A good review in the current issue of Drastic Plastic Press, of Nick Rombes’ book about the first Ramones record:
Continuum’s 33 1/3 series analyzes individual canonical rock ‘n’ roll albums. It is to their credit that Ramones/Ramones has made it into their “hall of fame” of sorts. Detroit’s Nicholas Rombes stage dives into the sociocultural climate that gave birth to the Ramones’ debut record. This is not a VH1 style tell-all book chronicling the Ramones’ rock ‘n’ roll rollercoaster ride and endless band in-fighting. Rombes’s
concern here are the social factors that allowed for a phenomenon like the Ramones to happen. This is as deep as a discussion of bubble gum pop and punk rock can get,
but don’t let that scare you off, like the album it discusses the book is a short, sweet, and intense ride.
Rombes sees the Ramones eponymous first release as a pivotal album calling it either “the last great modern record or the first great postmodern one.” The Ramones’ simultaneous genius and naiveté confound Rombes (as they do anyone who actually pauses to think about the band). Rombes points to a rejection of the mandated “niceness” of the 70s, the suburban teen’s fascination with the city, the development of camp culture, B-movies and comic books and groundbreaking films like Taxi Driver (remember Deniro’s Mohawk?) as contributing to a culture ready to give birth to and accept a band like the Ramones.
Rombes spends many pages mythologizing the rock critics of the time who found a fresh, more self-aware voice in punk rock criticism. Many of these reviewers were in bands themselves and their reviews were as much about their experience as the band’s music. Rombes digs up a 1976 review of the Ramones from Richard Hell. Hell writes that the “music the Ramones create from these feelings [of frustration] is incredibly exciting. It gives you the same sort of feeling you might derive from savagely kicking in your smoothly running TV set and then finding real thousand dollar bills inside.”
Rombes spends some time boiling down theories about what punk is, how it relates to
politics, fascism, and “anarchy;” when punk started, who was the first punk band etc. Many of us have had these often frustrating, circular discussions with friends ad nauseam, but here Rombes does a concise job of laying out a solid thesis (complete with a chart), detailing the various early waves of punk (or new wave, as the terms are proved interchangeable) and approaching these topics in a thoughtful but fun way.
There is a lot going on here for a book that is really supposed to be about the first release from the Ramones. Punk rock and our experience with it is often a very personal and passionate thing for the misfits attracted to it. Some of what Rombes says here I disagree with, but that is part of the fun; this book got me thinking about this culture in ways I never had before.