One critic said that British punks sang anger, Americans, pain. But punk was more than emotion, more than the sense of humor the Ramones brought to the mix, more than the adrenaline rush of a live show, more than the aura of sex around everything. Watching Riff Randell blow up Vince Lombardi High in Rock ‘N Roll High School, I felt that freedom was possible. Though classmates bullied me for my music, taunts of Your hair’s blue changing to Your hair’s green as my Krazy Kolor faded, and though I dutifully regurgitated teachers’ beliefs–Rochester’s blindness made him and Jane equal–bands like the Ramones offered a different paradigm–that we could make our own meaning, equal to anyone, buoyed by song. Reader, I married them.
Shivering in a tiger mini and torn shirt I’d fabric markered with the cartoons from Rocket to Russia, I clutched my fake ID, breath held until the bouncers let me in. One two three four! No costumes, no audience banter. Just the Ramones and their music, the energy of the crowd joining the energy of the songs, magnifying it and sending it back and forth between audience and band. Dee Dee handing out guitar picks, which I later poked holes in and wore as earrings. Joey’s arm extended like a preacher’s.
I saw the Ramones whenever they came to town. My system for getting to the front — turn slightly, put a shoulder forward, step, turn, repeat – worked every time. Pressed against the stage, I was part of the experience rather than mere spectator. I left sweaty, satisfied, and spent.
Since blowing up my school wasn’t an option, I skipped senior year and headed for college. Brandeis had a rep as radical, but my classmates dressed conventionally and listened to popular rock. My school life and club life were separate worlds.
When the ballots for campus concert came out, one of the choices was the Ramones, with ex-Doll David Johansen as opening act. My sole punk Brandeis friend and I campaigned. We knocked on doors. Called in favors. We begged and cajoled, extolling the Ramones’ praises until our victims agreed to vote for them just to get us to leave. Still, numerous students would have to choose the Ramones on their own. Only two years ago I’d been ridiculed, but people were catching on. The Ramones/Johansen ticket won. I joined the Hospitality Committee to meet them. Quiet and slouched, barely interacting with each other, the Ramones ate pizza in a conference room. Joey ambled over, stuck out his hand. I’m Joey. (As if I didn’t know.) This was my chance, but for what? Not a groupie, not a peer, not wanting him in bed, not knowing what to say, I managed only, Would you like another slice?
The gym was packed, a crowd far larger than at local clubs. As the first chords blasted, the non-event of meeting them receded. What mattered was the Ramones and me in the dark, the music loud and necessary. And the band played like they’d never stop.