sense of humor. There are no yuk-yuks here. This is a strikingly earnest song about regret, heartbreak and lost love, which is underlined by everything from Joey’s vocal performance to the song’s country-western ballad production flourishes. Johnny Ramone, the band’s guitarist and steadfast disciplinarian, reportedly hated the song.

Road to Ruin was meant to be the band’s big breakthrough in the US; they spent more time on it than on any of their previous albums, making sure the arrangements were lush and radio-ready. It only really became considered a classic in hindsight, after a remixed version of “I Wanna Be Sedated” for a Greatest Hits collection gave them some modest chart success in the mid-80s. When it came out in 1978, it received very little radio attention and lukewarm reviews. Mainstream radio’s indifference was a crushing blow to the band’s morale, and led directly to one of their most controversial  albums…

“I Can’t Make it on Time” from End of the Century (1979)

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In light of Road to Ruin’s disappointing chart performance, the band decided to work with their first celebrity producer, the legendary Phil Spector, on their follow-up album End of the Century. Look, this should have worked. Phil Spector, pop producer extraordinaire, a master at crafting songs that jump out and pull you in, inventor of the Wall of Sound. And the Ramones, a band whose vocal melodies were always deeply rooted in the radio pop of Spector’s era, and whose straight-ahead overdriven buzzsaw guitar attack was their own rudimentary approximation to Spector’s orchestrated Wall of Sound approach. This should have resulted in a pop album for the ages. This should have been the record that finally earned the Ramones some commercial success. This should have…  sounded better.

Unfortunately, the end result to the long and arduous recording sessions, fraught with tension and reportedly even threats of violence, was an album that neither matched the raw power of the Ramones nor approached the transcendental pop stylings of Spector’s best work. In fact, it clearly displayed that Spector had no idea how to produce hard rock music: the arrangements were a mess, the drum sound sloppy, and Johnny’s guitar paper-thin and anemic. The two songs were Spector’s approach actually worked were perhaps the album’s most famous tracks: lead single “Do You Remember Rockn’roll Radio” and the plaintive ballad “Danny Says”. The rest of the album sounds bad, even though the songs are good. Take “This Ain’t Havana”, for example, a rollicking two-minute blast with a ridiculously infectious melody that would’ve sounded amazing in Leave Home or Rocket to Russia. Or this song, my favorite song in the album, “I Can’t Make it on Time”, with its irrepressible shout-along chorus. Look past the tepid sound and you’ll find a stone-cold Ramones classic, and a great pop tune. This is true for the other songs as well. There’s a great album here, ill-served by the bizarre production choices of a veritable madman.

The saddest part? It didn’t even chart.

“I Can’t Get You Out of My Mind” from Brain Drain (1989)

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By 1989 the dream was dead. The Ramones had floundered for most of the 80s in an effort to gain commercial relevance within a pop culture landscape that had no space for their ilk. They had attempted big-name producers, recorded absurdly catchy songs, collaborated with some of the biggest artists of the decade yet continued to operate well below the radar. Aside from the aforementioned remix of “I Wanna Be Sedated”, their 80s singles were crushing radio bombs, and their albums were uneven; you had the choppy pop exuberance of Pleasant Dreams, the stripped-down proto-hardcore of Too Tough to Die, the bizarre mish-mash of punk rock and synthpop stylings of Animal Boy. Still, as much as their 80s discography felt like increasingly erratic attempts at radio success, each record yielded a few gems that approached the intensity and fun of their 70s output.

For my money, the best album from this turbulent period was its very last one: 1989’s Brain Drain. I purchased this at the height of my Ramones fandom, maybe about 14 years ago. This track was an instant favorite. “Can’t Get You Out Of My Mind” is a dark and feverish song about romantic obsession, with a suitably dramatic performance by Joey. It has about 9 words in it, because that’s all it needs to have. It captures the overall mood of the album, a dark and murky record filled with angry and desolate songs. From the impassioned opener “I Believe in Miracles”, to the sparse and deceivingly poppy “All Screwed Up”, through roaring numbers like “Learn to Listen” and “Zero Zero UFO”. It’s honestly one of my favorite Ramones albums, and one that rarely gets talked about.

(This was also Dee Dee’s last album with the band before he left to pursue his hilarious rap career.)

“Tomorrow She Goes Away” from Mondo Bizarro (1992)

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Dee Dee’s replacement was CJ Ramone, an enthusiastic young Marine who’d grown up a diehard fan of the band, and parfticularly of the man he was replacing. CJ felt, and sounded, like a breath of fresh air for a band that had grown creatively stagnant. CJ’s presence brought a much-needed levity to the group, which had become embittered and resentful towards each other. His studio debut with the band, 1992’s Mondo Bizarro, featured a band that sounded vibrant and hungry for the first time in many years. It contained some of the band’s catchiest songs in a decade: tracks like “Censorshit”, an open letter to Tipper Gore with a devilishly hooky chorus of “aw Tipper come on, ain’t you been getting it on?, Other highlights include the demented rave-up “The Job That Ate My Brain”, the soulful lament of “Poison Heart”, and the tender country ballad “I Won’t Let it Happen”. The songs were sharp, bright, well-crafted and with a healthy dose of macabre humor; this was a welcome change after the stark murkiness of their last couple of albums.

“Tomorrow She Goes Away” is probably my favorite track from the entire album, capturing the youthful enthusiasm of this era. There was a lot of that going on; the song “It’s Gonna Be OK”, a love letter to Ramones fans, featured the lines “got good feelings about this year; all is very well, CJ is here”. For the first time in years, the band was back to their early-career optimism, making public declarations about how this felt like they were at the precipice of something big, Well, they were. They just didn’t know it wouldn’t really include them. 

“Born to Die in Berlin” from Adios Amigos (1995)

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1994 was a big year for punk rock music in the United States. Green Day, The Offspring, Bad Religion, Rancid, NOFX– all bands that had been massively influenced by the Ramones– all attained a level of commercial success that had so far eluded the band that inspired them all. And even earlier, before that, the early 90s also saw an explosion of bands that were name-checking the Ramones in interviews: Soundgarden, Pearl Jam, Nirvana. It felt like the time was finally right for them; the pop culture landscape had caught up, people were finally listening to their brand of distorted, melodic, fast-tempo music. But… it wasn’t their music. Ramones guitars were all over the radio, yes, but it wasn’t the Ramones playing them. It was everybody else. It was bands that had been inspired by the Ramones approach. Meanwhile, their own albums Mondo Bizarro and Acid Eaters (a really great cover album featuring punked-up 60s songs) had failed to capture the public’s interest. People were just not paying attention. Success just wasn’t for them.

Adios Amigos was their farewell album. As the name implies, the band had decided to call it quits after decades of struggling commercially while being heralded by every rock musician and music critic as the greatest band in the world. They’d just had enough. And their last album reflected that; the songs were full of anger and bitterness, from “It’s Not For Me To Know” to “Take The Pain Away” and “She Talks To Rainbows”, it was a sound of a band that had had enough of giving their heart and soul to a public that just didn’t seem to care. It also kept some of the traditional Ramones pep and snarkiness, of course, but even those tracks seemed fatalistic: “I’ve Got a Lot to Say”, “Life’s a Gas” and their cover of the brilliant Tom Waits song “I Don’t Wanna Grow Up” (which sounded like it was written to be a Ramones song in the first place).

The Ramones finally received the recognition they deserved, yes, but many years overdue. Ramones t-shirts are a common sight these days, and it seems every indie band in the world has played a cover or two of their songs. The public seems to have a pretty good idea of who they were, thanks to books, films, television and the Internet. They finally permeated into pop culture. In their lifetime as a band, however, they were the start of something big, but went largely unheralded and ignored. The last song of Adios Amigos, and as thus the final track in the Ramones studio discography, is one of my all-time favorite Ramones songs, the furious “Born to Die in Berlin”. Roaring guitars over a plaintive, soulful chorus: “sometimes I feel I just can’t win”. The bloody, screaming death of a mighty beast.


… And Then There Were None. RIP Tommy Ramone.

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More than any other band I’ve ever called a favorite, loving the Ramones feels like a lifelong allegiance. You’re making a pledge as part of something bigger than yourself. You take a stand with the underdog– the rejected, the dejected, the downtrodden and beleaguered. You celebrate everything that is wrong with you and everything that makes this mess of an existence so uniquely beautiful. You laugh and you cry in equal measure, but you’re glad because you’re out there feeling. This is what made their music so vibrant and so enduring. In all its malformed simplicity and unabashed goofiness, it was loaded with heart. When you declare yourself a fan of this band, you know that it’s about more than the catchy and energetic tunes, but also the fact that the dysfunctional weirdos who made those tunes were able to rise above their maladies & sundry neuroses to make something this joyous.

I hesitate to talk about this kind of stuff because it sounds like exactly the kind of pseudo mystic bullshit that people come up with as a way to introduce themselves into the narrative of somebody else’s tragedy, but I think I’ve accumulated some goodwill in the pages of this here webrag. And let me also preface this by saying that I am 100% certain that this is nothing but a crazy coincidence; I don’t believe there are cosmic forces at play here, there’s no great wind upon which we are being carried, putting each factor into a specific order as part of some greater meaning. This is just what I consider to be a remarkable coincidence.

I love the Ramones. They are, and long have been, one of my all-time favorite bands. But sometimes I’ll go through long stretches of time– months, even years– when I just won’t feel like listening to their music. It’ll still be there in the background, I’ll still smile whenever I happen upon one of their songs, but I won’t actively seek them out. This is pretty reasonable; for as prolific as they were, there’s only so many times you can listen to the same bunch of albums, the slight variations in barr chord sequences over and over again. However, every once in a while, I’ll go into a Ramones frenzy; an extended period– usually weeks, sometimes months– when they’re all I’ll listen to. Whether it’s the later stuff or the old classics or the unfairly maligned middle period, I’ll go through these sudden bursts of Ramones enthusiasm where all I wanna hear is the sound of that buzzsaw guitar, those crude & angular basslines, and Joey’s soulful vocals singing teenage love songs or songs about getting lobotomies. Alright, now here’s the creepy part…

The last three of these Ramones frenzies have happened to coincide with the death of one of the original band members. No, I don’t mean it was their death that prompted me to listen to them– rather, I’ll have a sudden and inexplicable urge to listen to their music for weeks, at the end of which the news will come out that one of the four original members has bitten the dust. It happened first with Joey, during the early days of my Ramones fandom. Soon after that, Dee Dee. And a few years later, Johnny. And for the first time in years, I had one of these Ramones frenzies recently; for the last month or so, I’ve been listening through their full discography, and re-reading my books about them. I was even in the middle of writing a blog post about some of their overlooked gems (proof). And just a couple of hours ago, I find out that Tommy Ramone– their first drummer, and their last original member– has passed away at age 65. Beyond the sadness of his loss, I find this coincidence unnerving.

(I shared this phenomenon with a friend recently. “I’ve been listening to nothing but the Ramones for the last few days,” I said. “The last few times this happened, a band member has turned out dead.” “Maybe you should stop listening to them before you kill them all,” she joked. For the sake of remaining members Marky, Richie and CJ, maybe I should. Although they were not part of the original lineup, so perhaps they’re safe.)

Tommy was their drummer from 1974 to 1978, playing on their first three albums (their biggest and most influential). He was also a producer for several of their later albums, having left the band due to a distaste for touring. From everything that I’ve seen in interviews and read in books, he was a kind and funny guy, with a level of self-awareness that perhaps eluded the rest of the group. He wasn’t a showy drummer, but he understood exactly what his drumming needed to be. He understood that Ramones songs were really just pop songs set on fire. And since my upcoming post is about their overlooked gems (and there really aren’t any overlooked gems in their first 3 albums), it felt strange not to pay my respects to a man whose role in forming the band and setting them on their course contributed to the shaping of my teen years and my musical identity. So long, brother, and Gabba Gabba to you.

Here’s Tommy in his prime, playing a legendary gig with the Ramones at The Rainbow in London, 1977.


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