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Monthly Archives: April 2012


Image Source: Ramonesworld

It feels like a math equation where one of the figures is off somewhere. I run the numbers in my head, and it doesn’t add up. Does not compute. Joey Ramone has been dead for eleven years? Impossible!

Singer Joey Ramone, real name Jeff Hyman, died of lymphoma eleven years ago on Sunday. Bassist Dee Dee Ramone (Doug Colvin) OD’d in 2002 and guitarist Johnnny Ramone (John Cummings) died of prostate cancer in 2004. 75% of one of the most influential bands in my life and lifetime is deceased. Not possible, not for a band that was such a life force for so many outsiders such as myself. Does. Not. Compute.

Memory lies, but mine tells me that I first saw The Ramones play “Rock & Roll High School” on Sha Na Na in 1978, when I was five or six. I have seen film of this show since, so I know it’s plausible. I definitely remember knowing that they played “Blitzkrieg Bop” on the National Lampoon’s Vacation soundtrack. And by the early to mid ‘80s I was obsessed, soaking up whatever I could about this band of punk rock Beatles from Forest Hills, Queens.

I was first attracted to the look. Four mean-looking New Yorkers, all named Ramone (even though they weren’t related and actually hated each other’s guts), with Joey’s Anglo-Queens bleat in the middle. This wasn’t Glen Campbell or David Cassidy! The Ramones weren’t nice. They weren’t clean and polished and safe for mama. They were rebellious antimatter, and I was immediately hooked.

Next I started laughing. Hysterically. The lyrics! Sure, at eight or nine I couldn’t quite grasp a line like “now I guess I’ll have to tell ‘em, that I got no cerebellum.” But I sure as hell got “Beat on the brat with a base – ball bat,” and the image of Joey – 6’ 6” and maybe 120 lbs, most of that hair and rose colored granny glasses – beating the crap out of a crying kid with a Louisville Slugger appealed to my nascent sense of gallows humor. Later on I could plug my own life into song titles like “Outsider,” “I Wanna Be Well” and, of course, “I Wanna Be Sedated.”

But really, it’s the music. Raw, fast, aggressive punk, yes, but few bands wore their influences so obviously on their collective sleeves. Take a listen to “I Remember You” and tell me that it couldn’t have been The Who or Herman’s Hermits. “Oh Oh, I Love Her So” is straight-up Jan and Dean/Beach Boys homage, as is “Rockaway Beach.” And was there ever a greater lyrical ode to teenage puppy love than “I met her at the Burger King, we fell in love by the soda machine?” Swoon.

The Ramones were there for me during my pre-teen years. They were there all through high school. They were there all through my college years. They were one of the great constants my life has ever known, even though the quality of their records was maddeningly inconsistent. And a little piece of me still expects a new album and tour every two years.

I don’t normally get all meepy choked up over celebrity death. Not that I don’t care, but in most cases the celeb in question is just too remote from my own world. Too foreign for me to connect with. The Ramones were different. They weren’t beautiful, they were fucked up! They were a bunch of glue-sniffing, mentally shaky outcasts, and they taught me that it was okay to be a less-than-beautiful, fucked up outcast myself, and to write about it.

The Ramones were ME. How can the figurehead of that life force be dead? For eleven years now? Does not compute.

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Image Source: Paul Masck

The other side
of the bridge
(The wrong side
some would say)
Our first place
cramped and grimy
Two flights up
above the bodega
Humid and hot
kebob and curry
diesel and Marlboro
(And we thought
we had made it)

*This is my first real stab at poetry, and I owe it all to the analysis, encouragement and belief of Courtenay Bluebird. Thank you, mon amie.

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Subway

8:29 PM
April 11

Gee, you get so damn lonesome in this town sometimes. New York is no place to be if you’re alone. It’s no picnic if you’ve got somebody either, but if you’re alone, and kind of shy and awkward, and maybe a little homely, being here makes it that much worse. Your loneliness is on full display every day. The streets laugh at you. The guy with the beautiful girl, he looks down on you. And that feeling of being all alone, it follows you everywhere. Late at night on a subway car, early in the morning on a bus crossing Central Park, walking through the tunnels of skyscraper shadows, in a corner booth in a bar…you’re alone everywhere, and New York never lets you forget it. It’s hard. Boy is it hard. Sometimes I walk down these stairs to the station and I feel like I’ll never stop climbing down. I’ll just keep going, by myself, and I’ll never have a friend or anyone that cares about me. And everybody else in the city will pass me by, and they’ll all have somebody and they’ll all look back and laugh at little old lonely me and I’ll just keep climbing down, all alone, never reaching the station, never finding anyone that cares about little old lonely me. No one will ever notice, and no one will ever know how much it hurts sometimes. How hard it is to be alone in this town. Little old lonely me.

Nobody cares.
Nobody notices.
Nobody would notice,
if I weren’t around…

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On Thanksgiving Day 1988, unbeknownst to all of us, one of the cats pissed on the stove. Sometimes a smell indelibly sears itself onto your memory bank, and that incident, fairly and unfairly, confirmed the fact that my grandmother was a disaster in the kitchen. It’s not like she put the cat on the burner herself. But her cooking was atrocious, and the cat burner fiasco definitively created a Pavlovian connection between grandmother and food.

Her specialty, as it were, was pork chops and biscuits. Specifically, Shake ‘n Bake pork chops. She always managed to find these tough little chops that were mostly bone, and the Shake ‘n Bake coating would slide off in a greasy sheet. The biscuits were made from scratch, possibly out of rocks. Nary a hint of flake in these things.

Many nights my brother and friends and I would make a show of eating, and then bring dinner outside for games of Pork Chop Toss and Biscuit Shooting. The house down the hill was maybe 300 yards away, and with a good flick of the wrist and a good crust on the snow, a pork chop could make it a long way toward the property line. And a biscuit could take two BBs at close range and barely even flinch.

All was almost lost, but not all: gram made the most amazing donuts from scratch.

On frigid winter mornings, we would come downstairs and find her covered in flour and stirring a fresh batch in boiling Crisco. They were spectacular! Unless, and until, you bit into a “prize” donut and found yourself choking on a nice big clump of gray hair. Those mornings we quickly turned to heaping bowls of Boo-Berries or Fruity Pebbles, saving the remaining donuts for bird feed and target practice.

She tried, and I loved her for the effort. And we certainly didn’t go without. But the woman was an absolute nightmare around the stove, with or without the noxious fumes of burning cat urine.

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“Amazing,” I said. “A Top 10 smash with only two chords.”

My wife and I were driving with The Spinners’ “I’ll Be Around” on the juke, and as always, I was listening with producer ears.

“Only two chords in the whole damn song,” I said. “E major to a D# minor with an F# root note. That’s it! Two chords that never resolve to a definitive tonal point. And there’s no bridge or pre-chorus, and the middle eight is the same two chords with a string section on top. Talk about minimalism!”

After eleven years, she is used to my frequent soliloquies on song writing and production, baseball history, jazz and punk history, world history, Simpsons references, ‘80s and ‘90s Saturday Night Live references and all the general detritus that floats out of the garbage dump that is my brain. She’s mastered the art of the smile and nod: smile at my genuine heartfelt enthusiasm and nod along in general interest, knowing that I’m just going to keep going. We get along great like that.

“And,” I said, “here’s…wait for it…the Organ From Nowhere! That Hammond B3 in the verse. ‘You made your choice’ dah-da-daaah da dah-da-daaah. Where else in the song is there organ? NOwhere else, that’s where! But it works!”

We continued on our way, driving toward lunch at the Homestead with my parents.

“I like the strings,” she said.

“Yep, that’s the Philly sound,” I said. “The songwriters Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff launched that sound at Philadelphia International Records: doo-wop harmonies and lush string arrangements. Think of The Delfonics, Billy Paul, The Stylistics, Teddy Pendergrass…”

I am, of course, just thinking out loud as I hear all these elements connecting and presenting themselves. My brain is a sieve. And my ears are constantly in the studio.

“It’s a great sounding record,” I said. “Hollow body, probably a Gibson, for the da-dat-da-dah octave guitar part, then a nice clean Fender Strat through a Fender Twin amp for the chords. Classic combo there. It’s a good mix…except for the drums.”

“What’s wrong with the drums?” She said.

“Gah!” I said. “The 1970s was what I call the ‘Dead Drum Era.’ The idea, for some bewildering reason, was to make the drums sound as flat as possible. I can hear the producer saying, ‘That kick drum sounds real punchy. Better throw a few more pillows in it, and maybe a phone book! And that snare drum is HUGE! Better put a tampon on it!’”

“A tampon?!?” she said.

“A tampon,” I said. “That’s an old producer’s trick to dampen a really hot snare drum, like in a room with a lot of echo. Or in the case of the Dead Drum Era, as an unfortunate aesthetic choice. They still do it, but fortunately not as much.”

The song was over. We arrived for lunch, and another typical drive with me was over.

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One of the greatest names – and THE greatest delivery – the game has ever known belonged to Van Lingle Mungo

It returns on a brisk day, the kind that requires a few extra layers. It’s the kind of day we normally rue and call miserable, but today it’s the most beautiful day ever. Today is rebirth and rejuvenation, summer and Christmas in April. Greatest day of the year.

The grass outside is dead and brown, but inside all will be June-worthy emerald green. The sun glares through an icy sky, the winds whip and summer seems years away. But today summer begins. Today we step off the street, through a turnstile and into a dreamland of warm nights, weekends that seem endless and escapism from the hard facts of life.

Today is Opening Day.

Today is the day that has whispered all throughout the winter. It’s all about bunting and Americana and having the exuberance of a kid again. Great seats! Dog and a beer, and time to break in that new cap. Grab a score card and get inside the game.

The winter of our speculative discontent is over. All the could have and should have trades are done, and the roster is set. Hey, let’s play ball!

Our kid pitcher looked good in spring training, but the first visiting batter looks good too. The mental cat-and-mouse game between pitcher and hitter is on, and we play inside ball in our seats, second guessing, anticipating and discussing with seat mates. This turns to reminiscing and swapping stories, and buying rounds.

We sit in the chill of a brisk April day for a few hours, watching the game of youth and feeling the warm nights so soon to come. We marvel in the beauty of a perfectly executed double-play and a bang-bang out at the plate. We jeer as the opposing pitcher throws to first one too many times, and we talk about the greatest games we ever saw, in these same seats and in other parks. And for a few hours we leave our mundane worlds behind and enter the dreamland.

Today is summer and Christmas, and we are reborn and rejuvenated, despite the sharp April winds and sepia landscape. It’s Opening Day. Greatest day of the year.

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Image Source: NY Times

Yeah, I seen it all. Or if I ain’t seen it all, I seen a lot. You wouldn’t believe it if I tole’ ya half the stuff that I been witness to in my booth. It gets pretty crazy sometimes.

I been on evenings for twelve years now, so there ain’t much I ain’t seen. Guys dressed like dames, I see them a lot. You figure most of them are goin’ to try to get into one’a them hot new nightclubs, an’ most of them are gonna be comin’ back the same way they came in. Some of ‘em are better lookin’ than my own wife! I gotta give ‘em credit for that!

I seen guys come through getting’, shall we say, serviced. An’ I also seen one too many guys come through while servicing themselves. That ain’t exactly the time you wanna be takin’ a dollar bill from a guy, if you know what I’m sayin’!

I see guys come thru wanna be all tough guy an’ put on a show of talkin’ to their wives or kids, or sometimes smackin’ ‘em around. I don’t like that, not at all. I see that, I do my best to get a plate number an’ let some of my buddies in blue know what’s comin’. Figure it can’t hurt, an’ maybe it’ll help.

Craziest thing ever happened? Probably a woman givin’ birth soons’ she cleared my booth. She was in a cab, an’ I guess they was tryin’ to make it over the GW to the Upper West Side, but you could tell she wasn’t gonna make it. I swear, just after they got through my booth, the cab pulled over. Good thing there was a cop there! He blocked traffic, an’ I happened to have a coupla clean blankets in my booth, so I run over and give ‘em to the cop, see? An’ the baby was born on one’a my blankets! How ya like that?

I seen the mayor come through a buncha times. I seen the governor a few times. An’ plenty of celebrities. But mostly it’s just regular folks, like me, see? The guy that goes to work for ConEd all night diggin’ ditches an’ fixin’ lights, an’ the gal that makes our bagels, an’ the bus driver headin’ for the Port Authority an’ all like that. I give directions, I talk about the ballgame that day, or the horses at Ozone, I make change an’ I go home. It’s an honest day for honest pay, ya know? But I have seen a lot up there. Maybe not everything, but you wouldn’t believe half of it anyway.

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