1. This is from last year, but on the death of the last of the Ramones (Tommy), it’s worth linking Martin Little’s reflections on the lessons Christians can learn from the NY-based band. Little writes:
But there is a particular thematic thread in their songs which points to a deeper yearning. Taken as a body of work, The Ramones’ songs introduce us to a cast of characters. These characters are people who are ostracized from mainstream society as a result of youth, cultural obscurity, mental illness, and/or physical deformity. These characters are drawn in, accepted and celebrated into the cult of the band in a way that mirrors Jesus’ acceptance of the marginalised into the Kingdom of God in his own cultural setting. Jesus enacted his embrace through his preaching and actions; the Ramones’ enacted their embrace through the songs themselves, both on record and in concert.
John Flansburgh, writing at Slate, points out that even the term “punk” signalled an embrace of the margins. “I never understood why in old movies grown men would jump up and punch someone in the face after being called a punk,” he writes. “Wasn’t it like being called a little jerk? Evidently the truth behind the word, at least from the grizzled NYC know-it-alls I hang with, is that it was street slang for a younger gay lover or rent boy, so to call someone a punk was beyond calling someone a fag. It was calling someone a whore and a fag.”
I’ve always thought there was something Christian in punk’s lack of pretension, too, in, say, the Ramones’ insistence on building all of their music out of only simple elements. There’s also this, also from Flansburgh:
A Ramones song cannot be unheard. The Ramones changed the pH balance of rock music’s pond water. Their existence challenged everyone else’s. They’re not part of a school. They built the building.
jammed my airspace w/ a podcast &
to-do list list filled up inside I run & running
then a snowstorm so no school I cried & said
Mayor Bloomberg should be scalded with hot
cocoa when someone said Yay for snow! I’m
cutting it too close Erin if a blizzard makes me
cry I used to long for snow for that quiet filling
everything up What are you talking about? asks Erin
Seriously what are you talking about? crammed
in the toddler bed I say If you want me to stay
You need to lie stil the toddler tries why? must he?
“There is a devotional poem hiding somewhere inside these calamities,” Chiasson comments, “an attempt at ‘mindfulness’ undone by the mind’s fullness.” I’m spending a lot of time in a toddler bed lately (okay, actually stretched out on the floor next to one), and so I’m very glad Chiasson has pointed me to Zucker’s writing.
3. Finally, Sarah O’Holla’s review at Slate made me want to pick up Amanda Petrusich’s Do Not Sell at Any Price. Petrusich writes about collectors of 78 rpm records; O’Holla focuses in particular on Petrusich’s revelation of the gender dynamics of music obsession, which she connects to her own project, My Husband’s Stupid Record Collection. Petrusich writes:
I was methodically teaching myself exactly how to miss the point. When I wondered whether I just listened differently—whether my experience of music was somehow more emotional, more divorced from its technical circumstances, more about the whole than its pieces—I chastised myself for being arrogant or stupid. (I blanched, in fact, at catching myself using a word as treacly as “emotional.”) And yet: I could love a record more than anything in the world and still not make myself recall its serial number.
O’Holla nods: “Traditional music criticism doesn’t really resonate for me, so if I was going to write about records, it was going to come from a place that interested me: The way the music made me feel.”