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Thursday, October 09, 2008

Did Punk Rock Have a John Lennon?

bobby pyn 2
Darby Crash, The Germs

October 9 is well known as the birthdate of John Lennon (and also Sean Ono Lennon). The former Beatle would have been 68 years old had he not been killed at the age of 40 outside his home in New York City on the night of December 8, 1980.

The previous day, December 7, a very young man, just 22 years old, died too. Jan Paul Beahm, known to the world of punk rock as Darby Crash committed suicide by intentionally over-dosing on heroin.

In a culture where people are always looking at correspondences to describe like phenomena, we find that in music, there is always "The New Bob Dylan," a veritable curse to the promising young folk singers labeled as such. In the rock n roll genre, I have heard several references to another rock n roll suicide, Kurt Cobain, as the John Lennon for his time. But its the only one I've heard.

John Lennon was the first to say of the Beatles that they're "only a rock n roll band," and at the end of the day, they are. They were an innovative and influential rock n roll band upon whom many teenagers and young adults hung their hopes and made into inadvertent role models and avatars for post-war youth culture. And perhaps that's where the correspondence between John Lennon and Kurt Cobain begins and ends.

bobby pyn

When I think of songwriters and bands in punk rock who were innovative and influential... those upon whom many teenagers and young adults made into inadvertent role models and avatars of their culture... the Germs do come to mind, for better or worse.

And then there were the Ramones, who might be considered the Beatles of punk rock. In the Ramones, there was a member for every kind of character trait... Johnny, the conservative field marshall type, Joey, the loveable face of the band, the icon, Dee Dee, the creative well-meaning fuck up, and the sole surviving member of the original Ramones, Tommy, the hard-working, straight edge creative timekeeper and producer.

Joey 1
Joey Ramone

There are a lot of great songs in the punk rock canon, but to me, the evergreen songs of an era were all penned by Dee Dee Ramone. Even though on the records, the songwriting was credited to the band as a whole, it was indeed Dee Dee who came up with most of the lyrics we hold dear today. And for his "Teenage Lobotomy," my closest friends and I are ever thankful, for it gave us our own punk rock legacy.

Like John Lennon, Dee Dee wrote prose and fiction; check out his memoirs. Legend of a Rock Star, A Memoir: The Last Testament of Dee Dee Ramone.



Riot Nrrrd™ said...

Hi Theresa,

Just wondering if you went to House of Blues to see Killing Joke tonight.

I saw them at the Whisky in August 1981 and they blew the roof off the place tonight. One of the greatest gigs I've ever witnessed. They were almost as good as the 1981 show (which I remember clearly - I was right up at the front stage-right, in front of Jaz's keyboards).

God bless you for this site and your presence of mind to photographically document what was, in retrospect, an amazing time in LA. I couldn't go to a lot of gigs back in the day due to being a starving student in Pasadena (we're about the same age, you and me) and I was a little slow on the uptake (I went to see Be Bop Deluxe at the Shrine instead of The Jam at The Starwood, D'oh!) so your photographs are precious reminders - both of what I witnessed myself as well as that which I missed out on (my first Ramones show wasn't until Jan. 1978 at the Civic with The Runaways and The Quick, for example). Always a day late and a dollar short!


Riot Nrrrd™ said...

Oops! I forgot - you live in Nashville, not LA! D'oh ... well of course you didn't see Killing Joke last night :) (But they're playing in Cleveland on the 13th ... )


Theresa K. said...

well, i live in nashville now. i grew up in LA. when i lived in london, i used to see jaz on the street when stiv & i went for walks in the portobello road... he would pick up rocks from the street and tell us fortunes based on the stuff on the ground under the rocks. weird, but hey...

glad you like the site... i too missed out on many things - opting for one show over another. you can't be two places at once unless you're "hermione" from the harry potter stories....

Adam Hunt said...

I'd like to add my two cents. I don't think that there is a singular "John Lennon" in punk but there were several influential song writers.

First and foremost I think Joe Strummer is the obvious choice. Joe's writing was strong, personal, and politically charged. And as with the case of John Lennon Joe Strummer's output became a bit weaker as soon as he lost his writing foil of Mick Jones.

The secondly I would like to nominate Greg Ginn. Greg Ginn wrote the majority of Black Flag songs including such greats as "Nervous Breakdown", "Jealous Again", "Six Pack", "Rise Above", "Depression", and "Slip It In".

While there had been some other writers that may have put out one or two good punk songs I think what moves Joe and Gregg up the ranks is they wrote a large number of great songs.

Tom Hayes said...

What about the sex pistols, everything punk all in one studio album, The Clash and The Ramones great bands but could they have the lasting power and influence if they only made one album, before they exploded. A Hot Burning Furnace is not the same as a Supernova. More films have been made about Sid (in the band less than 2yrs) then the ramones and clash combined. Dead at 21, what have you accomplished before 21? Not to mention Johnny Rotten the John Lennon of the punk rock scene still to this day 2015 recording and performing live, all the original ramones dead, the clash quit some 30yrs ago.