Carbona Makes Me Sentimental
Published on Saturday, 16 April 2011 20:00
Written by BobFreville
"Hanging out all by myself 'cause I don't want to be
with anybody else. I just want to be with you. I just
want to have something to do...tonight."-The Ramones
It's April 15th, the day Joey Ramone left this world and, as punk rock loyalists move balefully toward the Bowery for the anniversary of his death, I stand in my tool shed, slugging from a bottle of Malibu Caribbean Rum, in my studded bracelet, and ponder the sad state of modern music. It seems that the punk rock aesthetic has as much influence on its so-called contemporary successors
as democracy had on our old friend Ronnie Reagan. In fact, I'll go out on a limb here (before my own limbs give out from under me) and say that even the best and brightest of the new crop cannot even be rightly classified as punk, most of them sharing more in common with that impotent, manic depressive castrato Morrissey than they do with your Dead Kennedys or Sex Pistols. The modern bunch are Emo (to put it nicely)...or pseudo-punk, at best. And if anyone feels a rebuttal coming on, I've got two words for 'em: Avril Lavigne. She is the dawta of Punk in the 21st Century.
But this is good because what these gifted newbies have really done is built a metaphorical wall betwixt Then and Now. And so it is that no music listener or critic worth his or her salt can ever place them in a category with the far more eminent artists of yesteryear. Which is not to say that talent of efficacy does not reside within the contrived and skewered confines of nu-metal or new rock. On the contrary, there has been, in the past few years, a resurgence of melodic genius and lyrical depth with the arrival of such trailblazers as System of a Down, Incubus, Linkin Park, a perfect circle and (for 90's nostalgia's sake) 311. But where are they now? You won't even find them on Reality TV...but you have seen Johnny Rotten on the very same.
The problem, as I see it, is that not one of them possesses even a minute modicum of the austere cheekiness, spirit, playfulness and almost innocent life-embracing ironic wit that made bands like The Ramones (or, maybe, just The Ramones) so fantastic. The only group that has even come close is Tenacious D (for reasons that you'll never understand unless you thoroughly study their comedy). And I don't blame them nor do I think it makes any of them lesser "artistes". I mean, after all, it's like they always say, There can be only one. Surely, that is why the Bowery will be overrun by cretins and animal boys and acid eaters and all other sorts of pimply, bearded, devil-may-care misfits on April 15th, and why a memorial outside the famous CBGB's will not be touched or tarnished by fans or detractors...if only it existed in anything other than some L.A. boutique-cum-time-capsule anymore. Because vandalism or disgrace or intervention of any other kind would surely be a crime against God and Music and Life and all that is sacred or wonderful on this melting pot we call our scorched earth.
I think I was about ten or eleven years of age when I discovered the cult Roger Corman-Allan Arkush classic "Rock & Roll High School" (the movie). Consequently, I was also discovering my penis and the joys of nerve-paralyzing household inhalants. What better time to find such a cognizant example of human hormones gone haywire on booze, drugs and rock n' roll, eh? I had a habit in those days of watching a video thirteen to twenty times a week if I saw something appealing about it. RARHS was no exception; if anything, it was an even greater example of infatuation.
Since I had this unfortunate attachment to "masterpiece" theater, I probably spent more time in the local video stores than I did in school or any other "important, life-molding youth institution." It was a year after my family's move from Bayside, Queens to Lindenhurst (in Long Island, NY), and this pre-adolescent phase of watching flicks time after time still hadn't gone away. As a result, my parents had to shell out close to eighty dollars a week in rental fees.
It was here, at a low-rent little place called Castle Video, that I met a dude who would change my life (or maybe just my sense of what is good musically) forever. A lot of seedy, disheveled and rugged types passed in and out of the store on a daily basis, types ranging from a bearded woman to a five-hundred pound man with halitosis and Elton John sunglasses. So you'll understand that I wasn't particularly concerned when I saw a skinny, long-haired white boy in his early-thirties come in wearing a black leather jacket and faded blue jeans. But then something weird happened, the outspoken and badly dressed counter chick-herself at least nine years the long-hair's senior-came tumbling over her desk and nearly knocked over the Special Interest display with her cellulite-ridden potato ass. She had a crazed, almost parasitic look in her eyes...like a rabid hartebeest or a sex-hungry cheetah with a Jersey girl hairdo.
"C.J.!" she screamed. "Where ya been, man? We don't see you very often any more! What's up, dude? What's up?!" You must understand, though, that her pitch was much more feverish and all the elements of her voice much more fanatical and excited. Each sentence formed one gigantic word that made her come off like a desperate STD-stricken nymph spotting the man holding the cure.
My mother was tight with this oddball woman, for what reason I will never know. So she was standing nearby when the noise started and looked noticeably embarrassed. Then the screwy bitch on long-hair's dick turned her wide eyes on madre, presumably because she noticed mom's curious gaze.
She introduced us. "Cheri, this is C.J. We met through [person's name withheld] at [club's name withheld]. C.J.'s the bassist for The Ramones." Normally, enthusiasm was about as hard to get out of me as shit is to get out of the anus of a full-bore speed demon. But all it took were those two words-The Ramones-and I perked up like somebody had shot me full of liquid fire. I rushed over, started saying "man" this and "Aw, cool" and "man" that. And then I nearly toppled the display running around the store. I disappeared deep into the comedy section to do some hunting and then returned a nano-second later holding a copy of "Rock & Roll High School".
"This is you guys, huh?"
C.J. feigned an 'Awww! Isn't this portly pre-teen cute?' smile just long enough to say "Yeah, that's The Ramones all right." Then he returned to the conversation already in progress...which did not include me.
"But where are you?" I frowned. "Is this you?" I pointed to an illustration of Vincent Van Patten, the movie's star dork, on the video's box.
"No," he said, deigning to speak to me now without sounding like an asshole to his groupie and my mother. "I wasn't in it, it was made before I joined the band."
I could see that his appreciation for my interest in his musical career was waning, due most likely to the hard-on he was harboring. He was a sick, demented fuck with a fetish for mutants, and the counter clerk would have to do, at least until the band started touring again in promotion of their next album. But his growing animosity and the subtle hint of horniness in the air (which, even at twelve or thirteen, I could see and smell from a mile away) only added to my newfound Obsession. The Ramones had their latest fan!
From that point on, for the better part of five or six years, I collected anything Ramones-related I could get my hands on. I spent every allowance, every paycheck and every holiday gift certificate on amassing a larger collection for myself. Generally, when a person becomes this steeped in fandom, it can only be unhealthy and Lord knows, in retrospect, it was definitely something that more people should have been scoffing at. But it taught me a lot about star fucking and the dangers that lie therein for the crazed listener. It also taught me that, while some love affairs with favorite rockers or stars can lead only to some future form of disappointment or emotional torture, others are the most rewarding and eye-opening experiences one will ever cull from this morbid existence we carve out for ourselves.
"What are you trying to say, I'm crazy? When I went to
your schools, when I went to your churches, when I went
to your institutional learning facilities? So how
can you say I'm crazy?!"-Suicidal Tendencies
I will spare you the maudlin, drool-laden details of my careful statewide search for early Ramones vinyl and the violence that ensued when a family member had the nerve to insult Joey, the band's legendary singer, to my face, and I'll just get a little closer to the End...even though there isn't really one in sight when I'm talking about the Greenwich Village Vikings of Underdog Pop Rock. Yes, C.J. was just another dude and he didn't embody the true spirit of the original line-up, but that didn't matter because he made my day, he made my whole junior high school career. Just think of him as the catalyst for a very important life-altering discovery; Once I fell into dislike or even pure hatred with those who were a couple of grades ahead of me, the only solace a boy from the bi-polar Brady Bunch could find was in the words, gestures and apathetic solecisms of Joey Ramone & His Rogues.
The first lesson I took from the attitude and storytelling in their music was simple: If they hate you, let them hate you. But give them a better, more creative reason to. And so it was that the pariah transmogrified into the punk. I snarled and sneered and showed up at assembly in a leprecaun hat with green lipstick on my face and a biker jacket hugging my protruding gut. I was a Ramone acolyte, a practicing Ramonian and even if it didn't totally relieve the stressors and depression of being an emotionally troubled and grossly overweight teenager, at least I didn't let people see it getting to me. I had Joey as my rock, the older brother and role model that I was sorely lacking at home and in school.
I was a very laconic kid then, hardly ever uttering a word unless somebody asked me a question or wanted to know my opinion. And even then, it was hard to get much out because of self-consciousness and the fact that folks generally expected me to unload like a pre-Columbine incident. So when some dildo shit questioned the value of The Ramones as a band, I would usually just go off on them without putting any careful thought into how I could have handled the situation verbally. If those people asked me today, I would probably say "I don't know, but they were the only group that could ever make me feel genuinely happy about the world...that and I had a fat chubby for P.J. Soles in 'Rock & Roll High School'."
Perhaps my appreciation of their music would be received better today now that my classmates are grown up and three key members of the original Ramones roster-Joey, Johnny and original bassist Dee Dee, respectively-have taken a dirt nap. That saddens me because it seems like a trend, if not a worldwide one then definitely an American one; Stanley Kubrick wins critics over with his posthumously released and way over-hyped "Eyes Wide Shut" and, subsequently, a DVD Box Set is distributed to every Blockbuster. But why? Because the world always knew him to be the vanguard of the highest echelon of visionary filmmakers, or because he bought the farm before his final film was finished?
The same can be said about so many people, from Emily Dickinson to Alfred Hitchcock and even, in some strange ways, the already-famous Kurt Cobain. Now Joey Ramone has a street named after him in NYC and mainstream radio stations play old hits like "I Wanna Be Sedated" every rainy weekend. Shit, they even used "Beat on the Brat" in Adam Sandler's Billy Madison.
I try not to let this bother me because I picture Joey Ramone adrift in a crystalline area of some ethereal Alicante, looking back or even down and just having a good, hearty laugh. Which is what he must have been doing in 2001 when he died of lymphoma cancer at the age of 49. Don't believe me, just look at the cover he chose to put on his final solo album...
"I see skies of blue, clouds of white
The bright blessed day, dark sacred night
And I think to myself, what a wonderful world...
...I hear babies crying, I watch them grow
They'll learn much more than I'll ever know.
And I think to myself, what a wonderful world."
It is that strength, attitude and complete disregard for convention (have you heard Joey's version?) that have made me what I am today. And that may not be much, in the eyes of many people, but it's the only hubris I will ever claim to have and the only life-long effect I can honestly say music has had on me. The Ramones' rave-ups and three-chord assaults on orthodox rock have kicked my balls, as I am sure they have kicked yours. And if you haven't heard it before, then you belong in psycho therapy for the rest of your gnarly life, my friend.
When I listened to my first Ramones LP "Leave Home", I felt like Ali Baba, a true fortune finder, like I had excavated the greatest wealth in the land. That feeling is still in me today, though more subdued. All I have to do is throw on "Chinese Rock" or "Teenage Lobotomy" or revel in Joey's adorable mispronunciation of the word massacre in a song like "Chainsaw" and my spirit is aggrandized and that sense of great plunder from the annals of rock history returns to me, surging through my weathered veins.
Christopher James Ward (C.J. Ramone) may have preferred pussy over the adoration of a pubescent freak, but that doesn't make him any less of a Ramone. If anything, it makes him that much more of one. And now that his old side projects Los Gusanos and Bad Chopper have disbanded, I advise all subterraneans to check out what fragment of living Ramonia may still course through his body. He just may be playing some fourth-rate watering hole near you.
The important thing to remember when sightings of multi-colored mohawks and assorted freakazoids in chains hold you up in traffic at East 2nd and Bowery is that a very esteemed guest that once lived in this world is being ushered back in for a tearful event. The same should go for the entity's birthday on May 19th at the Bowery Ballroom. If you don't like it, get some ear plugs.