Squawk Radio

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Liz Rocks the Blog

I read somewhere that, in the mid-1970s, on the eve of Punk Rock taking America by storm, the Ramones were perfectly situated to be the band that led the attack. Unfortunately, just before a crucial concert that would have given the Ramones enormous public exposure, lead man Joey Ramone injured his throat and wasn’t able to perform--for months. So the Sex Pistols moved in to take America by storm instead, and they consequently became the emblem for that musical movement. Which was kind of a shame. No offense to the Sex Pistols, who I also love, but they were more about the image than they were about the music. And Punk was a movement that deserved better, in my opinion.

Because it really was about the music. In defiance of Disco and a host of bland pop and rock bands that marked the ‘70s (and as a member of the class of ‘79, I can assure you that much of the music of that period left A LOT to be desired), Punk was like Cher in the movie “Moonstruck,” when she smacks Nicholas Cage and says, “Snap out of it!” It was just so in-your-face and so refreshing coming amid a sea of safe, inoffensive, unchallenging music, that it was impossible to ignore.

And, BOY, did I snap out of it. “Rocket to Russia” changed my life. Truly. The moment I heard it as the Midnight Album on a local FM station in 1977, I knew I was about to embark on a new musical journey. Because I realized then that if there was one band like the Ramones out there shaking things up, there must be more. And I made it my personal quest to find them, even if I was living in Louisville, Kentucky, and satellite radio was still decades away. Thus was born my determination to root out good music wherever it might lay.

“Rocket to Russia” is so good in so many ways, and it’s an excellent introduction to the joys of Punk Rock. Where the Clash were marked by their politics, and other Punk bands by their determination to offend, the Ramones just liked to play music. Joey Ramone was an unapologetic lover of Bubblegum pop and always included Punk versions of such songs in their repertoire. For “Rocket to Russia,” it’s “Surfin’ Bird” and “Do You Wanna Dance?” But the original tunes are also surprisingly melodic and quite, quite danceable. Not to mention ALL the Ramones--Johnny, Dee Dee and Tommy (at least for a couple of albums)---were very good musicians. That can’t be said of all Punk bands, alas.

Oh, there’s social commentary, too, as evidenced by songs like “We’re a Happy Family” and “Teenage Lobotomy,” but those songs are so funny, you can’t help but love them. For the most part, the selections on this album are just imbued with the band’s obvious affection for Rock ‘n’ Roll in its purest form--as an expression of teen angst and rebellion, and the desire of every young generation to have music to call its own.

The Ramones and bands like them kept the music of my generation from degenerating into blandness and uniformity. They kept ME from degenerating into blandness and uniformity. And for that, I will always be grateful.
Elizabeth Bevarly, 12:23 PM