Exploitation Retrospect | The Journal of Junk Culture and Fringe Media
Dante's Inferno04/21/01: Goodnight Funnyman

On Easter Sunday afternoon, while punk godfather Joey Ramone was breathing his last breath in a NYC hospital, I was sitting by myself in a movie theater watching JOSIE AND THE PUSSYCATS. Now, you'd think that these two things have nothing to do with one another. And that's where you'd be wrong bucko.

In this media-savvy, pop-punk JATP, lead singer / head sex-kitten Josie (Rachael Leigh Cook) is shown wearing a number of punk rock tees including one that simply says "Sid," a Black Flag tee, and one featuring Joey, Johnny, Dee Dee, and Tommy from the cover of the first Ramones album. No wonder it was a bona fide box office disaster.

And when Josie and Co. launch into one of their manic, punk-influenced tunes -- and the soundtrack's full of 'em kids -- they're being fronted by an honest-to-god indie rocker (Kate Hanley of Letters to Cleo) and some of the lyrics come courtesy of Fountains of Wayne songwriter Adam Schlesinger. In other words, these kittens have more than a little indie-rock cred behind them. None of which would be possible without the revolution that Ramone and his cohorts helped kickstart 25 years ago.

In 1976, rock music was a bloated corpse, wallowing in the excess of over-indulgent production, pyrotechnics (all apologies to KISS), schmaltz, and the dreaded disco. I know, 'cause I was living in a house where I was forced to listen to some of the worst offenders. The Ramones -- four Queens, NY kids whose musicianship could scarcely be called "competent" -- burst upon the NY underground scene that had already given birth to such acts as The Dictators, Jayne County, and the heralded New York Dolls. Their two-minute songs and insipid lyrics were anti-art in an era when major label musicians were trying to spread dopey messages with their insulting "concept" albums.

The only concept Joey and the Boys had was how many songs they could cram into a 30-minute set at CBGB's.

Despite my older brother's best efforts, I wouldn't truly discover the Ramones until entering high school in 1980. Along with the Misfits and aforementioned Dolls, they were one of the first bands I got into in a big way. I loved their repetetive lyrics ("Second verse, same as the first!") and their entire persona –– from the matching outfits, common last name, and dancing pinhead -- really appealed to my comic sensibility. They weren't just a band, they were a way of life. A fact driven home by ROCK AND ROLL HIGH SCHOOL, surely one of the greatest rock movies ever made.

By the time I reached college, going to see the Ramones was like a celebration of the changing seasons. They frequently played the Chestnut Cabaret and City Gardens, headlined a few shows at local colleges -- including a memorable 'Animal Boy'-era gig at Temple -- and we even caught them on their NYC stomping grounds on more than a few occasions. In fact, looking back, I've probably seen the boys more often than any other band.

Not to say that all the shows were memorable or even worth the $12 I would've paid had I not scammed onto the guest list. In fact, there were more than a few instances where Joey, Johnny, and Dee Dee were under the distinct impression that a different song was up on the set list. Then there was the night I spent watching my friend Stan grow weak from the blood that was pouring out of the bottom of his foot courtesy of a floorful of broken glass. It wasn't a pretty sight.

But, as the years went on, Joey grew up, sobered up, and became a legendary icon in a world of here today, gone tomorrow punks. Unfortunately, while Joey goes to that great punk band in the sky, Henry Rollins continues to pop up on every VH1 special! Where's the justice in the world?!

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