Goddammit, I hate writing these things. The last few years have been pretty awful for music fans, so to hear of the death of Buzzcocks frontman Pete Shelley this evening was another bitter blow for many of us.
I’m not going to say any more, except to suggest that you hit play and turn the volume up very loud…
Aw, damn. That’s the end of an era then – no more Ramones. Tommy Ramone, the last remaining original member and founder of the first generation punk legends has left the building, aged only 62 (some reports say 65). Admittedly, that’s a fairly good innings for a Ramone – of the classic, original line-up, vocalist Joey died in 2001 aged only 49, with bassist Dee Dee dying the following year at the age of 50 and guitarist Johnny following in 2004 at 55.
Born Erdélyi Tamás in Budapest, Tommy Ramone moved with his family to New York in the mid-1950s, where he met the three young men who were to become Johnny, Joey and Dee Dee Ramone. Originally the band’s manager, he ended up as their drummer because, as Dee Dee later put it, “nobody else wanted to”. Never the world’s most technical or complex drummer (which, quite frankly, didn’t matter one bit), Tommy provided a solid backbeat to the band’s first three classic albums, Ramones (1976), Leave Home (1977) and Rocket To Russia (1977), as well as handling co-production duties.
He left the band in 1978, ostensibly worn out after constant touring but really because the tensions within the band had become too much for him, although he continued in a management and production role with the band for some time after. He continued to play music and produce various bands until he was diagnosed with bile duct cancer. He died yesterday, at home in Queens, New York – and the classic line-up of the Ramones was finally reunited in rock ‘n’roll heaven….
The Ramones were one of those bands who had an enduring and powerful influence above and beyond their (lack of) commercial success. Never big sellers in their native America (their self-titled debut only went gold earlier this year!), but that debut album had a huge and lasting pivotal impact on the early British punk scene before being picked up by cult American bands such as Social Distortion, Bad Brains, Black Flag, the Dead Kennedys, Ministry and Bad Religion. They’ve been cited as an influence by everyone from Evan Dando, Dave Grohl and Eddie Vedder to Green Day, Lemmy and Kirk Hammett – and the list goes on and on and on.
It’s easy to hear why they were (and still are) just so damn influential – particularly on those legendary first three albums. Their deceptively simple yet distintive and immediate sound is impossible to resist – or to replicate, although many have tried. It’s that unlikely and irresitable melding of 70s rock, 50s rock ‘n’ roll, girl groups, surf music, bubblegum pop, and classic protopunk bands like The Stooges and The New York Dolls that made them so utterly wonderful. For me, they were unique, one of the definitive punk bands with a sound and an attitude that still makes me smile every time I hear them. It is genuinely sad that they are all gone now – this really is the end of a great musical era.
RIP Tommy, Joey, Dee Dee and Johnny.
Gabba gabba hey!
Some people think little girls should be seen and not heard… (X-Ray Spex – ‘Oh Bondage, Up Yours!’ 1977)
Like many punk fans of all ages – and although I never met her – I was genuinely upset to hear of the untimely death yesterday of the former X-Ray Spex vocalist Poly Styrene at the age of only 53. Tributes have been springing up all over the internet to an inspirational, much liked woman from fans and fellow musicians alike. Ex-Slits guitarist Viv Albertine was one of many who tweeted a poignant memory of her friend:
Much like The Slits’ inimitable Ari Up, who died last October, Poly was not afraid to speak her mind. A feminist and a supporter of Rock Against Racism, she wrote fiercely impassioned songs about consumerism and the environment – the lyrics to early single Oh Bondage, Up Yours! were about “being in bondage to material life. In other words it was a call for liberation” she told punk chronicler Jon Savage.¹
I’m surprisingly saddened to hear that Malcolm McLaren died this morning in New York at the age of only 64. I’d had no idea that he’d been fighting cancer for some time – it seems he took a sudden turn for the worse over the last few days. His family are naturally said to be devastated, and I send my sympathies to them.
They, and we, have lost a man who was always one of a kind, whatever you thought of him – and most people either loved him or hated him. Or both. Whatever your reaction, he was unique.
Despite the fact that he quite clearly wrote his own myth from day one and then arguably pinched much of Vivienne Westwood’s limelight for many years, as well as the basic truth that his self-importance often outweighed his actual importance to British music, I have always had a sneaking admiration for the old iconoclast and I believe that British music and culture will be lessened by his death.
As with so many people, music is central to my life and I love the energy and anger and fire and inspiration of punk – the genre with which McLaren was always most associated. However, and despite what Malcolm always used to say/think about his role in the process, that whole thing was evolving independently and would have exploded anyway – the first British punk single was, in fact, New Rose by The Damned, who had nothing to do with McLaren.
Oh dear. Some silly tabloid journalist had to go ask John Lydon what he thought of the Arctic Monkeys. That was never going to end well. Under the deeply original (not) headline “It’s the Arctic punkies”, Lydon is quoted thusly:
“Oh don’t be silly. That’s not a band. That’s a showbiz construct. A mockery. Alex Turner just turns on the computer and types in ‘punk’ and it goes ‘ping’. I see no gut-wrenching soul-searching going on there”
Hmmm. I know full well that Lydon is a classic contrarian, that his brand of punk has never been about principles, and that he’s probably entirely right about the Arctic Monkeys (full disclosure: I’d rather chew my own foot off than listen to any of their albums…) – but this from the man who sold what little soul he had left – after Malcolm McClaren had finished with it, obviously – to a butter company, of all things? Not very punk, really – however you choose to define that concept.