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Posts Tagged ‘punk’

A Review of Hey Ho Let’s Go

Posted by Scott Holstad on May 6, 2015

Hey Ho Let's Go: The Story of the RamonesHey Ho Let’s Go: The Story of the Ramones by Everett True

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I read and wrote a review of a book called Ramones on November 26, 2013, so much of this is overlapping. With that in mind, I’m going to reprint some of that review here:

“Let me begin by saying I’ve liked the Ramones for a very long time. Since roughly 1980. And while I’ve enjoyed their music, I never thought they were musical geniuses or lyrical geniuses the way Lennon and McCartney were or even Trent Reznor. It was just fun, fast music. This book is about the music, but I’m downgrading it a couple of stars because the author thinks the Ramones are the world’s greatest band, for all intents and purposes. He’s a real fan boy. But since this is an authorized biography, I guess you would expect that.

The band started out in New York in 1974. Four disaffected young people who couldn’t play a musical instrument to save their lives. They couldn’t even imitate their musical heroes, the way Bowie or McCartney did. But they did get instruments and learn a chord. Their first show was a disaster, but soon the new club, CBGB’s, found them and nothing was ever the same again. They’d come on stage and rip through 17 songs in 15 minutes or 23 or 24 songs in 20 minutes. The object seemed to be to get through the songs as quickly as possible, with as much loudness as possible. The chiefs at Sire, a new outfit, heard their demo and signed them, and all of a sudden they had a record. And it got great reviews! All of a sudden, they were the founders and leaders of a new punk movement, and they influenced the Sex Pistols, The Clash, The Damned, and many, many other bands. They toured a lot and continued putting out records. That’s pretty much the book. A couple of lineup changes, the only one of which — when bassist and song writer Dee Dee quit — was big. There’s mention of drugs and alcohol, but just barely. This is a PG rated book, unlike other rock biographies I’ve read. A lot of the songs are quoted in the text, or snippets of songs, but it serves, in my opinion, to show just how insipid their lyrics were — not how great they were like the author asserts! While the Ramones never sold many records, they did tour a lot, and I guess that’s what prompted the author to write, “Everyone in the known universe loves the Ramones today.” Huh? They made $400 for their shows. Their albums sold in the 25,000 to 40,000 range. Obviously NOT everyone in the known universe loves the Ramones….”

Well, this book basically echoes that review, but instead of it being PG rated, it’s R rated. We learn of Dee Dee’s heroin addiction, of the band’s affinity for sniffing glue when younger, of Marky’s alcoholism, (and Joey’s too, it seems), and Johnny’s totalitarianism control freakishness and his Reagan/Bush loving Republican loving right wing politics (which is really weird). We learn how Johnny and Joey stopped talking to each other after about 10 years and spent the next 12 years communicating through others while still playing shows together year after year and still recording albums together. Part of that may have been because Johnny stole Joey’s girlfriend and married her.

I used to like the guys, but this book made me feel icky about them. Joey’s like this child-like, tall, skinny praying mantis who’s always in a dream state and doesn’t deal with reality well. Marky is an alcoholic in denial. Dee Dee is in a permanent state of being pissed off and is a drug addict. And Johnny is a right wing nut job penny pinching control freak. Tommy, the original drummer, is the only one who seemed normal. Maybe he got out at just the right time. CJ, Dee Dee’s replacement on bass, seems fairly normal too, but he’s never really viewed as one of the group.

We learn about how the band feels about music and their place in rock, as well as their views of other groups. We learn that they grew bitter about not selling records and not being recognized for starting punk or speed metal or whatever you want to call it (Johnny called it both). We learn that they seriously hated Styx, Foreigner, Boston, and Journey, as well as Yes and Pink Floyd. We learn that they kind of looked down their noses at the Sex Pistols. We learn that they liked AC/DC and Monster Magnet. We learn they hated goths, although they played a festival with Sisters of Mercy. We learn they hated traditional metal, opening for Black Sabbath and having bottles and cans thrown at them by the audience. We learn the author thinks they were bigger than the Stones in South America. Perhaps that’s true, and perhaps it’s true that they played to 50,000 people at a show there, but Queen played to 130,000 people there, so they don’t have the record, sorry. (I like Queen more.) The Ramones wavered on liking The Who and The Stones. Sometimes they did; sometimes they didn’t. They didn’t think too much of Lou Reed. They liked Debbie Harry and Joan Jett, who partied with them.

It was weird reading about them dying at the end of the book. Except for Dee Dee, and perhaps to a certain extent before he got cleaned up, Marky, they didn’t really live too hard. After shows, they wouldn’t have traditional rock parties with groupies, etc. They’d go out in the clothes they wore at the concert and look for a 7-11 or a Burger King. Then go watch cartoons or monster movies.

As stated in the previous review, the author and many of the people he interviewed thinks the lyrics are genius. Personally, I think they’re insipid. But I think that’s part of the fun of the Ramones. You can’t take them seriously. I don’t think they took themselves seriously. How in the hell do you take Beat On The Brat or We’re a Happy Family seriously? As to musicianship, many thought Johnny was the best guitarist ever. I think that’s insane. (Jeff Beck is.) One person interviewed, however, said Johnny sucked, was horrible, couldn’t play his way out of a box. The truth was he was probably somewhere in the middle. I doubt he created a genre, as so many claimed in this book, but he was decent.

Overall, I’m glad I read this book. It filled in a lot of details I didn’t know and was entertaining. The only downside was, it lowered my respect for the band members a bit, which is unfortunate. Nonetheless, I’d still recommend this for fans. It’s chock full of good info which you can’t find elsewhere.

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A Review of Rip It Up and Start Again

Posted by Scott Holstad on August 29, 2013

Rip It Up and Start AgainRip It Up and Start Again by Simon Reynolds

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This was an exhausting book to read, in part, because the author was so exhaustive in his research and, thus, the book is a thorough overview of British, and to a lesser extent, American post-punk rock. It’s also a strangely intellectual book, and at times, it felt like I was reading a modern history textbook.

Early on, Reynolds discusses the demise of punk and the (odd) opinion that The Sex Pistols’ “Never Mind the Bollocks” actually signaled the end of punk — not the height of its glory. He shows post-punk to be distinct from punk and New Wave, among others. The post-punk bands that followed punk wanted to continue the revolution that it began but failed to fulfill. There was a sense of existing to negate the corporate hit-making machinery and ideology of 70s-era prog and commercial rock, or at least until New Pop and New Wave came along and flailed against such post-punk rebellion by emulating the most listener-friendly pop forms. These early post-punk bands began exploring other forms of music, such as experimentation with art rock, electronics, dub, reggae, funk, and even disco. Some of these early post-punk bands wanted to make a wall of noise and often the bands were made up of a collective as opposed to trained musicians. Often, the traditional instruments (guitars, drums, etc.) were completely ignored for synths and tapes, as well as other assorted unknown instruments. If there were even concerts, film and theater often played large roles. Audience participation was often encouraged.

The book is divided into two halves: one is pure post-punk and the second is “new pop and new rock.” As a result, it read like two distinctly different books. The first chapter is about PIL (Public Image Limited), Johnny Rotten’s band he formed after ditching the Sex Pistols. According to Reynolds, PIL was the start of the post-punk movement. However, numerous other bands formed and began playing, such as Joy Division, Cabaret Voltaire, Devo, Gang of Four, Wire, Pere Ubu, Throbbing Gristle, and tons of bands I’ve never heard of. The second half begins with The Specials, before moving on to ska and Bow Wow Wow, as well as the New Romantics, such as Adam Ant. The author goes further into groups like Gary Numan, Haircut 100, ABC, Duran Duran, and pretty much ties it all together with Madonna, of all people, at the end of the book. It’s a very exhaustive look at hundreds of bands and many scenes throughout the UK and America. And that kind of presents a bit of a problem. The chronology of the book’s chapters runs back and forth as different scenes and genres are covered, which was occasionally confusing. Everything was thrown into the mix together — the bands, band missions, various genres, record stores, record labels, clubs, new types of technology — everything. It was nearly overwhelming.

One of the major problems of the book was its tendency of the chapters to follow a pattern that got a little old fairly soon. Reynolds first discusses a specific post-punk hot spot, often geographically (such as Manchester, Liverpool, NYC, San Francisco, etc.). He then discusses the best band, or several bands, from that scene before mentioning virtually every band possible from that same scene or hot spot. Like I said, it gets a little old….

Another major problem I had with the book was its insistence that this second British invasion was the most important musical movement since the first, citing hundreds of bands, most of whom I’ve never even heard of, and I’d wager many other people never have either. Among the bands Reynolds discusses are The Pop Group, New Age Steppers, Delta 5, The Future, Teenage Jesus, This Heat, Tuxedomoon, Factrix, A Certain Ratio, and so many more. Many of these bands he discusses as so very relevant never even released an album, and those that did usually just released an EP or one debut album that sold something like 5,000 copies and they were never heard from again. I fail to understand why so many of these, frankly, unimportant bands were deemed worthy of inclusion.

The book, and many of the bands in it, pay homage to some that came before them, such as Captain Beefheart, Roxy, Bowie, Eno, etc, and that’s cool. It’s really not a bad read and I learned a lot. I just think a lot of it was unnecessary and I question the author’s intentions. Did he just want to expand the book’s pages to charge more? I also could have done with a little less (band) name dropping and more detail on some of the more significant bands. However, it was good to see personal favs like Bauhaus, The Cure, Sisters of Mercy, and Skinny Puppy mentioned. I’d recommend this book for any 70s music fan and many music enthusiasts, but it’s a bit of a cautious recommendation. I think you have to wade through a lot of crap to get to the good stuff, and that’s a bit of a pity — but it’s ultimately worth it.

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