Growing is often a series of events you’re suddenly ‘too old for’. Can I still enjoy the Ramones? Does punk rock have an age limit?
“I don’t want my hair to fall out / I don’t wanna be ﬁlled with doubt / I don’t wanna be a good boy scout / I don’t wanna have to learn to count / I don’t wanna have the biggest amount / I don’t want to grow up”
—The Ramones, I Don’t Want to Grow Up
The music was playing loud—real loud—the way the Ramones would want it. I think. I mean, I don’t really know the Ramones. It’s an embarrassing admission for me, actually, because I consider myself a music guy. Classic rock was always my core, but I’ve long prided myself on having an eclectic taste in music, with the single, common thread connecting all the songs in my personal collection being that it simply has to be an awesome fucking tune.
First album: Elton John’s Goodbye Yellow Brick Road. Twelfth birthday: huge windfall with the ﬁrst self-titled Boston album and Kiss’ Destroyer. Junior high came along and so did Cheap Trick and The Cars.
High school provided the typical, teenage, classic rock progression (mirroring the drug and alcohol experimentation progression of my friends and I), beginning with the discovery of Lynyrd Skynyrd morphing into The Doors leading to the Led Zeppelin years and followed closely by Ozzy and Black Sabbath. Along the way there were meaningful dalliances with Pink Floyd, Yes and AC/DC. And all the other usual suspects, too, from Talking Heads and Zappa to The Who and Aerosmith.
But never any Ramones.
There are one thousand nine-hundred and sixty-seven individual songs on my Apple Music account. I am incredulous as I confront my music fan self that I somehow didn’t, at a bare minimum, think to include Sheena is a Punk Rocker. I know their big name songs. I Wanna be Sedated, Blitzkrieg Bop. Shit, I even occasionally like to belt out OneTwoThreeFour real fast the way I recall my Ramones-fan friends did it back in college.
Like I said, it’s a sorry state of affairs as I look back on it now. I just never got into punk. And in fact, I’m not even sure if the Ramones qualify as punk. Just like I’m not exactly sure how many Ramones brothers there were in the band (although I do remember being saddened recently over news that one of them had passed away).
You see, I’m over 50 now. That feels like both an admission and a confession. And it’s an over-50 guy who doesn’t easily accept shifts in musical tastes, let alone a rather extreme one. Thirty years on Wall Street will have a straightening eﬀect on even the most aggressive of metalheads from back in the day. So, forgive me if I’ve gotten a bit stuck in terms of the music I listen to. It’s a sort of status quo that applies to too many aspects of our old-guy lives as we cast about in search of purpose, caught somewhere between the Baby Boomers and the Gen Xers.
Yet, there I was, rocking out like I haven’t in years. The top was down, it was 90 degrees out, a real scorcher of a Northern California afternoon, and me singing along to Pet Sematary; not just out loud, but with spirit.
Am I too late? Is the expiration date on my inner child/punk rocker way past due? Maybe there’s still some hope.
There’s a backstory to all of this. Of course, there is. There has to be.
A fortuitous series of unforeseen events collided in such a way that I found myself in Portland, Oregon, attending a Pussy Riot show. Yup. When I jump into a pool of new music, it may as well be into the deep end of the pool.
My coolest friend had scored the tickets unexpectedly, so what started out as two grade-school pals planning to catch up over dinner evolved into me squeamishly hoping that none of the hundreds of fanatical, twenty-something anarchists that surrounded us screaming “Death to Capitalists!” would identify me as part of that uncool and despised Republican Guard. Truth be told, I’m not a Republican; however, I could easily be confused with one, given my chosen industry of employment, age, haircut and wardrobe. (I was wearing cuﬀ links for God’s sake!)
Fortunately, the Pussy Riot fans had far more important issues on their minds than the old, uncool white guy in the corner trying to inconspicuously snap pictures of the show on his iPhone (to forward to my young daughters in a tragic effort to impress them with my street cred). So, left alone and feeling oddly liberated, I relaxed and enjoyed the show.
Another sad admission is required here. It was the ﬁrst live music show I’d been to in years. And I found myself having a blast, even if my cool friend did inform me later that across the spectrum of live punk rock performances, this particular show was actually pretty crappy (apparently only one of the Pussy Rioters was in attendance, with the other two evading oppressive and overbearing members of the establishment, probably with haircuts and wardrobes similar to mine). Regardless, I left committed to exploring the punk rock genre more thoroughly, prodded by my friend’s insistence that there is plenty of rockin’ punk rock to consume, a commitment that I miserably failed to honour in the following weeks.
Until last week that is, when I found myself in London. I was visiting the older of my two daughters who is currently living a life that I desperately want for myself (not looking in the rearview mirror back to when I was 21 like her, but right now—I want her life today), interning at the Cannes Film Festival followed by a month of studying in Paris. Sure beats the heck out of what I was doing the summer I turned 21, which involved preparing broth for 300 patients at the local nursing home, but that’s a story for another day.
As she and I wandered around Camden Market, I came across a stand with dozens upon dozens of crates containing old vinyl, musical masterpieces by all the favourite bands of my youth. Yeah, the records were used and a little beat up, and yeah, I’ve been burned (a lifetime ago) buying used vinyl, but I decided to exasperate my daughter anyway and slowly and painstakingly picked through several of the bins. I didn’t end up buying any old albums mainly because I was daunted by how the heck I would get them back to the States on my return home, but something did catch my eye.
In a dusty, tiny corner of the stand, there was a pile of old CDs. At the top of this heap, on sale for six pounds, was Ramones—Best of the Chrysalis Years. Now understand, I don’t even have a CD player anymore. (Do they still make them?) I ﬂipped the disc over and saw a couple of old Ramones’ staples (that should be in my Apple Music inventory already, I know, I know). Sheena, Blitzkrieg. Since CDs make for easy packing, I splurged readily.
Fast forward to this morning. When I had pulled out the CD after unpacking, I stashed it out in my workout room where I store the vinyl of my childhood along with my CD collection from the ’80s and ’90s. I ﬁgured I’d buy the actual album on my Apple Music account (thus righting my egregious omission of Ramones from my catalogue), but the album title didn’t come up when I ran my search. Now I was ﬂummoxed, as it appeared my six pounds had merely bought me a gloriﬁed coaster, not something I could actually listen to.
For the ﬁrst time since college I found myself having to lower the volume when pulling into crowded parking lots, and even though my singing sucks…I sure as hell didn’t let that deter me from my personal karaoke set.
It then occurred to me that my car actually has a CD player! Not only that, but it will record and store electronically up to 200 discs (I’ve had this car for a year and a half, and it took me the entire first year to learn how to use this storage system—have I mentioned I’m over 50…). So, I synched it into my car’s CD inventory (the forgotten portion of my music collection, rendered obsolete like so many facets of my life by those thugs at Apple) and on my way to grab a coﬀee today I dialed it up.
There are 18 songs on the disc. No fewer than 15 of them had me immediately going nuts—singing, banging the side of the car, doing the cool guy head bob in time with the beat. Included were covers of Take it as it Comes (The Doors), Out of Time (The Stones) and Somebody to Love (Jeﬀerson Airplane). I had no idea the Ramones even did covers (versions of these songs I’ve never heard, I might add, which only made them even more mind-blowing and cool). The music played and at that moment I was so fucking into the Ramones, punk rock, the vibe (OneTwoThreeFour!!!) that people stopped in their cars next to me at red lights only to stare and then quickly look away. And for the ﬁrst time in a really long time, I didn’t give a shit.
For the ﬁrst time since college I found myself having to lower the volume when pulling into crowded parking lots (actually, in college I never did that but probably should have), and even though my singing sucks and I don’t know more than a word or two of the lyrics to most of these songs (except those amazing fucking covers), I sure as hell didn’t let that deter me from my personal karaoke set.
Right on cue, I Don’t Want to Grow Up started playing. In addition to continuing to rock the fuck on, I started hearing the lyrics talking directly to me. Deep talk, into the inner recesses of my staid, play-by-the-rules, hair falling out, cuﬀ-links-and-ties mind. It became clear. I don’t want to grow up either.
Am I too late?
Is the expiration date on my inner child/punk rocker way past due?
Maybe there’s still some hope.
The last song of the disc started playing. Got a Lot to Say. Yeah, I do. The problem is, most of the time I don’t have anyone to say it to, or a forum to say it in.
Then I remembered—before the cap and gown, and Wall Street, and mortgages and two kids, and promotions, and corporate politics, and ﬁnancial crises (“Comb their hair and shine their shoes / I don’t wanna grow up”)—I was going to be a writer. A journalist. A combination of Hunter S Thompson meets Kurt Vonnegut with a splash of Hemingway thrown in (to ﬂower up the prose a bit, right?).
Amped up with courage and caﬀeine, I decided to take my self-seeking dilemma to my one-time favourite medium—the written word of pen and paper (or, ya know, keyboard and ﬁngers, typing, somewhere in the cloud).
I dunno the answer to this one—the big question of self, rattling around inside me. But I do know for that one hour earlier today—I felt alive. I was a punk rocker. And damn proud of it.
It didn’t feel too late.