e-mail me at billdeg@umich.edu


Brownstein on the Ramones

NPR's All Songs Considered now hosts what looks to be a funny and quirky blog, Monitor Mix, maintained by Carrie Brownstein, formerly of Sleater-Kinney. The defunct Sleater-Kinney played Pacific Northwest punk but, like the much more famous Pearl Jam did earlier and bands like My Morning Jacket did later, they simultaneously wore classic rock influences on their flannel sleeves. And like the early 90s riot grrrl bands that came before them and The Gossip who came after them, progressive, feminist, queer, and body-positive politics played a big role in their lyrical content, on-stage personas, and overall ethos. They proceeded The Gories and preceeded the White Stripes and, once again, The Gossip, in consciously eschewing a bass guitar.

Sleater-Kinney, if I may make a Klosterman-esque pronouncement, were the prototypical mid-period band. Take any definitive Sleater-Kinney characteristic and you can point to a band that shared that trait a few years earlier and a band that shared the same trait a few years later. That's not to say Sleater-Kinney were overly derivative or unoriginal. In my assessment, they referenced arena rock with more verve than Pearl Jam, for instance. They knew how to improve upon flourishes. Plus, they rocked.

Sleater-Kinney's great song was the self-explanatory "I Wanna Be Your Joey Ramone," which you can see the band performing a decade ago at CBGB's by following the link. And now Brownstein has blogged about her affinity for the Ramones. So I guess all has come full circle. Brownstein describes losing touch with the simplicity of the band as she moved on to more sophisticated musical tastes:
How had I forgotten about The Ramones? I own nearly all of their albums, I might even consider them one of my favorite bands, but I rarely listen to them. Suddenly this oversight, this forgetfulness, felt disastrous. I think of The Ramones as a starter band, one you have to know, one you have to love, one you have to discover in order for them to lead you elsewhere. But then you go further away and sometimes you forget to ever go back. You find post-punk, you listen to Wire, Gang of Four, The Slits, you find reggae and dub. Then you embrace classic rock, first ironically, maybe at a karaoke bar, and then for real. F*ck this straight-forward punk sh*t, give me prog and wanky solos and post-rock, and soon nothing is valid that comes in under five minutes. When friends or prospective dates ask you your musical tastes, you can't just say, "The Stones" or "The Clash", you have to say the name of the last Ethiopiques CD you bought, or you mention Captain Beefheart, Syd Barrett era Pink Floyd, Candi Staton, Bert Jansch, Thirteenth Floor Elevators, a side project of Wilco but not actually Wilco, the list goes on and on. Really? Really these are our favorite bands? The ones that got us out of bed in the morning on a sunless day?
We all have gateway drugs, no? Not just musical gateways either. In junior high, I loved the paranoid novels of Robert Cormier, especially the horrifying I am the Cheese. And a few years later, classics of dystopic fiction floated my boat (how many times did I read Brave New World?) For me, the definitive musical gateways of my adolescence were R.E.M. and The Smiths. You read interviews and start to chase down stated influences (Pylon, New York Dolls, Gang of Four). And when you get older, as Brownstein suggests, you chase down more cache. And like Brownstein says regarding the Ramones, I own all the albums by the Smiths and R.E.M. Do I listen to them often? Not lately, no. If, say, a student asks me about bands I like, I usually talk about an older band that I discovered later on ("you gotta hear the X-Ray Spex, Kraftwerk, Roxy Music") or a newer band ("The Muldoons are the rocking-est band in Detroit right now"). Less frequently do I talk about, to borrow Brownstein's phrase, "the ones that got us out of bed in the morning on a sunless day."

What has provided the soundtrack for unpacking boxes at my new place? Madonna's "Immaculate Collection," The Kinks' "Village Green Preservation Society," and Chesterfield Kings' "Mindbending Sounds of the CKs." That Madonna record is perhaps the best Greatest Hits collection ever. Cool value? Cache? Prolly not. I really like the sad and nostalgic songs on the Kinks great concept album "Village Green" and "Picture Book" makes me laugh every time I hear the line about "your fat old uncle Charlie, out cruising with his friends." The Chesterfield Kings are an outstanding garage revivalist outfit that's been around for a few decades trying to sound like the pre-Jimmy Page Yardbirds. I saw them open for New York Dolls last year and genuinely thought their cat-like singer was going to fall to his death from the rafters he had climbed onto at St. Andrews Hall. Musical tastes that span the obscure as well as the mainstream, the iconic as well as the ironic, freshen the sometimes-stale world. But why do we forget the gateways? If it's in order to seek out cool obsessions we've just discovered, then great. If it's a cache grab, too bad. More unpacking to do tonight and I'm going to listen to Fables of the Reconstruction and Meat Is Murder.

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