RocknRoll, part one
The first time I went to see the Ramones it was sold out and I didn't get in. It was at the Living Room and Wall of VooDoo was opening up, because the late 80s were a weird time where Wall of VooDoo had funny hair and a song that people knew at one time and the Ramones were Punk Rock, so why not. And the Living Room was the mecca of the late 80s and early 90s for me. There were plenty of other places I saw rocknroll at the time in Providence and Boston, some lost and more fondly less than forgotten, but the Living Room was the place for me. Maybe because it was where I caught my first few club shows (Nina Hagen and Bad Brains were among the first shows I made it into), but mostly because it was the kind of place where you were supposed to see loud, sweaty music. It was basically a biggish warehouse space in a rundown part of Providence with excellent sight lines, a stage that was high enough to see the band but not set back from the crowd, and it smelled like beer and cigarettes and sweat.
There would be no Ramones for me that night. Eventually I would seem them at the Living Room, and the Channel, which was basically a less charming version of the Living Room on the waterfront in Boston. And maybe a time or two besides that. And they were okay.
By the time I saw them, Dee Dee was off making rap records, any chance of having a big hit record had passed them by, and they were well into their second decade of playing night after night of too many places that smelled like beer and sweat and cigarettes. The times I saw them, it sounded like they were fighting a losing battle against the more rigid hardcore bands that were playing harder and faster than the Ramones had played more than a decade before. They played the songs too fast, losing the melody that laid at the heart of their greatness.
But I never felt disappointed when I saw them. Sure, there was always that slight hope in the back of my head that they would slow down just a hair, give the songs the full muscle they deserved without having the gas pedal pushed all the way down.
Still, I was paying homage. It was the Ramones (even without Dee Dee) and there has never been a band I have loved more than the Ramones.
There are bands I have liked more. There are bands that, if I were to be completely honest to myself, have even done the thing the Ramones have done at least as well as the Ramones did it. There have been periods where I haven't listened to the Ramones. I get why there are people who dislike the Ramones. Or think they are juvenile and are something to be outgrown. I get that most of the songs kind of sound the same (close to a perfect sound, but often the same just the same). The Ramones have never been my favorite band or recorded my favorite album, and somewhere in there there is a further discussion about what is great and what is loved.
All that said, there has never been a band I have outright loved more.
Because they believed. They truly believed they were playing popular music, music that the kids loved. They played three minute pop songs in 90 seconds as loud as they could. For long enough, they believed the Top 40 was right around the corner. Sure, they would eventually make some concessions in their weird grab for fame. Recording with Phil Spector. Making a goofily bad movie. But they were still always the Ramones, no matter what they did.
Sure, their music was an act, but it was one they believed in wholeheartedly. Shit, I even believe that near the end, Dee Dee believed Dee Dee King would be as big as Run-DMC.
As a young kid, I believed in the Ramones as much as they believed in themselves. As far as I was concerned, there was no band that was bigger than the Ramones. I could give a shit about who they've influenced or what their place in music has been or will continue to be. I know that when I hit play on It's Alive or Rocket to Russia, they earned every drop of sweat that came their way.