Wednesday, October 13, 2004

A Musical Adventure

Vignettes from the R_a_m_o_n_e_s Beat on Cancer Concert, October 8, 2004

The sound was deafening. Okay, that is a slight exaggeration, because my hearing has finally returned, sans ringing. I should start with... the sound was loud enough to temporarily induce tinnitus that would drive bats to crash into cave walls. The aural assault was a physical presence, pounding on our ears, chests and faces, until all of the instruments and individual notes and chords and beats fused into one massive, indistinguishable, brutal sound. The club's soundman was a sadist of the highest order, a Vlad the Inner Ear Impaler or some such, and I'm not just saying that because I'm some old fart now who can't stand loud music. I'm saying it as a middle aged fart who turns up her own stereo loud, goes to concerts and shows all the time, yet still has better than average hearing, and would like to keep things that way.

Of the parts that I could hear, my favorites were, in no particular order:

  • The complete train wreck that was Alan Vega of Suicide. He had no idea what he was singing, what time he was supposed to be singing it in, nor did he appear to care. I felt bad for CJ Ramone, who seemed to be trying his best to keep a semblance of order to the vocals. I've had the immense displeasure of being in his position, and you can actually hear the engineer screaming as the train leaves the tracks, it's that bad. But the guy could not have cared less, he just blundered on in his way, yelling, "I don't give a FUCK about anything at all!" here or there, and you know, I believe him. It was pretty amusing.

  • Joan Jett was there, now a firm favorite of mine, and a perfect choice to sing some of their hits. Someone on stage remarked that if there was ever going to be a female Ramone, she would be it. She turned and sassed back, "Joan Ramone"?! Personally, I'm all for that. She kicks some serious rock and roll ass, in the same straight ahead, no prisoners way the Ramones did. I could have stood a lot more of Joan that night, since she seems more than most to have embodied the spirit of the group.

  • Sonic Youth was good when they were rocking out and Kim Gordon was dancing around and singing, while fussing at her dress's shoulder straps. I liked how the one guitarist (not Thurston Moore, the other guy) had a drumstick in between his guitar's fretboard and the strings, and he was hitting the stick with the other. That made a really interesting sound, as did many of the other strange and interesting things they were doing onstage, but I found that the sonic experimentations would go on for much longer than my attention span could stand, and I was longing and praying for melody after a while. Still, I gained a new appreciation for them.

  • The Strokes stroke themselves. They sucked at Little Steven's Randalls Island extravaganza, and they sucked again at this concert. 'Nuff said.

  • Blondie had some kind of band breakdown in communication during their set. While I adore Debbie Harry, and she was fantastic and snarly and the punky pop princess we remember fondly during the rocking numbers ("Don't Leave Me Hanging on the Telephone", "One Way or Another", etc.), the band was having problems. Where to begin? First of all, Clem Burke, the drummer, also known as Elvis Ramone on the bill, had a completely hissy fit about the ridiculous lighting used during their set, which was blinding and blinking and really, really bad. At one point, they turned the lights off of the stage entirely, and has these halogen looking lights beaming down on the heads of the outer rim of the dance floor audience, and it looked like the Mother Ship had come for us all, while the band looked confused in the dark. No doubt, he was absolutely right about the lights. He got a little cheer of agreement when he lept over his kit to complain about it on mike, when he said they were driving him "fucking nuts!" Also, the band didn't seem to be able to agree on whether they were a punk band or a pop band, and they kind of veered uncomfortably between the two, with Clem speeding up some of the tempos while Chris Stein was trying his best to drag them back with his guitar playing, to no avail. You could tell by the stage conversations between Debbie and Chris that something was amiss, and my guess was it was Clem's pissy mood.

    But the weirdest thing about Blondie's set was the rapping. No, not the rapping during Rapture, which one expects, but the introduction of a young black woman named Queenie, who rapped something that couldn't be heard , only to be followed by the bizarre spectacle of Blondie's young keyboard player, a white guy redundantly wearing a t-shirt that said "Whiteboy", coming out and rapping what people in the know might call "old school", and it was horrible, horrible, embarrassingly horrible! Did I mention the embarrassment and horribility of it? I don't know if it was supposed to be hip, funny, cute, or what, but it was just such a mess that the audience did not know what to do with themselves. There wasn't even the polite clapping that the Queenie person got. There was just dazed silence. What a waste of Blondie's stage time!

Some other observations/moments:

I wonder what the hell happened to David Johansen and Sean Lennon, who were on the bill but never showed.

I got all teary when CJ Ramone was casting around to get someone to fill in for someone (one of the above?) who was stuck on a plane and couldn't make it, and Tommy Ramone stepped up and sang "I Wanna Be Sedated" - totally muffing the words, but doing his best on a song that was released after he'd left the band. It was a sweet moment starring the only one of the originals left alive.

Realizing that, while Dee Dee went out the way he lived, doing something crazy with drugs, Johnny and Joey both fell to cancer, was very sobering. If you have read this blog at all before, you know that is a real sore spot for me, since my old roommate, J, and my other good friend have all battled and/or are currently battling cancer. I am glad that some of our ticket money went towards cancer research, because too many have died and suffered already.

As an audience, we were one large, sweaty human with multiple heads, head banging to the pounding assault of the drums. We had made a few acquaintances with the people directly surrounding us, as we had all been standing in the same place in the cow herd for hours, and there was time in between sets to yell comments and greetings to one another over the abysmal sound system. At one point, some former high school football champ, who did not appear to belong there, tried to muscle his way past me and this girl, to get in front of us. There simply was NO PLACE TO GO in the plastered together sea of humanity between us and the stage, so I turned to the brute and (some force within me that I didn't know existed) yelled, "Where the FUCK do you think you are gonna go? There is no place to go!". I stared at him like a lioness defending her den, and he hesitated for a second, and then tried to push forward again.

A second later, J, who hadn't heard me over the din, turned to him and yelled the exact same thing, word for word, at the now incensed ox. He mumbled something back, but ceased his steamroller attempts to get past, and stayed put just a sharp elbow's distance from J. If he'd gone one step further, I'm pretty sure that I'd be calling someone to bail J. and I out of some precinct or another, because we were both seeing red. I'd stand there for hours, afraid to leave for the bathroom or some water and give up my hard won spot, but don't anyone try to move me, or there's going to be trouble. You have some tired, dehydrated people here, listening to a deafeningly loud sound system pounding out the Ramones and other punk anthems. Not the type of place you want to be pushing buttons, even those of normally pacifist suburbanites like J. and myself. We'll hurt you, boy. What an asshole.

I saw a young punk girl with pierced this and that give some guy a shove when he was pushing her relentlessly, and I have to admit that I was proud of her for not taking his crap anymore. You'd never know that I am basically non-violent from this post, but the rats trapped in the pit vibe was getting the better of me.

When the concert was well over, the memorabilia was being packed away, and J and I were getting ready to leave. I stopped in the ladies' room, and as I came out, I spotted J in the crowd, talking to some woman in orange pants. I wandered over, figuring that he'd bumped into someone he knew, as he seems to do everywhere we go, but it was Tina Weymouth of the Talking Heads! This other person we had been talking to spotted her and mentioned it to J., and he made his was over to say hello. She turned and walked away just as I made my way over there, and I was a little disappointed that I didn't really get a look at her for myself or get to say hello, but I was still pleased as punch with this very cool celebrity sighting.

As we left the club in the wee hours of the morning, talking too loudly over our deafness and complaining about our aching feet, there were hot dog and exotic middle eastern foodstuff vendors out on the street to feed the passing club kids. Right up ahead of us on the sidewalk, scarfing down a "dirty water dog", was the tiny figure in orange pants from the club. Right next to her, paying the hotdog vendor, was her husband Chris Frantz, and their son. I didn't have time to decide what to do, and I didn't want to bother her except to acknowledge that I knew who she was, so I just smiled hugely and said, "HI!" as we walked up to her, and was treated to a big smile and hearty, "Hi" in return. We didn't stop, because it was just cool enough to say hello to her and not spoil the moment by panting over her about how great the Talking Heads were, blah, blah, blah, and it was perfect.

All in all, a great night, if somewhat flawed, but all for a worthy cause. And I got to see J. basking in the reflected glory of his musical idols, watching them finally being paid homage by others who were influenced by them, and we had fun as we snarled and smiled in unison to the ups and downs of the adventure.

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