Joe Sparrow : A couple of paragraphs from an email I wrote to a friend about Tommy Ramone’s death, and rock fetishism

Tommy Ramone died the other day. The BBC practically cleared the news schedules to report on his death: the story ran third or fourth on the TV and radio news throughout the day.

A friend in the USA pointed out how different this was to the coverage in Tommy’s home country, where blanket coverage for a man who drummed on the first three Ramones LPs was not forthcoming.

Apropos of nothing, here is my theory of the differing coverage:

  1. The Ramones are not the fringes ‘n’ sneers proto-punk band of a decade or so ago.They’re now a cross-cultural, cross-generational totem; a fetishised concept.They’re not about The Ramones I, and possibly you, knew anymore. They’re about The Ramones™ that you see on T-shirts worn by 15-25 year olds who have never heard their songs, but are savvy enough to know that they stand for Cool White Rebellion™.So their commodified importance means that the death of an original Ramone has some kind of visceral meaning to a lot of people, even if they’re not sure why.
  2. This second point perhaps helps explain the first point somewhat – in the UK, punk ‘won’.I mean that insomuch as: punk’s ethos, noise – and the acceptance of the average musician being essentially untalented but having something to say – are all established norms here. Professionalism in rock music is not overtly praised in the UK, but sticking it to the man is.Anyway: because of this, the death of an ‘important’ punk person is, ergo, automatically important in a wider cultural sense.

What does it all mean? Well, I think the coverage says a lot about how most people now view rock music now: as a relentless backward glance.

The majority of The Kids don’t pick up guitars to be different or rebellious now. They pick up guitars to live out an established dream.

The Ramones did the exact opposite.