The Ramones, the Ronnettes, and Cargo Cult Rock and Roll

The thing everyone forgets about the Ramones is that they were a girl group. Which, mind you, wouldn’t stop them from beating me up if they found out I said that.

What I mean to say is that the Ramones did a lot of things that groups like the Ronettes or the Shirelles may have done.  You just never noticed because you were too busy bobbing your head along to the drums and that buzzsaw guitar.  But there’s background hand claps on “Sheena Is a Punk Rocker,” for God’s sake.  And they’re in “I Wanna Be Sedated,” too in the part where the boys bleat “bahbah bahbah bahbahbah bahbah,” which is, after all not so different from the Crystals’ “Da Doo Ron Ron” or the background “ooh’s” (and hand claps) of the Ronettes’ “Be My Baby.”   And aren’t there’s some “oohs” in “Rock and Roll High School?”  Why, yes there are.

So what makes the Ramones so different from the Ronettes (besides, y’know, the gutars and the penises)?  Well the most important factor is probably that they didn’t have a clue what they were doing.  Joey wasn’t a great singer by any stretch of the imagination, and Johnny doesn’t seem to have known too many chords (although strumming downstrokes that fast for two and a half minutes is not easy — trust me on that).  Their record producing also took some interesting turns.  Someone told them you have to seperate the drums and the guitars.  So the guitar is hard right and the drums hard left.  You have to give them credit, they never let themselves get paralyzed by overanalysis; if they didn’t know how to do something, they made it up.

Some indigenous peoples have been known to imitate the processes of operating an airline landing strip in the apparent hopes that performing the same rituals as foreigners will result in material wealth coming from the sky (as it does for their industrial neighbors).  These are known as cargo cults.  The Ramones were rock and roll’s original cargo cult.  “We all have to dress the same, and have the same name.  And you smash those drums, and I’ll strum this here guitar, and you play the big one with the four strings and we’ll be famous any day, now.”  Of course, for them, it worked.

Published in: on January 31, 2012 at 8:43 pm  Leave a Comment  

New Year’s Resolutions

Here are Woody Guthrie’s New Year’s Resolutions from 1942.  Sure, the list is a little silly, with the cartoons and entries like “Wash teeth if any,” but hidden in there is some of the best wisdom since Ecclesiastes.  If you’re looking for a New Year’s resolution, you could do much worse than “Love Everybody,” “Read Lots Good Books” or “Save Dough.”  And those of you hoping to lose weight should follow Woody’s advice: “Eat Good — Fruit — Vegetables — Milk.”  If you’re a little more ambitious, maybe you can “Beat Fascism,” this year.  For me, I think I should just try to “Work More and Better,” where writing is concerned

Published in: on January 9, 2012 at 12:00 pm  Leave a Comment  

Whatever the Hell Douglas Rushkoff is, He’s a Good One

In my last post, I somewhat blithely referred to Douglas Rushkoff’s profession as “whatever the hell Douglas Rushkoff is.”  Rushkoff describes himself as a “media-ecologist,” but that doesn’t really help us figure him out.  I suppose we could say Rushkoff is a professional mad genius.  In What is Your Dangerous Idea Rushkoff discusses open-source currency.  He outlines the idea in more detail here.  I don’t know how sound Rushkoff’s economic history is, and his idea does have the aura of the conspiracy theory about it, but we have to appreciate that he takes the broad view (i.e. he doesn’t treat economics on its own but recognizes that economies must interact with all other forms of human endeavor), and his thinking leads in new directions.  I came away from Rushkoff’s article thinking: if socialism and capitalism were both developed for industrial economies and we have a post industrial economy, then why are all the economic policies we developed some form of capitalism, socialism, or synthesis of the two.  We’ve been trapped into lateral thinking, and whether or not Rushkoff shows a viable way out of that Semantic trap, he reminds us that there can be a way out.  Which is something we desperately need to remember.    When faced with a problem we keep throwing answers to see what works.  Rushkoff’s answers may very well be crazy, but they serve to remind us, we may be asking the wrong questions.  I for one would never have considered that currency itself (or rather the type of currency) could be at the core of our financial woes.  This kind of out there thinking is necessary to get things moving into the future, if we want to have an Arthur C. Clarke future.  Rushkoftf’s friend Grant Morrison thinks that a sort of nocebo effect is causing people who believe that future is hopeless to make it hopeless.  Grant thinks superheroes will show us the way out.  Rushkoff wants to open source everything (currency, religion, and so on), which I suppose would make us all superheroes of a sort.  Either way the point is not to get mired in how things are now, but to get moving towards making the future.

Published in: on January 4, 2012 at 9:53 pm  Leave a Comment