Of Cretins & Swollen Ballsacks

Like most people who were ever blown away by a life-changing piece of music, I remember exactly where I was and what I was doing when I heard my first Ramones song.

I was 12 years old. Having grown up listening mostly to the Great American Songbook and classical music, this new and exciting discovery of punk rock was absolutely blowing my mind. At the tender age of 12, my knowledge was limited. My favorite bands were Green Day and The Offspring– “Dookie” and “Smash” contained all the fist-pumping punk anthems of (pre)teen alienation with just the right amount of angst and silliness that I needed. And through those bands, I found The Ramones.

The first Ramones song I ever heard was The Offspring’s cover of “I Wanna Be Sedated”. They recorded it for a movie soundtrack– Idle Hands, this relentlessly kitschy late-nineties teen horror comedy starring a pre-Dark Angel Jessica Alba. I remember listening to that song and thinking, “this sounds too bouncy to be The Offspring. This sounds like a Green Day song” and pausing the credit sequence at the end to find out who had written the track. “Originally performed by The Ramones”. Now that I think of it, it’s oddly appropriate that my first taste of the Ramones came at the same time as my first glimpse at the woman who would serve as masturbatory fodder throughout a big chunk of my teens.

Speaking of balls, shortly after my 12th birthday I noticed an unnatural swelling of my ballsack. It had been bothering me for a few days but I ignored it, mostly thinking it had to do with how I was wearing my underwear. One day after hanging out with a few friends from the neighborhood I came back home and realized my balls were enormous and red and extremely painful. My mom took me to the doctor who quickly told me that I had an extra-testicular cyst in my scrotum. Exra-testicular meant the cyst wasn’t actually in my balls, thank God. While this was a huge relief, the fact that they were going to have to cut me open to remove the benign tissue was a shock to me, and I cried for hours that night– looking down at my nether region and weeping like a bitch at the thought of the butchering I was sure to suffer through.

The next morning I was sent in for surgery. It was smooth sailing, for the most part– I had some sort of allergic reaction to the anesthetics and had complications related to facial swelling and fever dreams. It was one long, nightmarish hell of a night. I survived.

The next few days were horrible. I couldn’t move, obviously, since my ballsack was still healing. The pain was the worst I’d ever felt, and the nights were spent crying in pain as I watched my Dragon Ball Z tapes over and over again. Of course, my dad helped me out in every single way he could, trying to keep me happy by getting me ice cream (because I’d watched enough sitcoms to know that ice cream is what you get after operations– nevermind the fact that my tonsils were still intact) and other goodies. One of those goodies was the Ramones album Adios Amigos.


I listened to that album on repeat for days. It was like a 35-minute rockn’roll history lesson. All my Offspring and Green Day albums were immediately rendered obsolete with the first few ripping chords blaring through my headphones like the screaming, bloody birth of rockn’roll. They were fun, they were aggressive, they were passionate and they were soulful. This wasn’t “When I Come Around”. This wasn’t “Pretty Fly For a White Guy”. This was no MTV boyband with guitars. None of my friends knew them. This was a whole other thing. This was my band. And they were my closest friends all through high school, along with other luminaries like Fat Mike, Elvis Costello, Robert Smith and Tom Waits.

Interestingly enough, the first Tom Waits song I ever heard was in that Ramones album– track 1, “I Don’t Want to Grow Up”. Of course, the punked-up Ramones version was a far cry from what I would be getting into a few years later when I found another one of my all-time favorite artists, but I just find it poetic somehow. Offspring-> The Ramones-> Tom Waits.

I remember what I did the night Joey Ramone died. I cried in my bed, feeling like a complete asshole for it. I read articles about him online. I scribbled his lyrics in my journal. I learned how to play “Cretin Hop” on the guitar. And I remember what I did the night Dee Dee died. I had just come home from a weekend trip to Cartagena with my family. I decided that night that I was never going to do heroin, and listened to “Poison Heart” on repeat for hours. When Johnny died, I played along with “Loco Live” and sat outside my record store alone at night, and then I came home and I blogged about it. My friends were dying. One by one.

To this day I credit the Ramones for saving me from the person I could’ve become back in high school; for opening my eyes and showing me some fantastic songs that have stuck with me through the years. For being the gateway into a world of ridiculous music, of a joyful defiance, of crushing humanity. For giving me the confidence to even consider that music was something that I could participate in as more than just a spectator.

Gabba gabba hey, brothers.

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