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Apr 27 2005

Rock’n'Roll’s Bogus Narrative, Part II

A film about The Ramones — the band that popularized the “go start your own awful band” craze (and the concomitant brick wall band photo craze) — aired last night on PBS “Independent Lens.” Painful though it was, I watched all of it, and by “all of it” I of course mean “part of it.” I bailed at the part where the band (minus the recently deceased) gave acceptance speeches at the Rock’n'Roll Hall of Predominantly Male Fame.

How can anybody stand watching celebrities accept awards for celebrity? You’d think all the drugs and money and pussy would be reward enough. Greedy bastards.

I offer no opinion — although of course I have one — on either the artsiness of the rockumentary or the value of the Ramones’ contribution to Western civilization. But I do offer an opinion on patriarchy, and I don’t mind telling you that what chapped my hide while watching this film was its depiction of the lifeblood of rock’n'roll, the relentless celebration of women-hatin’.

Not that the relentless celebration of women-hatin’ is the ostensible focus of End of the Century; this is a fan-boy movie, made strictly to ennoble the objects of fan-boy worship. In fact, because the Ramones were a rock band, and rock, like all art and culture, exiles women to its periphery, End of the Century only mentions women a few times. But when it does, it abstracts them in terms of “getting laid,” a phrase that acknowledges implications only for the male rock star in question, and in terms of pussy-ownership, which is feminist for “it should be obvious by now who owns any given vagina, but the fact is, the owner is rarely the woman to whom it is attached, especially where rockdudes are concerned.”

It is no secret that rock’n'roll values women only as receptacles, but what may be less obvious is that this makes rock’s whole rebellion-against-The-Establishment ethos a total crock of shit. In fact, rock’n'roll, like any other cultural movement generated within a patriarchy, is just an intensified little microcosm in which the hegemony of the culture that spawned it is concentrated, exaggerated, and ultimately consecrated (such as in a fanboy rockumentary).

For white guys like the Ramones and their fanboys, rock’n'roll took off in the 60′s, when it became emblematic of revolution and free love. Few women in the 60′s, however, actually benefitted from all that grooviness. For them, “revolution” meant trading in matrimonial slavery to one man for a theoretical obligation to all men, and “free love” meant having to give it up on demand or risk being chucked out of the movement as a buzzkill and a drag and a square.

Surrounded by hordes of star-struck sycophants, rock stars were singularly well-situated to take advantage of the new fuck-friendly paradigm. But it was “free” and “revolutionary” only in the sense that it dispensed with some of the pesky social niceties that patriarchy had for centuries imposed on men who wanted to screw. For women, the result was the essentially same: men in positions of power were whippin’ off a piece with no responsibilities, and women were capitulating in the hope that it would raise their status [1]. There were no openings for them in the band. The only openings were between their legs [2].

In other words, the culture that spawned rock’n'roll was as conservative and misogynist as any, and rock’n'roll, rather than rejecting society’s violent values of oppression in a true attempt to rebel against the hated Establishment, embraced them like a long-lost millionaire uncle. In fact, rock distilled misogyny into a media-anointed exaltation of the white male ego unprecedented in cultural history [3]. They took the money, they took the pussy, and now they’re taking the car commercials. This ideology persists in 21st century youth culture, having been appropriated most notoriously by the hip-hop scene, which has trained its women to revel in the designation “bitches and hoes.”

Because rock’n'roll doggedly and conservatively seeks to preserve the male supremacist status quo, it isn’t surprising that the central crisis in the Ramones mythology is the episode of “woman stealing” that results in a permanent rift between the two principal Ramones. For millennia, the Stolen Woman motif has enjoyed uninterrupted popularity as literary device in the service of patriarchy (see Paris and Helen of Troy, Guinevere and Sir Meleagant, et al). Nothing reaffirms warm feelings about male supremacy like a Greek epic in which a beautiful woman has no say in her own sexual destiny! In the Ramones version, Johnny purloins Joey’s property [4], marries her, and the two never speak again.

A previous rock love triangle resulted in “Layla”; fortunately, in responding musically to their own melodrama, the Ramones spared us the guitar wanking ignominy and incessant airplay of the classic rock anthem by releasing “KKK Took My Baby Away.”

You know, the oft-predicted but seemingly never-quite-realized death of rock’n'roll can’t happen soon enough for me. Enough, already!

________________________

[1] Over the years, of all the patriarchy-obliging women who sought to improve their status by fucking rock stars, the only one onto whose person even a whiff of celebrity stench was able to more or less permanently adhere is Pamela Des Barres. She wrote a tell-all about her years as a receptacle for the egocentric spurtings of famous men. In it she calls herself a ‘muse’

[2] I am personally acquainted with old school rocker dudes who think Cynthia Plaster Caster is the bee’s knees, but have nothing for disdain for the talents of the “chick bass players” who started showing up in indie bands in the 90′s. You want approval? Worship the dick.

[3]“Even though we were the worst band ever, we still insisted on blowjobs before every show, now that I remember it.” — A male acquaintance recollecting his glory days as a punk rocker in the early 80′s.

[4] A woman named Linda whose existence as an individual the filmmakers deem so peripheral to the story that they allow her to appear only as a disembodied off-camera voice, even though she is clearly sitting within a few feet of Johnny Ramone as he is interviewed.

8 comments

  1. Tony Patti

    (I’m the rocker dude who was in the band that joked about blowjobs before every show) You should have used my name! I’m not offended by being called on my youthful misogyny, no matter if it was more fantasy than reality – the point is still valid, and I’m not afraid to admit it. Ashamed a little, but not too terribly much – the total delusion that I was operating under included sexual dominance among all the other ridiculous pretensions to being a rock star I was aspiring to. Giving up those aspirations was an immensely satisfying decision I made so long ago that the youth who held them seems like another person entirely. I can attest to the validity of your theme because of having wanted that, if only half-jokingly, along with all the other phallocentric trappings of rockstardom that appealed so brightly to my hormoneand drug addled adolescent brain.

  2. frobisher

    The Ramones were part of scene which spawned “Punk” rock – a golden age for women, liberating them with a “do what you want to” attitude which applied to music/fashion/sexuality, etc. Crop your hair, wear combats and boots? Yes! if you want to. Do it for yourself not other people. Agreed, money and power (plus herion)corrupts & but for the last half of the 70s Punk was a great leveller and shook the status quo so perhaps we should be a little more generous to the Ramones.

  3. Twisty

    Hi Frobisher,

    I’m not saying the Ramones didn’t have some cute pop hits, and I’m not denying that I had a crush on Joey Ramone, and I’m not holding them personally responsible for global male supremacy, but let’s face it: they weren’t exactly part of the solution!

    The only status quo shaken by punk was the now outdated idea that musicians should know how to play instruments. This was good, because prog-rock was killing me! But the rest of it was an unmitigated testosterone-fest.

    I also disagree that there has ever been a “golden age for women” any time, anywhere, and certainly not in the music biz in the 70′s. I played guitar in a rock band for many years. It was fun, but it didn’t make me “liberated.” To this day, the vast majority of rock’n'roll musicians, engineers, producers, instrument makers, music store employees, journalists, and label owners are male.

  4. Ray

    If you just boil the Ramones legacy down to this bit:

    “the Ramones spared us the guitar wanking”

    then they have earned my respect.

  5. Wordlackey

    I’m late to the party as usual… Still, I think your analysis of rock is excellent. There are a few bright spots here and there but, as you say, by partaking of the essentially misogynist rock mythos, women end up on the, um, receiving end. Yet I still shamefully love quite a bit of rock/punk/etc. I’ve yet to really reconcile this with my more feminist inclinations and awareness. There’s still a part of me that identifies somewhat with the beat and feeling of the music. The lyrics and arrogant sexist posturing, not so much anymore.

    BTW, I liked “Paper Cut”. And your blog. Keep up the good work. Strangely, the phrase “I blame the Patriarchy” was popular in my household several years ago. We might have been using it as a take-off of the scene in “Repo Man” where the dying punk says “I blame society.” But I think we were much more serious about the Patriarchy. Anyway, your blog title sums up how I often feel.

  6. Twisty

    Hey, Word, thanks for the compliment. I’m right there with you on the reconciliation stuff. The mindfuck explodes exponentially when you stop to consider how few of the epic human achievements can be ascribed to non-patriarchal interests.

  7. SisterJ

    Twisty,

    I just started reading your blog and have been going through the archives. I know this is from last year, but I had to comment:

    This should be required reading in every highschool and university. At least send a copy to the heads of BET and MTV. Seriously. You have a wonderful way with words that shouldn’t be limited to the stadium full of folks who’ve been lucky enough to wander in (myself included).

    Peace.

  8. Twisty

    Alas, SisterJ, nobody who produces television would consider for 30 seconds not basing their product on women in thongs. Thanks, though.

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