Just put up my first MeWe post, but sadly the video I tried to embed failed to embed for some reason. Yes, I’ve posted this one here before, I know, but I just don’t care. Deal, baby.
As I said on MeWe: it’s the greatest performance of the greatest song by the greatest band in history. Or, as Louder Than War’s John Robb puts it: “It’s all already there.. the ripped jeans, perfect poses, great tune, simplicity turned to an artform… a year later they would change music for ever…” Perfectly true, all of it.
One of the YT commenters says:
You know you are a serious Ramones fan when you think the terrible audio quality sounds cool
That’s as may be, I suppose. But the audio, umm, “quality” is one of the biggest reasons this video just flies all over me—to quote Little Richard, it makes my big toe shoot up in my boot. That raspy, buzzsaw distortion is every sound engineer’s worst nightmare; one can readily imagine the audio techs in the TV studio control booth literally bursting into tears and pulling their hair out by the handful when they realized that there was absolutely nothing they could do to fix this.
Much as the audiophiles and knob-twiddlers might disdain distortion as the very anathema of good sound and moral propriety, though, it’s also the direct result of the very thing that makes real rock and roll great: the awesome power of sheer, brain-busting VOLUME.
Without volume to excess, rock and roll loses its ability to excite, to incite, to inspire passion and release. Mind you, I don’t mean to say that there’s no ceiling, no point at which enough spills over into way the hell too much. It’s a surpassing-fine line that must be drawn here, and it’s very easy to cross over and get on the wrong side of it, to the ruination of everyone’s good time. I’ve certainly been to shows where the band was so loud it was actually unendurable, a muddled, unpleasant mess.
The fact remains, though: if it ain’t LOUD, it might just as well be jazz. In real rock and roll, and not some lame-ass Chris Cross pop-a-doodle claptrap, you want that guitar to bite; you want that snare to crack, that bass to thump. You want to feel that kick-drum push against your chest. The right level of LOUD is indeed a physical thing. But it shouldn’t be a painful one. You can peg the needles now and then, but you never want to bury them.
To my ears, the Ramones had things dialed in exactly right in this instance. It’s one of their very first TV performances, on a NYC local-access show called Arturo’s Loft, before they were known much of anywhere outside the hallowed halls of CBGB’s. And it’s just…remarkable.
Yes, that distortion is absolutely filthy all right. But notice: the levels of all the instruments, and the vocals too, are dead on. Meaning, nobody is drowning anybody out; you can hear Joey’s vocals just fine, loud if not exactly clear. And the vocals are usually the first thing to suffer from high volume—if they aren’t overwhelmed by a tidal wave of guitar, they’re sure to be lost behind the cymbal crashes perpetrated by an over-excited Keith Moon enthusiast.
But in the above video, you can actually distinguish everything, vocals included. Of course, the Ramones’ pure-as-the-driven-snow simplicity helps a lot with that. And it’s just as Mr Robb says: the Ramones turned simplicity into an art form. In fact, “simple” was the driving force from Day One, the whole idea, their raison d’etre. Johnny, for example, never was much for meandering, self-indulgent guitar solos, a staple of rock from its earliest days. Even later in the band’s career, when he did toss off his (very) occasional lead bits, he always kept them short, sweet, and straight as a razor.
I was fortunate enough to get to chat with Joey for an hour or so once, at the old Coney Island High entertainment complex on St Mark’s Place in NYC. Me and the GF were just kind of hanging out, nothing out of the ordinary going on, when I realized that I was standing not ten feet away from Joey Ramone his own self. I dithered for a moment; on the one hand, the Ramones really did change my life, and that’s the truth. So I very much wanted to express my gratitude for the crucial role they had played for me personally, for the inspiration they had provided me.
On the other, I hated to be That Guy, foisting myself on a celebrity who probably just wanted nothing more than an evening out, without having every Bozo from Brooklyn get all up in his grill and make a damnable nuisance of himself.
In the end, the GF insisted I stop being silly and just go over and say hello to the guy, ferchrissakes. Which I did, after a little more waffling. Even though he had to have heard my worshipful spiel so many times already that it made his hair hurt, he was quite gracious about it all. I succinctly explained to him that, after hearing the Ramones in the 70s, I had left the old classic-rock outfit I had been in before to start up Charlotte’s first punk outfit. I told him I had then drifted into the rockabilly thing, and was doing fairly well with it. He told me that he actually loved hearing such things from fellow players—people who were actually out there fighting the rock and roll road-wars for real and not just idly fantasizing about it, or boasting to their friends about all the big things they planned to do—someday.
Then a fight broke out behind us and some doofus got shoved into Joey’s back, nearly knocking him down and causing him to stagger slightly and spill his drink. He excused himself to head for the bar and a refill, and the GF and I wandered off someplace else.
I listen mostly to classical music on the radio nowadays, and go for long stretches at a time without listening to the Ramones at all. But I swear, every time I put ’em on again I wonder what the hell took me so long, what the hell was I thinking by it. Then I go on a Ramones binge for a few days, and I enjoy every second of it, too. It’s a fact, Jack: though the Ramones may not be everybody’s cup of tea, they really did change rock and roll, completely and forever. It’s kinda funny that their influence is so far-reaching and deep…but just the same, nobody else sounds quite like ’em. Ironically enough, the Ramones’ simple, stripped-down approach turned out to be a thing that moved mountains.