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1993, 1999 — I'm a Teenage Lobotomy!
The Ramones were the New York personification of punk rock. In fact, when CBGBs owner Hilly Kristal picked American bands to tour in England, he chose the Ramones. So in a sense, the Ramones were the first American punk band ever seen by the future generation of English punks.

The Ramones turned the rebellion of 1950s roots rock into a high decibel and speed assault on the senses. The Ramones put punk rock on the map with such seemingly effortless classics as, «I Wanna Be Sedated,» «Beat On The Brat,» and «Rock'n'Roll High School.» The Ramones put the youth back into rock music, and it permanently stunted the band's growth. It seemed that they never made it out of high school.

Where bands such as Blondie and the Dolls slipped into camp, and Television and Patti Smith were too poetic and wordy, the Ramones were so punk they were a parody. The four young men from Queens, in leather motorcycle jackets and sharing the Ramone surname, gave punk a name much in the same way the Beatles and their contemporaries put the «British Invasion» on the pop map. The Ramones and Beatles connection is applicable on other levels. The Ramones were merely reciting the lessons that rock culture, and the Beatles, had taught them. Early in the Beatles' career, they were the fab four, and were focussed on as members of a band. Four young men with similar hair cuts and modest a collective image, an image which made them accessible as a commodity. The Ramones used the same tactic, employing the same last names and leather jackets.

«Ramon» was Paul McCartney's alias when booking reservations in hotels during the early waves of Beatlemania (RS #507 p.135). Ramon became Ramone, and in 1974 four high school hoodlums and/or dropouts assumed the last name and an image that would typify punk rock for years to come. Their wardrobe of ripped jeans, sneakers, and leather personified punk. Dressing in their day-to-day street clothes made glam obsolete, and brought rock back to the on the streets teenage element.

The Ramones were the fab four of punk; they made punk accessible as a visual commodity. Visualizing punk was important. Creating an image is usually the catalyst from idea to product. The Beatles, with their matching hair cuts and suits, sang their way into the hearts of millions. The Ramones, with their teenage casualness and simplistic edge, wormed punk into the brains of the next generation of rock fans. The Ramone's music was simplistic three-chord rock. No other music of their era, aside from the Doll's and Blondie's homage to the girl groups, recalled rock's innocence.

Their teenage subject matter became rock iconography. The band's loving documents of the rock age, such as «Do You Remember Rock'n'Roll Radio?» and the immortal cult favorite, «Rock'n'Roll High School,» which was turned into a movie in 1979. The Ramone's anyone-can-do-this image and approach inspired an era of burgeoning rock fans and critics. Never before had rock looked and sounded so simple. In some ways this was one of the Ramone's problems. Because of their casual delinquent approach, few took the Ramones seriously. Were they a novelty or a complete resurrection of rock music? In essence, to stay true to their intentions, the Ramones remained simplistic, but the irony often failed to come through. Where it looked and sounded as though the Ramone's music and aesthetic were completely easy--a farce, their sound was so raw and yet so tight that few could duplicate its power.

The Ramones were a rock'n'roll melting pot. Their original lineup had Joey, the lead vocalist, on drums and original drummer Tommy as producer. Soon Tommy replaced Joey on drums, and their naive stab at the rock industry turned into industrious luck. The Ramones got their first gig at CBGBs in 1974, and they became fixtures by 1975. By 1976 they were signed to Sire records and primed the nation for punk rock. Their first album, «The Ramones,» failed to make it into the US top 100, but the band's impact was seeping into the rock world's sensibilities.

On the back of a 1976 June/July issue of Trouser Press, an ad for the first Ramones album is almost a parody of itself. «THEIR MUSIC'S SWEPT THE BOWERY…NOW IT'S GONNA SWEEP THE COUNTRY!» It is almost humorous to imagine the Ramones fitting into today's standards of beauty and glamour. The add shows four skinny guys in leathers and Keds sneakers. Tommy's belly is showing, and Joey looks like a broken marionette. But there is something in their stares; none of them show respect for the camera. The picture looks like a police lineup in juvenile detention hall.

The ad promises that «THE RAMONES ARE SO PUNKY YOU'RE GONNA HAVE TO REACT!». On the bottom of the ad is an excerpt from the British rock critic Charles Shaar Murray's New Musical Express article,

«They're simultaneously so funny, such a cartoon vision of rock and roll, and so genuinely tight and powerful that they're just bound to enchant any one who fell in love with rock and roll for the right reasons.» Murray's description was right on the money; the Ramones were a perfect rock band. They wrote and performed seemingly simple rock songs about nothing, but in the absence of extravagant chord changes and rock star poses, the Ramones mastered rock's fundamentals.

Typically, rock personified the teenage lifestyle--fast enough for short attention spans, yet not heavy enough to distract the listener from having a good time. Like the Beach Boys, the Ramone's music appeared to be lighthearted descriptions of cars and girls--a perpetual teenage outlook and subject matter--but in the Ramone's simplicity lounged the quintessential essence of rock'n'roll. Their music was layered with flawless fast-rock music and subject matter. In «Rockaway Beach,» a song about the New York City waterfront, rock was returned to the basics. «Chewing the rhythm on the bubble gum/ The sun is out and I wanna get some.»

The Ramones realized that rock music was not about being pretentious, it was about doing what you could as well as you could. Unfortunately, the Ramones never excelled past their original goals, and a dilemma arose regarding their image as pop stars arose. In their simplistic image, the Ramones seemed barbaric and a parody of the freshness they embodied. The band wreaked of calculated havoc-- the assumed Ramone surname and punk wardrobe made it too easy to chalk the Ramones off as a novelty act. Now, even after their «break up» the Ramones still surprisingly sound the same, as if they themselves believed the silent but deadly rock image that the media created for them.

Unlike their peers who transcended the confines of punk rock marketing loopholes and radio intolerance, the Ramones eventually became a parody of the punk brashness they once exuded. In a sense, the punk aggression the Ramones once controlled soon became passe, but the Ramones could not transcend the image they had created for themselves. As a band, the Ramones had created the perpetually teenage image, and they could not get out beyond it even when they grew up.

Like the punk icons, the Sex Pistols, the Ramones immediately stagnate. Both bands' impact was so severe and brash that to evolve would mean softening and nullifying punk's aggressiveness. Growing up, in a sense, would be selling out. The Ramones got trapped by that which made them punk. Their youthful ideals and simplistic naivete held them captive. This trap kept punk from staking its claim on the media. The Sex Pistols had Malcolm McLaren's mastermind publicity techniques, not to mention the sensationalism of the band's tabloid life. The Ramones merely failed to grow up and got lost in the shuffle. They became instant relics of a musical era that would influence the rock world but fail to make much money in the United States.

Jessamin Swearingen
 
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