Book Reviews: MAY 2020

"WHY THE RAMONES MATTER" (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2018, Music Matters Series)
by Donna Gaines

Sadly, the original Ramones are dead now: Joey (Jeffrey Hyman) succumbed to lymphoma in 2001; Dee Dee (Douglas Colvin) overdosed on heroin in 2002; Johnny (John Cummings) died of prostate cancer in 2004; and Tommy (Thomas Erdelyi) perished from bile duct cancer in 2014. The punk icons existed as a band from 1974-1996, played 2,263 shows, recorded fourteen studio LPs, released such unforgettable anthems as "I Wanna Be Sedated," "Bonzo Goes to Bitburg," "Rockaway Beach," "Beat on the Brat," and "Sheena is a Punk Rocker," and were deservedly inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2002.

Journalist, academic, sociologist, and devout Ramones fan Donna Gaines has produced an incisive, personal, heartfelt examination of the New York musicians. What are some of the questions her book addresses? Gaines inquires: "Who were the Ramones? How have their individual and collective biographies intersected with us, with history? What did they stand for? What great gifts have they left for us?"

"I'm here to testify," she declares," that the Ramones' music matters--culturally, historically, sociologically, creatively, and profoundly." Dr. Gaines divides her study into four chapters: "The Mission," "Ministry," "PAF," [Punk as F--k] and "The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly." Their Mission, of course, was to reenergize and redeem rock and roll, to save it from such acts as Kansas, Journey, and Styx. "God gave rock and roll to you," she passionately asserts, "and when it was lost in the wilderness, the Ramones were sent to earth to reclaim it. In order to be successful, rock and roll must scare the shit out of adults, cleanse the psyche of everyday bullshit, and energize the spirit." Can I get an Amen? WHY THE RAMONES MATTER belongs to the Music Matters Series, edited by Loyola Marymount University's Evelyn McDonnell and published by the University of Texas Press. Other volumes in this commendable collection include WHY THE BEACH BOYS MATTER (2018) by Tom Smucker and Karen Tongson's WHY KAREN CARPENTER MATTERS (2019).

On a personal note, I saw the Ramones perform at the Arcadia Theatre in Dallas in 1990; it was one of the most entertaining (and deafening) concerts I ever attended. I'll never forget that experience. "Hey! Ho! Let's Go!"


Review by Kirk Bane