Monday, June 13, 2016

Rock 'n' Roll High School

Rock 'n' Roll High School
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I still remember the first time I heard the Ramones. I was a freshman in high school and my friend Eric played one of their songs for me. I don't recall whether I listened to it on his Walkman (or mine) or if I heard it at his place - might have been the latter - but the song was "Do You Wanna Dance?" I loved it instantly. I had never heard the original version before, but it wouldn't have mattered. Even when I hear their version now, it always makes me happy.

I have a vague memory of seeing Rock 'n' Roll High School on TV, specifically, WPIX Channel 11, back when they still played movies. I remember watching the concert scene, seeing them perform "Teenage Lobotomy," and thinking how convenient it was for the film to provide the lyrics for the song in subtitles. I was too young to know what a lobotomy was, or DDT for that matter, but I still sensed the song was kinda silly, and I dug that.

Seeing them in this deliriously fun movie now, I was reminded for a brief moment that all four original band members - Joey, Johnny, Dee Dee and Tommy - are playing in Rock 'n' Roll Heaven now (though Marky was in the band when they made this movie, not Tommy) - but only for a moment.

The punk rock "look" is fairly commonplace now (don't get me started on how out of control ripped jeans have become), but seeing the Ramones that way, during their prime, one is reminded of how counterculture that look used to be once upon a time. I mean, between Joey's bangs and his dark glasses and his long hair, one wonders if he even had a face at times. It's like his head was a great big mop of hair with a nose sticking out!

Rock 'n' Roll High School is very much in the spirit of those movies from the late 50s and 60s that exploded in the wake of the mainstreaming of rock, usually with some popular band of the moment, a hepcat Allan Freed-style DJ, stone-faced authority figures, and lots and lots of teens.

Born of rhythm & blues music by black musicians, rock metamorphosed into something bigger once White America grabbed hold of it, and Hollywood was there to take advantage of the new trend: Rock Around the Clock, The Girl Can't Help It, High School Confidential, through the British invasion and A Hard Day's Night and its imitators.

Rock 'n' Roll High School shares with these movies an anarchic, gleeful, fun-loving spirit that embodies rock at its core. In a year in which we've lost two of its greatest practitioners, it's worth looking back to the time when rock meant something special, something important, because all you have to do is turn on the radio these days to realize that time is gone, and may not ever return. And that's sad.

PJ Soles and Dey Young are both total hotties, but I wanna talk briefly about two other cast members I love: Mary Woronov and Paul Bartel. I first discovered this husband and wife duo during my video store years, and seeing the two of them in anything was always a treat. His on-screen persona was like a slightly edgier Edward Everett Horton: fussy and uptight but susceptible to temptation. As for her, well, put it this way: I'm not into S&M or anything like that, but if I were, she's the one I'd want wielding the whip! The two of them together made for a potent mixture of virtue and vice.

So if you're in the New York area, you may have heard about the current exhibit at the Queens Museum devoted to the Ramones. It's glorious. It makes a fella proud to see how four local boys from Forest Hills conquered the world. The exhibit spans almost their entire lives, from candid pictures from their youth to lyrics scribbled on scraps of paper to flyers for their earliest gigs, amps and guitars and leather jackets, original album artwork, gigantic concert posters, photos from around the world, and more, all set to Ramones music constantly playing as you look. I can't recommend this enough. If the Ramones or rock in general mean anything to you, then take the trip on the 7 train and see this show while you can.

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