Last week, it happened for the fourth time. The radio alarm went off, and a “Morning Edition” host announced the death of a Ramone. Groggy and dispirited, I brushed my teeth, made coffee, put on a Ramones t-shirt—cheesy, I know—and went out to face the world, which otherwise continued as normal.
And then the funniest thing happened. I felt great all day.
Tommy Ramones was 65. A lot of the headlines read something like this: “Tommy Ramone, last surviving member of seminal punk band The Ramones, dies.” Which is only semi-accurate, since three former but non-founding Ramones are still with us: Marky, who replaced Tommy on drums in 1978; Richie, drummer during the Marky-less period between 1982 and 1987, and C.J., who replaced bassist Dee Dee in 1989. Emphasizing this seems in keeping with Tommy Ramone’s unassuming public demeanor. He was okay with the spotlight, but preferred to be out of it.
Even so, there’s a sense of finality to our loss of Tommy. For most punk devotees, experiencing the densities of that universe happened primarily though records, magazines, and 30-minutes sets at run-down music clubs. Only four people ever knew what punk’s storied big bang was truly like from the inside, and they’re all gone now. The music of the Ramones may be immortal, but its members were not.
The t-shirt I picked out to observe the latest occurrence of the traditional Ramones mourning period is pretty threadbare. I have three Ramones t-shirts, and nowadays I parcel them out only for special occasions. Wearing one makes me feel liberated, invincible. To commemorate Tommy, the t-shirt with an image of the cover of their 1978 album “Road to Ruin” seemed the most appropriate. Tommy had left the band by then, but he did produce the album, putting his given name, “T. Erdelyi”, in the credits.
Of all the Ramones, founding or not, Tommy was the least Ramone-like. He didn’t even look like a Ramone; in the plentiful black-and-white photographs of the group’s formative period in the late 1970s, he’s a short, impassive, frizzy-haired presence in a band of tall and dark scowlers with long faces (even Dee Dee, whose face was as round as a full moon, packed a long face to put a pouty horse to shame). Without Tommy, there’d be no Ramones. A recording engineer who ran a rehearsal studio, he managed the fledgling band as a pet project and hopped in on drums when they couldn’t find anyone who could deliver the straightforward style he had in mind. Thus, their personas emerged: Joey, the lovable weirdo; Johnny, the asshole; Dee Dee, the cute lunatic; Tommy, the pragmatist. Which is probably why no one ever says, “Tommy’s my favorite Ramone.” In a group of strong personalities, he functioned as a low-key buffer.
Lou Reed died back in October, and I know I’m not the only one who took it hard. Lou Reed couldn’t just die—he was Lou Reed! For months, inspired by the nudge of Reed’s death, I played “Songs for Drella”, “Transformer”, and all of my Velvet Underground albums every day, steeping in the perfume of the works he created. It was as if I was just a young whipper-snapper branching away from traditional radio pop and dipping my toes into the deep, alluring waters of arty outsiders for the first time.
I feel a selfish jab of darkness every time I see a breaking-news tribute to a lost public figure or beloved entertainer. If perennial fixtures such as Dick Clark and Casey Kasem can die, then so can my parents. So can the entire way of life I grew up with. So can I.
But after the initial shock sets in, a Ramone dying doesn’t bum me out. Leaving this planet is the final gift an artist or entertainer—these people whose music and words and images we are so intimately familiar with—gives to us. I rarely listen to The Ramones anymore, so sublimated is their essence into my existence. My heart beats a cadence of “Hey, ho, let’s go!” without me even thinking about it. But I played Ramones records, cassettes, and CDs all weekend long, and I reconnected anew with the things I like to think I strive for. Directness. Dynamism. And yes, pragmatism. Even just seeing the band’s name in its trademark blocky font furnishes a mainline rush to that heady time when I relied on a scrappy group of ersatz musicians to keep me going. And going, and going. We die, Ramones die. Inspiration endures.
It’s not that Justin Bieber isn’t contributing anything to the music world–there are many people getting paid as a result of his celebrity. Bodyguards, Ferrari salesmen, social media story spinners, hair mousse manufacturers, paparazzi–some good paychecks result from this guy. But it might have run its course. Maybe Branson can hire Biebs’ ex-cronies to help him cross dress when he loses another bet.
All lovers of vinyl need to check this out. It’s the audio of the earliest known gramophone recording, which is the grandfather of the modern vinyl record. Sure, Thomas Edison had his cylinders in the 1870s, but Emile Berliner invented the flat version of records in 1887. In the prequel to Betamax vs. VHS, or HD-DVD vs. Blu-Ray, Berliner’s gramophone disc dominated the recording industry and Edison’s neat little vertical audio cans remain mostly as footnotes in audio history.
The cool thing about this recording is not that the record itself has survived since 1890, but that it doesn’t actually exist. There are no known physical copies. So how does one hear audio from something that doesn’t exist? The Media Preservation Initiative at Indiana University, Bloomington, had found a way to take the photographs of the physical specimens from reference books and advertisements of the time and recreate the audio from those records. The result is discernible audio recordings of speech, song and a voice memo recorded as a test from the inventor to a friend.
But wait, there’s more.
These are not the first recordings ever made, nor are they the first reproduced sound. Edison’s invention was the first to reproduce the sound audibly. But it was “Au Claire de la Lune,” an 18th Century French folk song, which Édouard-Léon Scott de Martinville sang slowly into a vibrating diaphragm, that changed music forever. The long tube transferred the sound via hog’s bristle and a piece of a feather into waveforms. There was smoke, a rotating barrel and a hand crank involved. Though the phonautograph was a complicated and temperamental device (well, maybe not compared to an iPod in a WiFi-dead zone), audio could now be captured. And in 2011, a mere 151 years later, archivists have found a way to play it back. The recording was made on April 9, 1860 (before the American Civil War)–marking the birth of recorded sound.
Telephones, speakers, microphones–everything we know about audio today–is based on Édouard-Léon Scott de Martinville’s hog’s bristle and feather recording device. From one audio engineer to another, thanks, brother!
BY RACHEL DOVEY
I never was punk. (Or “a punk?” Or “a punk rocker?” See, I don’t even know the terminology.) I’m 27, so by the time I started flirting with counter-culture, which admittedly was fairly late, it wasn’t really an option. So when I read John Roderick’s Seattle Weekly essay “Punk Rock is Bullshit,” I don’t take personal offense. I wasn’t there.
But I’m really tired of Roderick’s argument, which is the same one that gets pegged to my generation’s counter culture—whether you call it Indie or Hipster or DIY—all the time. It goes something like this: Privilege breeds idealism, idealism breeds entitlement (led by those smug guitarists, or, these days, banjo players), entitlement breeds complacency, complacency breeds not really doing anything to make the world a better place.
I’m sure this particular psychological circle-jerk happens. I’m sure it happens to me in that endless, anxious loop that is my overly idealistic brain. But I don’t at all buy this notion, that a stance of mainstream critique attached to youth-oriented movements is built to fail, at least not in the way Roderick is saying. Occupy was primarily youngish white people with college degrees, and although the gatherings may have fizzled, mainstream media outlets have started talking about wealth and income distribution in an entirely different way. Does the term “99 percent” get co-opted by the one percent to get demographic points? Absolutely. Has the movement and all of the discussion it generated radically shifted the way I—and others in my age group—understand money in politics, vote, participate in local government and consume? Absolutely.
Perhaps there’s a distinction to be made between political youth culture and art-based youth culture, and you can make it in the comments section if you’re kind enough to read this. But I don’t necessarily think there is. In my experience, banjos, flannel shirts, beards, home canning, even, dare I say it, that particularly hushed and introspective roots-blend that comes from our county’s northwest—these are not just pieces of a twee nostalgia-fest that the New York Times likes to take issue with. They’re expressions of something more—of a growing naturalism in response to fossil fuel extraction so heinous its been associated with earthquakes; of consumption habits that value local economics and relationships in commerce and re-use. Maybe we’re annoying sometimes, maybe we grew up reading “The Lorax” and we’re a little smug, maybe sometimes our overly-earnest aesthetics lead to truly terrible products that we sell on Etsy without realizing that they look like genitals. But call me an optimist, I don’t think we’re complacent—and I think punk helped pave the way.
Or maybe I’m just still young, and not tired and worn-down and hopeless enough yet.
Facebook has been abuzz in the last few days with this moronic “Influential Albums” quiz, which users must hand over their personal information in order to take, and then watch as the app automatically posts the results on their wall. Strike one. Also, the 100 albums deemed “influential” are nearly all rock. Strike two. Finally, the mere existence of a list purporting to encompass the 100 most “influential” albums with the implication that if you don’t own these albums you are a substandard music listener is total bullshit and everyone knows it and I feel stupid even getting worked up about it because that’s what these trolling lists are designed to do in the first place but fuck it. Strike three. You know what your most influential albums are? ALL THE ALBUMS YOU OWN, HOLMES. (That’s coming from someone who owns a lot of these albums.)
So anyway, if you want to know what some guy with a computer decided are the most “influential” albums, here’s the list:
Death Waltz is a record label from the UK that specializes in re-releasing classic cult soundtracks on vinyl. Their impressive catalog includes House of the Devil, Escape From New York, Zombie Flesh Eaters, Halloween II and III, Donnie Darko, Prince of Darkness, The Living Dead at the Manchester Morgue and more. For these, the company solicits great artists to conceive and design new cover artwork, all of which is outstanding—see above.
There’s just one problem. The label takes this beautiful art, shrinks it, and surrounds it in a style sheet of a blue circle with the Death Waltz logo prominent in the corner.
Plunging to the depths of despair, like a junkie experiencing his first hit of self-realization, the piece at times makes it difficult to keep listening. Though harmonious, the music takes dark turn after dark turn. It holds you against the wall while you watch everything you love burn before your eyes, with no way to help or even turn away. It’s really heavy stuff.
But Tchaikovsky’s symphony somehow flutters out of this terror, and shows that there is beauty in the world. Life is still worth living, and you leave feeling empowered because you’ve been through the worst life can give and still came out on top. It’s one of my desert island pieces of music. It’s referred to as “pathétique” not because it’s deserving of pity, but because it is compassionate and moving.
To hear this live would be great, but to hear this with the Marin Symphony and guest violinist Nigel Armstrong is going to be awesome. I saw this local kid play with the American Philharmonic (or was it the Cotati Philharmonic at that time?) in his teens and was amazed. He was young but had an evident understanding of the music, to say nothing of his technical ability. To see him now that he’s 21 would certainly be something special.
The Marin Symphony plays Sunday, Jan. 20 at 3pm and Tuesday, Jan. 22 at 7:30pm. Tickets are $10 to $70. Marin Center, 10 Avenue of the Flags, San Rafael. www.marinsymphony.org.
I have always had a hard time accepting Rihanna’s extreme popularity. Her music, to me, is bland, and she’s not a good performer. The fact that she is a victim of extreme domestic violence who has since climbed back into the arms of her abuser, fellow pop star Chris Brown, sets a terrible example for others in her situation and actually upsets me.
I’ve never had a way to explain these confusing opinions until Sasha Frere-Jones apparently climbed into my head, organized my thoughts and wrote them for me in the New Yorker’s Dec. 24&31 issue.
He nails the social impact with this:
“With all this drama, it is difficult to think of Rihanna’s stated version of independence, of being a ‘Good Girl Gone Bad,’ as the title of her biggest-selling album would have it, is being the object of badness, being subjugated… What makes this attitude even more disturbing is that it seems to have served only to make Rihanna more popular.”
Without missing a beat, Frere-Jones flings more thought-goo from the cauldron of my stewed brain and it sticks on the wall in this elegant, concise phrasing: “She has an exceptional physical beauty married to an unexceptional, almost disengaged sense of performance–she may be the most successful amateur ever.” I’ve already applied this lightbulb concept to other pop stars that suck, like Lana Del Rey, Ke$ha and Nickelback.
And, as a good critic should do, he calls out the pop star for what should be an obvious “phone-it-in” moment, her “performance” last month on Saturday Night Live. “She moves, in Timberland boots and a fatigue jacket, as if she had perhaps beard the song a few times before. There was one bit that reminded me of dancing.”
Unfortunately the article is paywalled, only available with a subscription or by purchasing the whole issue. But it’s a luxury worth paying for, if for nothing else than Frere-Jones’ music columns.
My favorite music genre changes on a daily basis. When someone asks the seemingly simple question, “What kind of music do you like?” I find myself befuddled, and often reply with whatever I was last listening to, whether that was Wu-Tang, Stevie Nicks, Beethoven, Johnny Cash, Miles Davis, John Cage or Orbital. I actually feel flustered trying to answer the question.
But Rock may have solidified its status as my fave with this video:
To be able to play all those riffs in one take it amazing, but what truly impresses me is the fact that I know every single one of those songs by hearing a couple seconds of one instrument playing them. Not every genre can claim that—try playing “name that tune” with dubstep. Rock is a truly unique modern style with its combination of catchiness and badassery.
The temporary roof collapsed over Radiohead’s stage in Toronto June 17, killing a member of the crew and injuring three others.
Radiohead’s drum tech Scott Johnson was pronounced dead on the scene when investigators were able to get to his body through the wreckage at 8pm. The stage had collapsed hours before, while fans were still lining up outside the gates.
“I want you to know, he’s not coming back.” So sings Thom Yorke on Radiohead’s “Knives Out,” a somber tune full of sadness on Amnesiac. The Flaming Lips dedicated the song to Johnson before playing it to a group of fans who had gathered at the Toronto concert the same day after the Radiohead show had been cancelled. “Peace be with their hearts tonight,” said Flaming Lips frontman Wayne Coyne.
Who is at fault, what happened and the ramifications of the accident are all yet to be determined, possibly mired in insurance investigations for years to come.