A while back I celebrated my long-delayed Karaoke debut. This took place appropriately enough in “Music City, USA”. Nashville certainly earns that title, covering as it does that wide stylistic expanse from Country to Western.*** Up on stage, S.Fo and I performed My Generation (my choice) and LA Woman (his choice). Both songs are probably revealing of something or other. Leafing through the giant binder full of songs, I flipped past one page with about a third of the page blacked out. At first, I just continued browsing, but the blackened section piqued my curiosity, compelling me back to figure it out. Wild Turkey in hand, doing my best darkened Honky-Tonk 1:00 a.m. Wednesday squint, I gradually began making out letters behind the magic marker. When the mystery was revealed, I was hit with a wave of queasiness. In a move confounding authoritarian jackassery with patriotism, someone had blackened out all the songs by The Dixie Chicks.
What reminded me of this funny and sad incident is the new story about Sweet Neo Con, the new Rolling Stones tune that tells president Bush what the Glimmer Twins really think of him. Now, instead of three young Southern women criticizing Bush, you have the full force of the British Rock ‘n Roll empire launching an attack. And funnily enough, the calls for burning their album in the street haven’t been heard. The calls to ban Start Me Up from football games. And while it’s generally true that bullies don’t like to pick on people their own size, I suppose I can imagine another defense, Scott McLellan informing us that “The United States does not interfere with the Rock and Roll of sovereign nations.”
So more often than not, Rock and Rollers are part of the VLWC, and of course most C&Wers are Ditto-Heads, but there are plenty of notable exceptions. We have the Dixie Chicks on the one hand, and Johnny Ramone on the other. We saw the documentary “The End of the Century” last night. If you’re the kind of person who has read “Please Kill Me”, you need to see this movie. Just like the book, the story of the Ramones is interesting and surprisingly sad. Much of the movie focuses on Johnny, for two practical reasons 1) he was still alive (unlike Joey) and 2) he wasn’t strung out (unlike Dee Dee). Joey had succumbed to Cancer at age 49. In 2001, Dee Dee ODed at age 49 in 2002, two months after the film wrapped, and Johnny made it all the way to 55, losing out to prostate cancer in 2004. Johnny comes off as a humorless, fairly bitter, generally not fun to be around kind of guy. Which is a shocker, but you realize that without his level-headed discipline, the never would have survived for as long as it did. Johnny was the enforcer. He made them practice, he made them dress alike, he made them tour like maniacs, he kept tight reins over their finances. And because they were all such complete misfits, they stuck together, realizing they would collapse without each other.
Even though they hated each other.
Johnny had a revealing and unfortunate Spinal Tapian moment when, reflecting on Dee Dee quitting the group, he utters words to the effect that the band would have been exactly the same with another bass player, another drummer and… another singer. For Johnny, it was all about Johnny. For the rest of us, of course, the Ramones are all about Joey. We already know what the Ramones would sound like with out Joey: Green Day, Blink 182 or take your pick of a few dozen other imitators. And I’m not buying any of them. Johnny and Joey’s bitterness had many sources, not the least of which was Johnny stealing Joey’s girl and marrying her. (The KKK took my baby away.) Politically, they were polar opposites with Joey playing the New York Jewish Left-wing Woody Allen type, and Johnny on the Right. Johnny took time to praise president Bush during the band’s induction in to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. But I like to think that at that moment, in Rock and Roll heaven, Joey and Rock ‘n Roll Jesus glanced at each other, rolled their eyes and smiled.
***Evidently, I never tire of that joke.