Monday, May 02, 2005

Rock Rock Rock and Roll High School

I confess that I was never into punk rock. I never got it – the black clothes, the weird makeup, the machinegun pace and edgy lyrics. I was much more of a singer/songwriter fan – Paul Simon, Cat Stevens, Jimmy Buffett, James Taylor. Of course I also enjoyed a lot of Southern Rock and 80’s pop. But pure punk seemed to seethe with anger – anger that I just didn’t identify with. But growing up, those bands were on my periphery and I heard lots of their more popular songs. I had lots of friends who listened to the Clash, the Violent Femmes, and of course The Ramones.

So last night, as I was winding down, I turned on PBS to find a documentary on the career of the Ramones and how they had shaped Rock – and I was sucked in.

  • See the website for the documentary

  • At first, I felt like I was watching a re-make of Spinal Tap. It chronicled the band’s rise, the growing tension between vocalist Joey and guitarist Johnnie, and the revolving door of drummers. There was even a clip of strung out Dee Dee Ramone talking about the power of the new amps they had (and I kept waiting for him to say “this one goes to 11” – if you haven’t seen Spinal Tap, you really must). So I was finding this all rather amusing, but as the story developed, I began to feel for these characters.

    Consider Dee Dee – whose interviews were just a little shy of bizarre. He was so fried from heroin use that he looked 10 years older than his age – he had a hard time stringing together a coherent sentence. We learned about his disastrous attempt at a solo Rap album (the video was almost like a Weird Al Yankovic video, only trying to be serious). Shortly after the Ramones 2002 induction into the Rock and Roll hall of Fame, Dee Dee died of a herion overdose just two weeks later.

    Then there was the famous tension between Johnnie and Joey. Somewhat mirroring the tension between Paul McCartney and John Lennon – Joey, like Paul, wanted to have a more mainstream pop sound while Johnnie wanted to stay true to punk roots. Johnnie is painted as a micromanaging dictator who ran the band for 20 years. He basically alienated everyone else in the band – but his shrewdness kept them solvent and making music. Things came to a head in the 80’s when Joey’s love interest, Linda, dropped Joey for Johnnie. After that, Joey and Johnnie never spoke again, though they continued to make music and tour.

    What grabbed me most was the interviews with Johnnie after Joey’s death from cancer. He kept saying that he didn’t call Joey during his final few weeks because they didn’t get along and he was trying to respect that. But then he admitted he had very deep feelings for Joey. He said they were Ramones, and that was a bond that would keep them together even if they didn’t like each other.

    Tommy Ramone expressed something similar in an interview with Read Magazine on the passing of Johnny from cancer last year “We remained friends… we were close in the sense that we were bonded by the Ramones. Because the Ramones were like a family, a brotherhood of sorts. But we weren't close in any other way, really. But we remained friendly.”

  • See the Read Interview

  • So the Ramones remained bonded together even though they really didn’t get along. It became something beyond themselves. They had a different identity that they could not escape. Their dysfunction and fragmentation is tragic, but they still had a common identity as Ramones. Look past the raw energy of their expressed rage, look past the dysfunction, and you find a deep level of bondedness and commitment that arises out of their love of music and performing. Tommy Ramone says as much “I mean, you get all these dysfunctional people together, and you know, there's ego conflicts and turf conflicts and all this stuff, it's not going to be a happy camp. But as far as the music and the work is concerned, we all loved that, and we all believed in it, and we all worked very hard for that. And that was the fun part. The fun part was making the albums.”

    And so I’m wrestling with this – if they can find that kind of bliss, unity, transcendence even in the midst of raging dysfunction – should not we be able to experience something similar in the Body of Christ. Do the Ramones shed new light on Romans 12:4-5 “Just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.” Do we not have just as much, if not more, claim on one another.

    Just thinking…