It’s mind-boggling to me that one of the greatest bands from the original American punk rock scene released their self-titled debut album a full forty years ago. When I learned the Queens Museum was hosting a temporary exhibit commemorating the anniversary of their recording career, it shot straight to the Top 5 on my vacation to-do list. Fortunately my wife and son were generous enough to allow this fan’s diversion.
Previously on Midlife Crisis Crossover:
Every year from 1999 to 2015 my wife Anne and I took a road trip to a different part of the United States and visited attractions, wonders, and events we didn’t have back home in Indianapolis. With my son’s senior year in college imminent and next summer likely to be one of major upheaval for him (Lord willing), the summer of 2016 seemed like a good time to get the old trio back together again for one last family vacation before he heads off into adulthood and forgets we’re still here. In honor of one of our all-time favorite vacations to date, we scheduled our long-awaited return to New York City…
In April 1976 I was too young to appreciate the Ramones or, y’know, music in general. My tastes and criteria changed circa 1989 (the year of their eleventh studio album Brain Drain) and the Ramones became one of many bands outside the Top-40 populist dominion whose discography commanded my Walkman, boombox, and car stereo over the next decade or more. I’m the kind of old fan that owns more of their works on cassette than on CD, but one who’s young enough to own none on vinyl and to have first encountered them on their first greatest-hits compilation, 1988’s Ramones Mania.
The Ramones’ style was rock distilled to its minimalist essence, a direct assault on the excesses of other ’70s genres — the tinny smarminess of disco, the overwrought self-importance of prog-rock, the country/western hoedowns and easy-listening lullabies that dominated the pop-radio charts. Born and bred in the parts of Queens that didn’t care about designer clothes or lockstep consumerism, the Ramones cranked out tunes that were curt, simplistic, brutish, catchy, and free of major-label artifice despite their longtime relationship with Sire Records. They were often tongue-in-cheek, sometimes to the point of feigning cartoonish stupidity. For a kid like me who grew up a lower-class loner with an odd set of criteria for choosing my art and artists, their concise wall-of-sound anthems were like coordinated, self-aware cavemen clubbing at my subconscious through the determinedly clean-cut veneer of the cliques that surrounded me, trying to signal me to another, more relatable world than the better-dressed one that was content to leave me hermetically sealed off in my own outcast bubble.
And now the Ramones are a band that belongs in a museum. That exhibit, “Hey! Ho! Let’s Go: Ramones and the Birth of Punk”, ran at the Queens Museum through July 31st. As of this writing it’s been relocated for a five-month stint at L.A.’s Grammy Museum. The following pics are examples of the art and artifacts in which I had the pleasure of immersing myself while Anne and my soon waited patiently even though they didn’t quite get it. Maybe you had to be there and be like that.
To be continued!
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