Yesterday I said that The Clash were musically better than the Ramones. It kills me a little to say that, though Johnny was pretty deprecating of their music too, including to The Clash. That's one of my favorite stories from The End of the Century: The Story of the Ramones.
I loved it, because there was my favorite band inspiring my next favorite band, but also there is something to learn from that. Johnny knew that they weren't exactly virtuosos - "Wait till you see us—we stink, we're lousy, we can't play..." - but he also knew it didn't have to hold them back. "...Just get out there and do it." The Ramones inspired The Clash and the Damned and so many other bands with that attitude.
Johnny was also selling them short, in a way. There were things that they lacked in technical proficiency, but it didn't stop them from being effective. They were knowledgeable in terms of what music could do, and how they wanted it to sound and even in the image that they wanted to present. They consciously chose what stances to adopt when playing. They never sold as many records as they deserved, but they played a lot of shows and they played great shows. They earned a loyalty which a lot of acts with huge sales never managed.
And they were messed up. I hate it so much, and feel so sorry thinking about it. They brought damaged selves into the band, hurt and offended each other during their time in the band, and I'm not sure if any of the rifts were mended in life. The biggest one wasn't.
It is still a remarkable story of hope. They took that damage and they made it work. They meant something. Even on the day that our new racist-in-chief is sworn in - and with my speakers going out so I am starting to get these distorted pops - their music lifts me up.
Some people - in their understandable quest for a bright side - have said that they look forward to the music and art that will be produced under the new regime. I admit there have been times when I wondered if Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher could have been the driving force behind the wonderful music of the '80s.
I also think it was still easier to get by then. There wasn't as much concentration of wealth in the hands of a few, and it was also still really common for people to pay for music. Don't think that doesn't make a difference. I can imagine many people capable of producing wonderful music not getting a chance.
I stand by the importance of art, the importance of music, and the importance of punk. I stand by the legacy of the Ramones.
We did need them then, but we still need them now.