Night of the Living Dead

They say that “close” only counts in horse shoes and hand grenades. I think it sometimes counts with cover bands, especially when a member of that band is on board. Last night I raced to Hudson Hall at the Hudson Hotel to catch Marky Ramone’s Blitzkrieg. Marky was joined by Andy Hilfiger on bass and lead singer Michale Graves, formerly of the Misfits (after Glen Danzig moved on). It was a barrage of classic Ramones, from “Sheena is a Punk Rocker” to “Lobotomy.” Surely it wasn’t the Ramones for real, but if you closed your eyes and squinted your ears just right it was real nice. These days a blurry YouTube video or a track over the radio or from some DJ is all we have left. This live show of all the stuff that ushered in an era was absolutely a blast. There was a punk purity to it, an honesty and a truth that only comes off live. No, Andy isn’t Dee Dee, and Michale ain’t Joey. But they weren’t trying to be.

They were playing the songs hard, fast, 1-2-3-4 more and I loved it. I saw hundreds of Ramones shows and although Joey, Dee Dee and Johnny are playing Pinocle with Elvis, I think they would have loved it. For me it was nostalgia, fuzzy memories and goose bumps. It was a séance of sorts with an energy and voice true to the Ramones. It got a little weird when they did songs like “What a Wonderful World” and “California Sun,” being that those were songs the Ramones covered, so it was a cover band doing a cover of a cover. Blitzkrieg had no trouble handling the trademark simple chords and hooks of the set. Michale brought in a maniacal frenzy that Joey lacked in the later years. To channel the punk ghosts they head bopped and made all the proper distorted faces. I knew every word and sang along with the invited crowd.

The guests had gorged on pizza before the show. I was told it was made using Marky Ramone’s Brooklyn’s Own Pasta Sauce. I heard it was great. I chatted with Marky right before he went on and his lovely wife Marion after the gig. They may take this show on the road. Although no one was diving off the stage and only a handful of us were pogo-ing, I think this is a winner. The history of the Ramones is tumultuous. It was fraught with back-stabbing, in-fighting, and some cheating, some lying and some screwing around. It was distrust, disgust and dishonor. It continues now long after the last Gabba Gabba Hey. The royalties and trademarks and other streams of loot always seem to be points of contention. Somebody always seems to be suing somebody. A long time back I interviewed Joey’s brother Mickey and writer/bon vivant Legs McNeil. The interview which took place in Joeys old apartment in the East Village bothered me. I chose not to post what I recorded. It didn’t jive with my recollection of the past so I let it go. The past is always seen from different angles. Two people in the same room can see the same thing and come away with a different thought. It is written by survivors and winners and they aren’t necessarily the same thing

I remember when Joey’s girl Linda was found to be sleeping with Johnny. It was a cold dark secret that should have ripped things apart, but the band played on. Joey wrote the song “The KKK Took My Baby Away” which most felt was his way of getting even with the right wing Johnny for stealing his girl. Some say it wasn’t about that. I don’t believe them. It felt like Joey was answering the thousand questions that no one wanted to ask him. He had summed up the situation with a great track, the music, the vocals, the purity that is punk at it’s best, and had encapsulated in the raw emotions of a betrayal. Punks were losers singing about their plights in a world that always looked down on them and discounted them. In the music they united the millions who felt left out. They were invariably skinny losers with ripped up jeans and leather jackets. They weren’t really tough so they acted out with the music. They blasted away their frustrations at a straight-edged world that didn’t hear what they were saying. They played it loud, fast and hard. When Blitzkrieg offered “KKK” last night with both Joey and Johnny as dead as Julius Caesar it was a sad, poignant moment. The lawyers can argue over rights to this or that and the division of the pie may change from time to time, but the songs remain. They have been given new life with Marky Ramone’s Blitzkrieg. Someone close to Marky told me “he just wants to play.” He played last night and showed those too young to know and those straining to remember about what it was like to see the best punk band ever. Spin Magazine once compiled a list of the greatest rock bands ever and had the Ramones second after the Beatles. Buddy Rich, who many considered the greatest drummer ever, once said Marky was the best. Last night Marky and crew gave us a window to an era passed. He and his band tore it up and I hope they do it again real soon. I know Joey and Dee Dee would have loved it. Johnny would have found some fault in it and been angry at Marky for something, but I have to believe that he and the dead Ramones were always about the show, the music and the fans, and this show hit that trifecta hard, and so it’s Hey Ho, Let’s Go to the next gig.

The World Reunion at Santos’ was less than was expected for those who expected too much. I arrived late, after Marky…everyone complained. I saw people I hadn’t seen in eons and told a tale or three. I was happy to see those who came and I truly missed those who didn’t make it, couldn’t make it, or watched from above. I missed Arthur Weinstein the most. He had done an art show in this space before it became a joint. He liked the space and everyone at Santos adored and respected him. A club like the World couldn’t exist now, needn’t exist now. The people who complain about clubs these days including myself must appreciate that that time is gone and cannot be recreated and that the fun and the energy and music and sociology of that time was specific to that time and may no longer have relevance. Most laments for clubs the way they were “back in the day” are merely cries for the return to the personal Nirvana of youth. A little old school vitality can be found in a reunion or a cover band or more easily a blast of Viagra, but it never really is the same thing. However, it will often get you through the night. I got through last night with a whiff of something old and familiar lingering in my hair and soul. I woke up, showered, shaved and wrote this and will spend the day looking back a little and moving forward a lot. I refuse to be a zombie living as if my past life was the best of times. A famous poet once said “the best is yet to come, and won’t that be fine.” I believe him.

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