Thursday, March 29, 2007

Joey Ramone and the Age of Punk Innocence

By Elliott Murphy ©

To quote from Charles Dickens’ Tale of Two Cities: “It was the best of times and the worst of times.” And although Dickens was referring to the bloody reign of terror brought about by the French Revolution in the early 1790’s I think the same can be said about the Punk Revolution in pop music that began in New York City in the late 1970’s. Like all revolutions it was truly a dangerous and uplifting time, a brief but historical era that permanently changed the look and sound of popular music and generations later continued to set the ground rules for bands such as Nirvana and Oasis. Get out your musical maps: From The Ramones to The Stokes - its one straight subway line. And now one of the icons of that period is gone. Joey Ramone, a gentleman and punk if there ever was one.

Sometimes with sadness and other times with almost resigned relief, I watched over the years while so many of the heroes of the Punk Revolution (a few of which I could even call my friends) left town for good: musical outlaws such as Sid Vicious, Stiv Baters and Johnny Thunders, all victims of the very anarchy they themselves helped to promote. And now, Joey Ramone, the grand survivor of that raucous time, the singer who was to the club CBGBs as Elvis was to Sun Studios is gone as well. Ironically, the surviving elder statesman of Punk was taken from this world not by drugs or violence but by a mundane cancer he could no longer fight and he will be dearly missed.

The story of how rock ‘n roll entrepreneur Malcolm MacLaren came to Gotham and managed The New York Dolls for six months and brought their spirit of anarchy and their devoted unprofessionalism back to London for the Sex Pistols to market to the unsuspecting world at large is well known by now. That the Punk spirit was created some years before in a garage band’s witches brew and than painted black with the Warhol musical naiveté of The Velvet Underground and finally shaken and stirred by the barefoot dance of Rock Evangelist Patti Smith is also well documented. But the real deciding factor of Punk, what made it all possible as a movement, was CBGBs, a, shall we say, basic music hall on New York’s east side bowery, whose toilets overflowed and whose stage played host to a few great bands and countless others now long forgotten. And no other band fit the time and the place so well as the four members of the Ramones. They were the Anti-Beach Boys, The Beatles who never smiled, tougher than the Stones, the middle class blues direct from Forest Hills, Queens. And if you didn’t like them they could care less.

Of course, I was there at the time although to be honest not really a part of Punk I suppose. To be labelled a Singer Songwriter was a dirty name in Punkdom (people didn’t start calling Elvis Costello this until it was safe many years later) and while we both sang about, uh, girls, I was singing about Anastasia a doomed Russian princess while Joey Ramone was singing Sheena is a Punk Rocker. But is not Sheena just Anastasia in disguise? Think about it. Anyway, I loved a lot of the music coming out of clubs like CBGBs and Max’s Kansas City and I detested Disco although by now I’ve gotten to grow fond of Donna Summer. The ironic thing is that finally Punk and Disco merged together in the later work of both The Talking Heads and Blondie but no one could have suspected that at the time. If so they would have dragged both David Byrne and Debbie Harry off to the Guillotine, I’m sure. I remember once pulling up to CBGBs in a record company limousine and some guy screaming at me “we don’t want you down here!” He thought I was the enemy, I suppose. But in a few years all the successful punk bands were all travelling in Limos themselves.

I remember in 1976 while playing in Hollywood The LA Free Press called me the “first intellectual of Punk Rock” and I didn’t really know what that was – no one did, really. But a scene was beginning in New York because the death of the New York Dolls had left a vacuum and The Modern Lovers showed that idiosyncrasy could grab a record company’s attention. My own spiritual breakthrough came in 1977 when I was dropped by Columbia Records and I had the time to start hanging out again at trendy spots like The Mudd Club, a downtown club which specialized in bringing over unknown English artists like Joe Jackson. So much went on at the Mudd Club, most of which blanked out, but I’ll never forget the one-night only appearance there of a band featuring Johnny Thunders and Joe Perry of Aerosmith (If they had a name its long gone) and I remember kissing Patty D’Arbanville (the inspiration for Cat Stevens Lady D’Arbanville and future wife of Don Johnson) in an upstairs booth and thinking she was the best damn kisser ever; and talking to Alan Ginsberg at the bar about F. Scott Fitzgerald while he stared at my crotch. The Mudd Club was Punk’s answer to uptown’s Studio 54 where the beautiful people snorted cocaine in luxurious VIP rooms. At the Mudd Club we stood on toilets in the ladies room to keep our feet dry.

I guess I first saw the Ramones at CBGBs in 1977 when their manager Danny Fields invited me down to the club. Or maybe I wasn’t invited and so I just pushed my way through the muscular bouncers at the club entrance, drunk as a skunk, told them I was “…a rock star so get the fuck outta my way!” and stumbled through the crowd and threw up on everybody… just kidding, really. Because I can’t say that I remember why I was at CBGBs that night but I do remember a lot about the Ramones. The way they dressed – tight straight Levis, tennis – not jogging! – sneakers, black Schott Perfecto leather motorcycle jackets and matching (kind of) Beatles Haircuts. They were part Marlon Brando in the Wild One and part Monkees and part Surfer band. I think Johnny Ramone played a Mosrite guitar, famous for being played by the Ventures (a Rock/Surf Instrumental band of the 50’s and 60’s). And the Ramones were really tight, probably spent a lot of time rehearsing than they would admit. Every song was about a minute and a half long and began with Johnny screaming “One, Two, Three, Four” and the Ramones playing as fast as they could. They had nice looking but tough girlfriends who chewed bubble gum and wore very tight Capri pants. They played so fast they were almost like athletes running a marathon. Johnny stood with his legs wide apart and DeeDee’s bass was so low it almost scraped the stage. Joey was tall which was rare for a lead singer and clutched his microphone like it was holding him up and never ever took off his shades and always looked down, with his long hair covering his face. Yeah, that was one thing I really liked about the Ramones – they were punks but they kept their hair long. Everyone else’s hair was so short they looked like they were going into the Army for Gods sake

Danny Fields, the Ramones manager, was himself already a rock ‘n roll legend having managed both the MC5 and The Stooges and along with Linda Stein (whose husband Seymour started Sire Records and later gave the world Madonna) had formed a management company. I don’t know if they had other bands besides The Ramones (I know they managed Steve Forbert as well) but managing the boys from Forest Hills, Queens seemed to be a full time job. What struck me about the band once they started playing was that although they were incredibly loud it didn’t hurt the ears; no screeching guitar leads, no synthesizers, just pounding sixteenth note rhythm played as fast as they could. Sometimes Joey pointed his finger in the air, his leather jacket two sizes too small for him and he reminded me of a sedated statue of Liberty. And in spite of the drugs and the booze and the general seedy atmosphere there was something gloriously innocent about the whole punk scene of the time. It was as if the Punks were trying so hard to not be corrupted by Corporate Rock that they would corrupt themselves first. And that, for the most part, they did with a vengeance.

A few times I met Joey and the Ramones while we were both on tours of Europe in the early eighties and I remember them complaining about the food and saying they couldn’t find McDonalds in France (which was true back then) and how they couldn’t wait to get back home. Once home, Johnny Ramone almost achieved Sid Vicious infamy when he allegedly stabbed some guy who was trying to steal away his girlfriend. I don’t know if that was true but he made the headlines of The New York Post just as Sid Vicious had done a few years before. After that, I heard he moved to California. The Ramones kept going although I think they replaced Dee Dee on bass after a while and also Marky, their drummer. They made an album with Phil Spector who some say pulled a gun on them in the studio and Johnny Ramone pulled one back on him. Not sure if that’s true but I’m not sure if Elvis’ first recording was a birthday present for his mother either.

Around 1988 before I moved to Paris I remember playing a live radio concert in New York that was hosted by Vince Scelsa – the best New York DJ ever – and Joey Ramone was there as well. I sang my song “Diamonds By The Yard” which came out about the year the Ramones got started and after I was finished Joey came up to me and said “You know, I always liked that song.” I was dumbfounded because I could not imagine that he knew that or any of my other song. But he did and he was so cool and nice about it and it was one of the most sincere compliments I ever received from another musician.

I heard that in the Nineties when the Ramones got off the road for a while that Joey started studying the Stock Market and made a lot of money and I was happy for him for two reasons: first because I always like when rock ‘n roll musicians make a lot of money and second because I always knew he was a clever guy and I knew that if he was making a killing in the market it would surprise the shit out of a lot of assholes who put down rock ‘n roll musicians because we don’t get up in the morning and go off to a normal job. Anyway, I hope he spent it well before he left this sweet old world although I doubt if he bought a new leather jacket.

So Joey, all I can say is Rest in Peace Gabba Gabba Hey Hey – we miss you. One two three four…

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Rock'n'roll as literature and literature as rock'n'roll

In a month, it will be 25 years since the death of Lester Bangs. More than a music writer, he was a true american writer.

For a pure coincidence, these days I found out two wonderful yet different ways to remember him.
I wanna thank my good friend, the lovely Sheva Golkow, for letting me use her words, a very simple, innocent, but moving memory of Lester:

"(Lester) came through Philly on a booksigning tour promoting that dopey Blondie bio he did. Only a handful of people showed up, and of those, I was the only one there because it was Lester. I was absolutely star struck and so excited to meet him. As far as I was concerned, he was a star - as much of one, if not more than, the people he wrote about. He signed a bunch of things for me, dripping cough syrup on the pages (he was guzzling the stuff), talking all the while to me about music and life. When it was time for him to go to some local radio station to be interviewed, he invited me to come along. I wasn't sure if he was hitting on me or just being friendly, and it is to my eternal regret that I panicked and said no (I was painfully, painfully shy). He gave me a hug and kiss, told me to keep listening, took one more swig of syrup and was off".

The second, is a very interesting article you can find at this link

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Il miglior critico rock italiano? E' un sacerdote

A parte l'incipit iniziale ("(La musica rock) è un genere musicale che dalla metà degli anni ’50 è in continua evoluzione") che è evidentemente errato, in quanto è dall'esplosione del fenomeno grunge nei primi anni 90 che la musica rock non è più un genere musicale in evoluzione ma - come il jazz e la classica in precedenza - è diventato un riciclo di modelli già esposti e non si sta evolvendo in nulla di nuovo, ma solo in una formula senza possibilità di sviluppo, il resto di questo ottimo intervento di Padre Spadaro, già avezzo in passato a cimentarsi in campo rock, è di una brillantezza e di un fascino assoluto.

Coglie perfettamente quello che è esattamente la musica rock, l'espressione più alta del disagio dell'animo umano delle ultime generazioni, quel disagio un tempo espresso dalla poesia, dalle letteratura, dalla pittura a e naturalmente dalla musica classica) alla ricerca di una risposta esistenziale. Musica rock come espressione del senso religioso dell'animo umano, non merce prefabbricata per uso e consumo dell'ideologia di turno, del potere e delle aziende di marketing (che poi oggi sono la stessa cosa).

Non è un caso che di fronte alla marea di insulsaggini che prevongono dalla critica musicale italiana, sia proprio un sacerdote ad accorgersi di qeste cose.

ecco dove leggere il suo ultimo intervento:

for my foreigner friends, i see that this Father Spadaro conference is starting to make the rounds in the whole wide world, and is not a surprise since last week big deal about Benedict XVI words about Bob Dylan.

The problem, sorry foreigner friends, is that this australian article is very poor, dont say a thing about what really Father Spadaro said and was printed only to create more problems inside the catholic Church. Like: look, there is some good priests who likes rock'n'roll, after all.

Here is it

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Visions of Jack

I'm not a beatnik, I'm a Catholic.

I was just looking at the jukebox. Just playing records. She said, "You want to play with me?" I said, "Sure. How much?" She says, "Five bucks, two dollars for the room." "Was it nice, Jack?" "All women are nice."

"Whee. Sal, we gotta go and never stop going till we get there." "Where we going, man?" "I don't know but we gotta go."

I'm writing this book because we're all going to die--In the loneliness of my life, my father dead, my brother dead, my mother far away, my sister and my wife far away, nothing here but my own tragic hands that once were guarded by a world, a sweet attention, that now are left to guide and disappear their own way into the common dark of all our death, sleeping in me raw bed, alone and stupid: with just this one pride and consolation: my heart broke in the general despair and opened up inward to the Lord, I made a supplication in this dream.

The only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars...

“I read ‘On the Road’ in maybe 1959,” Bob Dylan said. “It changed my life like it changed everyone else’s.”

- Jack Kerouac, March, 12, 1922 - October, 21, 1969

Friday, March 09, 2007

"La presenza della tua assenza"

Perché ascoltiamo la musica

La musica rock mi tocca in posti di cui la mia mente non è a conoscenza, o ha paura, addirittura posti a cui alla mia mente è proibito recarsi. Il mio passaporto all’ignoto che è dentro di me. Ha sempre funzionato come un biglietto che scotta per un viaggio fuori dalle cose confortevoli, familiari e sicure verso il pericolo, la passione, l’ignoto, la creatività e una gioia irragionevole e irrazionale. Usciamo questa sera e immergiamoci nel rumore e nelle luci e nella confusione del rock’n’roll. Troviamo una strada verso il mistero e seguiamola

Paul Williams

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Se Mozart vivesse oggi, sarebbe una rock star eroinomane

Da Repubblica:

Su Bob Dylan, Giovanni Paolo II e Joseph Ratzinger erano in sostanziale disaccordo. Ma forse solo su Dylan. Il cardinale, all´epoca prefetto della congregazione per la dottrina della Fede, non voleva che il cantautore Usa si esibisse davanti a Wojtyla al congresso eucaristico di Bologna del 1997. Giovanni Paolo II, però, non lo ascoltò e Dylan, insieme ad Adriano Celentano e ad altre pop star, cantò.
L´episodio viene rivelato per la prima volta dallo stesso Benedetto XVI nel libro «Giovanni Paolo II, il mio amato predecessore» (Edizioni San Paolo).
Sul concerto rock a Bologna, con Wojtyla accanto a Bob Dylan, Ratzinger ricorda che «c´era ragione di essere scettici, io lo ero, e in un certo senso lo sono ancora, di dubitare se davvero fosse giusto far intervenire questo genere di `profeti´».

Eppure le parole di Wojtyla - ammette il Papa - andarono «a toccare quello che le proposte dell´industria del tempo libero e il mondo contemporaneo di consumare la vita lasciano completamente da parte, la domanda che riguarda ciascuno di noi personalmente».

Fine dell'articolo di Repubblica.

A proposito di profeti, Bob Dylan una volta durante un concerto ha detto una cosa che forse Papa Ratzinger approverebbe:

""Years ago they said I was a prophet. I used to say, 'No I'm not a prophet' they said, 'Yes you are, you're a prophet.' I said, 'No, it's not me". They used to say 'You sure are a prophet'. They used to convince me I was a prophet. Now I come out and say Jesus Christ is the answer. They say, 'Bob Dylan's no prophet.' They just can't handle it."
(Omaha, Nebraska 25-1-80).

Ma Papa Ratzinger ha anche detto, in precedenza:

“Pensiamo un momento al tipo di religione dionisiaca e alla sua musica che Platone ha esaminato nell'ottica della sua religione e filosofia. In non poche forme religiose la musica è abbinata all'ebbrezza, all'estasi. Il superamento del limite della condizione umana cui è indirizzata la fame dell'infinito insita nell'uomo, deve essere raggiunta per mezzo di frenesia sacra, di delirio del ritmo e degli strumenti. Una musica simile abbatte le barriere dell'individualità e della personalità; l'uomo si libera così dal peso della coscienza. La musica diviene estasi, liberazione dall'Io, unificazione coll'universo.

Oggi sperimentiamo il ritorno profanizzato di questo modello nella musica Rock e Pop, i cui festivals sono un anticulto nella stessa direzione — smania di distruzione, abolizione delle barriere del quotidiano e illusione di redenzione nella liberazione dall'Io, nell'estasi furiosa del rumore e della massa. Si tratta di pratiche redentive simili alla droga nella loro forma di redenzione e fondamentalmente opposte alla concezione di redenzione della fede cristiana. Di conseguenza perciò dilagano oggi sempre di più, in questo ambito, culti e musiche satanistiche il cui potere pericoloso, in quanto volutamente tendente alla distruzione e al disfacimento della persona, non è preso ancora abbastanza sul serio.

Cercando la salvezza mediante la liberazione dalla personalità e dalla sua responsabilità, la musica Rock da un lato si inserisce perfettamente nelle idee di libertà anarchiche che oggi in occidente dominano più che non in oriente; ma proprio per questo si oppone radicalmente alla concezione cristiana della redenzione e della libertà, è anzi la sua perfetta contraddizione. Perciò non per motivi estetici, non per ostinazione restaurativa, non per immobilismo storico, bensì per motivi antropologici di fondo, questo tipo di musica deve essere esclusa dalla Chiesa”.

C’è di più, nella musica rock, di quanto ha peraltro colto perfettamente Ratzinger. Quello che lui ha colto è quanto i media e l’industria dello spettacolo cercano di far passare; anzi, di coltivare e tramandare ai giovani di ogni generazione perché è da quello che prendono i soldi, dalla cultura dello sballo. E soprattutto il potere - di qualunque governo, il potere è sopra i governi -è quello che ha vantaggio a coltivare questo tipo di musica rock: mantenere i giovani in una falsa idea di libertà, che vuol dire solo rincoglionimento e trasgressione da quattro soldi, li rende manipolabili e utilizzabili come ottima carne da macello per il proprio scopo, il mantenimento del potere appunto.

Basti pensare a una decerebrata allo stato pure come Britney Spears che oggi va in giro dicendo di essere l’anticristo.

Ma la musica rock, quella vera, ha espresso un grido, quel grido che è quello dell’uomo di tutti i tempi alla ricerca del significato della propria esistenza: “Vieni come sei, vieni come un nemico, come un amico, ma vieni”. Quello fu il grido di Kurt Cobain, purtroppo rimasto inascoltato.

Vorrei mandare a una mail con queste semplici frasi

"La cultura dominante ha generato disprezzo verso la famiglia" (Willy Mason, cantautore rock emergente)

"Una ragazza ci ha scritto che la nostra musica l'ha salvata dal sucidio. Mi ha fatto pensare che l'idea del rock come musica del diavolo è un gigantesco equivoco" (il gruppo rock Low)

Poi, visto il tema, ci aggiungerei anche una canzone di Bob Dylan:

In the time of my confession, in the hour of my deepest need
When the pool of tears beneath my feet flood every newborn seed
There's a dyin' voice within me reaching out somewhere,
Toiling in the danger and in the morals of despair.

Don't have the inclination to look back on any mistake,
Like Cain, I now behold this chain of events that I must break.
In the fury of the moment I can see the Master's hand
In every leaf that trembles, in every grain of sand.

Oh, the flowers of indulgence and the weeds of yesteryear,
Like criminals, they have choked the breath of conscience and good cheer.
The sun beat down upon the steps of time to light the way
To ease the pain of idleness and the memory of decay.

I gaze into the doorway of temptation's angry flame
And every time I pass that way I always hear my name.
Then onward in my journey I come to understand
That every hair is numbered like every grain of sand.

I have gone from rags to riches in the sorrow of the night
In the violence of a summer's dream, in the chill of a wintry light,
In the bitter dance of loneliness fading into space,
In the broken mirror of innocence on each forgotten face.

I hear the ancient footsteps like the motion of the sea
Sometimes I turn, there's someone there, other times it's only me.
I am hanging in the balance of the reality of man
Like every sparrow falling, like every grain of sand.

Il rock'n'roll non mi ha salvato la vita. Però ci è andato vicino. E mi aiuta a tenere desta la mia domanda di significato della vita.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Bury my heart at Wounded Knee

From an interview with Yoriyos that I did the other day. Check his excellent album "Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee" out these days.

"It’s more like the 40’s to the 70’s really, for me. I’m fascinated with that wide-eyed peace and liberation seeking generation. I know it wasn’t sought after by everyone, you still had the suits and boots calling all the shots, drawing up the laws and setting the dividing lines between classes and colours, but it seemed like for a moment, that the people of that generation understood they held the power and not their governments. Their governments were there to serve them and not the other way round. We were at the brink of a major breakthrough I think, a revolution even, of love and peaceful co-existence, with our musicians, writers and poets leading the way. But then the governments caught on and invested in big co-operations and the media industry. That’s when the bubble burst. Now they use it to distract us, manipulating and brainwashing our thoughts. They have the youth on a hook from an early age. If you act, look or think differently you’re made to feel like an outsider, or even a threat. We’re all so dependant on the TV and the Internet for our information that we forget who controls what goes on it in the first place.

We’re so desensitised with what’s going on because we see it so often in the media that it doesn’t seem shocking anymore. We’re not affected directly and we’re too comfortable with the shrink-wrapped lives we lead that all we need to do is flip the channel or turn the page and we think it’ll go away, but it never does. I’m guilty of this too, but I’m trying my hardest to make a lasting change. People used to live more happily without the technology and overload of useless information we have today. I mean why is it that we in the UK are planning a 20billion pound upgrade of our nuclear weapons but still cannot commit even a fraction of that to so called “third world nations”? We have medicines and enough water and food for everyone, but we’ve become capitalistic dictators ourselves, profiting at the expense of others.

We’re all guilty, we feed this system. And we don’t expect karma to deal us a bad hand? I mean what do our taxes get spent on? It’s our responsibility to know. I’m sick of this cycle and governments keeping us on a need to know bases. We need to know why things aren’t getting better. Even getting a mortgage these days just to buy a house is the standard thing to do. We’re all in debt or just scraping by, it’s a fact of life we happily accept. Why? The older generation who laboured so hard, bringing the country to where it is now are on pensions that can barely sustain them. Their kids put them up in homes and forget about them because they’ve been taught to care only for themselves.

No wonder the world’s in such a mess. All our Prophets, poets and philosophical thinkers aren’t listened to anymore, factual books aren’t being read, it’s all fiction and reality TV now. I miss people like Curtis Mayfield and John Lennon, George Harrison and Jim Morrison. There was great depth in their characters and behind their lyrics. They weren’t after the fame like a lot of the musicians today. I miss the dreams we had. That’s what interests me about that generation more than the music that was going on, the people, and their message of Love and the Unity of Humanity. Who’s spreading that message now? "

Green green grass of home

Disclaimer: scritto dopo 5 ore di sono senza rilettura e fregandomene dei refusi City in the smog, city in the smog… Sali in machine e pi...

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