In 1976 I was eight going on nine, my mother loaded my three sisters, my cousin, myself her friend and her friends daughter into a station wagon and headed for Washington D.C. to celebrate the nations bicentennial. Yes, this was early July. Where the station wagon came from I have no idea, and how six kids and two adults along with the metric ton of clothes, games, toys, blankets, pillows and other sundries, I will never understand.
I was positioned in the back of the car along with the daughter of my mother’s friend. I really didn’t mind. It afforded me time to read, watch the world pass by backwards and I was quite comfortable lying on my sleeping bag with my head resting on my pillow. Even though it was hot as Hades back there, for I don’t think the car had air conditioning or if it did, the cool air never reached as far back into the vehicle where I was stationed.
I do remember occasionally playing car bingo, watching my cousin who had strep throat and decided eating potato chips was a good idea gets his ass whipped by my mom. I recall reading multiple books, playing cards, eating peanut butter and jelly sandwiches out of a cooler and sipping luke warm milk. When I was tired, I slept, that is until the girl who was relegated to staying in the back with me got sick. This was not a fun thing, no matter how much we cleaned the car, the stench of vomit could not be removed, even with the windows open and a sixty mile rush of air fought for superiority over the obnoxious aroma.
As for the music on the radio… I can’t recall, I wish I could, but if there was anything playing on the old AM/FM receiver either I didn’t like it and blocked it out, or it was never turned on. I believe the former is true rather than the latter. Simply because as far back as I can aI was interested in rock and roll and my family… pop music. Therefore, if any music was played, it was most likely pop and I blocked the offensive melodies from invading my mind.
The trip, where we stayed, what I did to get my ass whipped by my mother in front of Abraham Lincoln and the endless nights of sneaking out into suburbia with my cousin are tales for another time. Instead, let us now hope into a time machine and fast forward a bit… to the year 1979. A year where my musical tastes changed with a simple decision.
Late August, early September of 1979, living in Green Bay, Wisconsin the air steadily cooling one never left home without a light weight jacket and I was no exception. My motley crew of pals and I spent those last days of freedom riding our bikes, shooting our bb guns, listening to rock music and scoring cigarettes where we could. We were all trying to make the most of the last vestiges of summer. Late night pool hopping parties, sleep over’s in the rafters of our respective garages where no real sleep ever took place, and chasing after girls even though our attention span was that of a fleeting gnat and if any of us really managed to garner the attention of someone of the fairer sex, we certainly wouldn’t know what to do with her.
Yes, we were kings of the tawdry streets of the Midwest. I don’t know whose idea it was to go see a movie but once the subject was broached, we all eagerly agreed. We jumped on our bikes and headed downtown to the theaters. In Green Bay, around 1977, a mall was built in the downtown district called Port Plaza, it was a cool place to hang out, play video games, drink Orange Julius and eat Rueben’s at Pranges. Also, outside the mall was a great candy store where the old man behind the counter made the candy by hand as well as several different kinds of popcorn. The theaters were not part of the mall, nor were they next to the candy store but in order for us to save what little money we had, we stopped by the candy shop and locked our bikes in the bike racks at the mall. Then we walked the three or four blocks to the theatres.
On movie house showed only adult films, we couldn’t go there, another showed a movie we decided we would never be able to get into because of the rating. The last one was showing a movie called “Rock and Roll High School” it was rated PG. We knew we could get in. So we bought our tickets, and went in to watch the show.
I fell in love with Riff Randall aka P.J. Soles and laughed at all the antics of craziness of Vince Lombardi High School, (named after the late, great head football coach of the Green Bay Packers!) but what really blew me away… was the music. Marky, Johnny, Joey, Dee Dee and of course the first drummer Tommy, banging out the basic chords of Rock-n-Roll High school, Blitzkrieg Bop and Lobotomy blew my mind away. Not to mention the songs of Todd Rundgren (who I’d already heard of) and of course Alice Cooper (who everyone had heard of by then) gave me a great appreciation of the film.
But the Ramones music… the punk sound that threw away all the basic rules of modern music that I’d been listening too made my mind snap. They had managed to strip away almost all but the core harmony and melody leaving only a juvenile rhythmic beat that was topped off with the gravely singing of Joey Ramone. Even in the brief scenes of the film where the Ramones eventually show up and the manager of the band is forcing the band to eat alfalfa sprouts instead of pizza was funny.
When we left the theatre I talked my buddies into stopping by the record store. When we got there, I asked the clerk about “The Ramones”. The young twenty-something behind the counter had long greasy hair, and pointed to the far corner of the store to a hand written sign that read “PUNK”. My two compatriots scattered about the store, Fish was looking at some of the new head gear located behind the glass counters, Fin was checking out soundtrack albums. I headed towards where the head-case had pointed me.
The bins for the punk albums were small. Only four compartments, two of which held Ramon albums, another had a band called “The Sex Pistols”, which intrigued me. But I knew if I came home with an album by a band called “The Sex Pistols” my mom would have a conniption. I grabbed two albums by the Ramones, the self titled debut and “Rocket to Russia”. Both were on sale. When I asked the clerk about sale of punk albums he said “No one listens to that crap. It’s too angry.”
“I kinda like it.” I responded.
“Then you need to relax a bit more, like your pal over there.” He said and pointed to Fish who was now holding a small brown bag in his hand. On his face was a large shit eating grin. I knew immediately what he had bought and what we would end up doing when we got back to his basement.
About that time Fin showed up holding an album to his chest. I gave him a quizzical look but he just pushed past me.
After Fin purchased his record, hiding it from us as much as possible, we headed back to Fish’s house. Riding was a bit difficult for me and Fin simply because our packages required for us to hold on to them with one hand while Fish’s package easily fit in his pocket.
In Fish’s basement I quickly set the album’s on the turntable and started to play them, Fish pulled out his new head pipe and began to fill it. Fin’s purchase went forgotten. That night we smoked and listened to the hard strumming albums over and over and lived for every grinding note.
Last week, the last founding member of The Ramones died. Tommy. With his passing so goes another part of my youth. He was the drummer for the first album with one of the best songs in punk history. “Blitzkrieg Bop”. He only was the drummer for a few short years but he went on to help manage the band through all its members.
All this past week I’ve listened to the classic radio station off and on. Not one Ramones song has been played. There was however an announcement of Tommy’s death, but no tribute to one of the greatest punk bands from America.
A band that single handedly launched the sales of leather jackets, torn jeans and white tee-shirts along with Chuck Taylor shoes.
I can’t say I’m going to miss the Ramones, I wish I could, but I can’t, simply because I will always have their music to reconnect me to those heady days of the late seventies and the early eighties.
For now though I’m gonna go listen to some Ramones and hope my mind if flooded with memories of youth, laughter, irresponsibility’s and misguided decisions based on altered states of mind. As I type this I’m smiling and can only believe that somewhere out in the ether, the original Ramones are in some other-worldly garage plugging in their instruments while countless incorporeal onlookers develop goose pimples in anticipation of the first notes of “Blitzkrieg Bop” or “Judy is a Punk” or “The KKK took my Baby Away” or “Let’s Dance” or “Rockaway Beach” or “Teenage Lobotomy.”
I know if I were dead, I’d attend that concert.
Have a great week.