I learned to play guitar and write songs because of The Ramones. Before they became trendy again, and long after the original punk explosion, I discovered the Ramones. They were between Brain Drain and Mondo Bizarro. I was only 12 or 13 at the time. Hair metal was in the hight of its popularity. I read all of the music magazines at the time. Somehow I must have read an article on The Ramones. I got my parents to get me All the Stuff and More Vol 1. It was a compilation that contained their self-titled debut and their second album, Leave Home.
Now you need to understand popular music at the time. Many of the rock magazines and guitar magazines featured music that was technically challenging to play, especially if you were just starting out. Although I was a kid and hadn’t yet given up my dreams of being a pro-wrestler(!), I was starting to fall in love with music. I could play power chords, but not much else.
My parents were really great about letting me listen to anything I wanted, though my Mom did scratch out bad lyrics and nude pictures in the sleeves of albums like Appetite For Destruction! But they were very supportive of me learning a music instrument in general. And to learn a music instrument it helped if you could listen to things that made it seem cool, that would keep a young kid interested.
Getting those first two Ramones albums was a revelation. Not only for the first time could I figure out songs and play along, although I was still cheating playing power chords instead of Johnny Ramone’s infamous bar-chord attack, but I actually started to understand song structure because of this. With just a couple of chords you could write and play timeless pop songs. After hearing those records I started writing my own songs. (Though it would be an extremely long time before I would write anything good!) Plus The Ramones expanded what songs could be about. All of a sudden a kid that had only heard songs about girls and parties for the most part, was hearing songs about New York street life, songs influenced by horror movies and comic books, and songs about everything from sniffing glue to beating on brats with baseball bats. (The Ramones had their girl songs too.) Their songs were simple, but their subject matter was varied and strange.
As a quick sidestep, even though Ramones songs were simple to emulate, they are actually really hard to play exactly like they did. Try playing nothing but downstroke bar-chords for an hour. Try playing Tommy Ramone’s high-hat parts for a whole set. Their stuff is simple, but it takes real stamina. Plus their songs, while simple, are full of endless hooks and clever lyrics.
Anyway, I try not to write about my life a lot on here, unless it can somehow help shed light on something or unless I am promoting a show or record I will be a part of. I wonder how interesting it will be to read about someone being influenced by The Ramones. There are a million like-minded stories.
But I think the thing is that is the point. Even if their music is somewhat conservative stylistically, they basically played simple rock n roll stripped of all flourishes and at very fast speeds, they allowed countless people to become creative, who might have otherwise not felt like they could be. If I were to write a list of everyone who had a little bit of The Ramones in their musical DNA, the list would be almost endless. One of my favorite periods of music is the post-punk scene. The music of that time is exploding in creativity. That scene might not have happened in the same way if not for The Ramones.
When you write you think about who your audience is. I know a lot of people that come here will read this post and say, “No shit!” However, if you don’t know the music of The Ramones, you should. If you are just starting to play an instrument, or you have a kid that is just starting, gift yourself or them a Ramones album. They were a band that were extremely creative and unique within the confines of stylistic limitations. That is an important thing to learn, that limitations do not stand in the way of creativity, but actually can aid it at times.
I think anyone in any art should always try to push themselves as hard as they can to be better than before. But you only have the present. There is nothing that should stop you from being creative even if you are not where you want to be. I love people that can do things that I can’t. From Joni Mitchell’s guitar playing to David Mitchell’s novels, I love hearing, reading, and seeing things that bear the mark of someone pushing the boundaries of an art form. But communicating an idea is the most important thing. There is no time to start like now…