The Aging Punk.008

Monday, 18 February 2008

I've never been much of a car person. Granted, after 20 years in Southern California I've made my peace with them. I've learned to drive the freeways with ease. I've even been known to express something like affection for my beat-to-shit 1990 Honda Civic (bought brand new; 238,000 miles, thanks for asking). But for the first first 30 years of my life I was firmly anti-car. They were evil—polluting, dangerous, unnecessary. I didn't get my driver's license until I was 19, and then only because I was finding it difficult to bicycle to work in the snow.

Except for two very brief periods, I never owned a car until I moved to California. The second of those periods occurred while I was in Idaho. My neighbor offered me her car, suffering from some unknown ailment, if we would push it from her yard to ours. We did. And then discovered the problem—the last time she had the car serviced, someone forgot to replace the cap the transmission fluid, and the gears were all locked up. So we pushed it into the vacant lot across the street and let the city tow it away. As I said, I 'owned' the car very briefly.

Previous to that, I owned a car for about two months while I was in college. It was my parents' old Plymouth Valiant, truly a great car. Unluckily, cars don't last long in the snow (and salted streets) of the Northeast. Shortly after they sold it to me, the frame rusted clean through. But for a couple of months in 1979 I owned a car.

What, you're probably asking by now, does this have to do with the Ramones? The fact is, I got to interview the Ramones only because I happened to have that car.

The college I attended (Hampshire College, in Amherst MA) was a pretty self-contained unit. 95% of the students lived on campus, and pretty much everything was provided there. And for anything which wasn't available on campus, there was a free bus service into town, and to the other nearby colleges. A car was not necessary, and most of the students did not own one. I often had people asking me for rides here and there.

So it didn't surprise me when Lynne, a woman I knew, asked me for a ride to the Ramones concert at the Rusty Nail (a local bar which often had punk bands, and, incidentally, did not lie on the bus route). Sure, I was going already. Actually, she had to get there a couple of hours early, as she had arranged with one of the local papers to interview them. I guess I could manage that. While we were at it, could I give her some ideas for questions, as she didn't really know much about the band. In fact, why didn't I just come in with her, and…. well, conduct the interview myself.

So I found myself in the Ramones' dressing room, asking them a bunch of dumb questions I'm sure they had heard a hundred times by then.

Now, I truly wish I could reproduce that interview here. I can't tell you how much I wish I could. But I can't. Because it doesn't exist. I naturally assumed Lynne would write it up, as it was her assignment. But she somehow thought I should write it. Between the two of us, it never got written. In fact, part of me suspects that Lynne never had any intention of writing it up anyway, that the whole thing was just a ruse on her part to get into the concert for free. And I wasn't enough of a take-charge kind of guy to just write up the interview myself, and perhaps start my career in rock journalism 30 years early.

I don't even know what happened to the tape of the interview. I'm enough of a pack rat that, if I had had it in my possession then, I would certainly still have it. But no… nothing.

Not that it was any great interview. As I've said, we were both pretty much faking our way through it, trying (but certainly not succeeding) to not look too dumb. I don't remember much of what I asked them, but I can guarantee that none of it was earth-shattering, or even very interesting.

The only record I have of it is my journal entry from that night, which reads:

We interviewed DeeDee (bass) first. We had no idea what to ask, faked it as best we could. We asked about the movie (Rock'n'Roll High School), touring, audiences, carbona, success, record companies. He was friendly and helpful, not at all antagonistic, but seemed a little bored at being interviewed.

Then we got Joey and Johnny together and interviewed them, still with DeeDee. Johnny (guitar) did most of the talking. We ran over the same material, getting fuller comments. They've done almost constant touring for the past two years, the U.S. and Europe. They like the U.S. much better, they did a lot of bitching about Europe.

They also talked about food, TV, spare time. They joked a lot; DeeDee said he had nine years of classical bass training at Julliard. I asked if they had any words of wisdom for their fans. DeeDee said, “Try to be like us—have fun.”

There you have it, all I have to show for what was, admittedly, a pretty amazing opportunity. Certainly not the first, nor the last time in my life I've been handed the ball and fumbled it miserably.

The main impression I have looking back is of a bunch of all-American kids who loved hamburgers, beer and television. And who were, in fact, quite bored with being interviewed, especially by a couple of college kids who had no idea what we were doing. Considering that the interview never got published, I do feel guilty about wasting their time that way.

The concert that night was great, the best Ramones concert I ever saw. If only because the bar had a decent dance floor.

The Ramones live were an explosion of energy. They charged through their songs with barely a pause for another “1! 2! 3! 4!” between them. They sped their songs up even beyond the recorded versions, if you can imagine that. Their shows weren't long, maybe an hour tops, but that hour was non-stop pogoing energy.

So a good dance floor definitely helped one enjoy the show. The first time I saw them was in a tiny bar on the UMass campus, a room filled with shitty, sight lines, little cafe tables and no room to move. The next time was in a real theater at Amherst College; we sat in the balcony and it got bounced up and down so hard I thought it was going to collapse underneath us. Number three was at the Stage West (Hartford CT), a huge barn of a venue. It was general seating, without seats. A huge mosh pit formed in front of the stage, which sucked you in and moved you around whether you wanted to or not.

…I know, what kind of self-respecting punk doesn't love a mosh pit? But it wasn't so much a mosh pit as we know it today, it was more anarchy in motion. And I was right there in the middle of it. I'm just saying I enjoyed the dancefloor more.

So it was nice to see them in a bar with an actual dance floor. Granted, the dance floor was packed pretty tight, but nothing like the Stage West. You could stand your ground, you could dance without feeling like you were about to be crushed. You could actually dance.

Or maybe I just remember the concert as being great because I was pumped up from having just met them. I'm sure I had a lot of extra energy to burn off on the dance floor that night.

But today I just wish I had that tape….

G. Murray Thomas writes and performs poetry because he can't sing. He can be found at


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