If today’s Rolling Stone were the Cahiers du Cinema of the late Fifties, a band of outsiders as deliberately crude and basic as the Ramones would be granted instant auteur status as fast as one could say “Edgar G. Ulmer.” Their musique maudite — 14 rock & roll songs exploding like time bombs in the space of 29 breathless minutes and produced on a Republic-Monogram budget of $6400 — would be compared with the mise en scene of, say, Robert Aldrich’s Kiss Me Deadly or, better yet, Samuel Fuller’s delirious Underworld U.S.A.
And such comparisons would not be specious. The next paragraph is an almost literal transcription of something the American auteurist, Andrew Sarris, wrote about Fuller in The American Cinema: Directors and Directions 1929-1968. I’ve just changed the names and a few terms.
The Ramones are authentic American primitives whose work has to be heard to be understood. Heard, not read about or synopsized. Their first album, Ramones, is constructed almost entirely of rhythm tracks of an exhilarating intensity rock & roll has not experienced since its earliest days. The Ramones’ lyrics are so compressed that there is no room for even one establishing atmosphere verse or one dramatically irrelevant guitar solo in which the musicians could suggest an everyday existence…. The Ramones’ ideas are undoubtedly too broad and oversimplified for any serious analysis, but it is the artistic force with which their ideas are expressed that makes their music so fascinating to critics who can rise above their aesthetic prejudices…. The Ramones’ perversity and peculiarly Old Testament view of retribution carry the day…. It is time popular music followed the other arts in honoring its primitives. The Ramones belong to rock & roll, and not to rock and avant-garde musical trends.
How the present will treat the Ramones, proponents of the same Manhattan musical minimalism as the New York Dolls who preceded them, remains to be seen. Thus far, punk rock’s archetypal concept of an idealized Top 40 music — the songs stripped down like old Fords, then souped up for speed — has unintentionally provoked more primal anger from than precipitant access to the nation’s teenagers, and the godheads of AM radio don’t seem to be listening at all. Why? Do you have to be over 21 to like this stuff? Doesn’t “Blitzkrieg Bop” or the absolutely wonderful “I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend” mean anything to anyone but an analytical intellectual? Until now, apparently not.
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Where’s your sense of humor and adventure, America? In rock & roll and matters of the heart, we should all hang on to a little amateurism. Let’s hope these guys sell more records than Elton John has pennies. If not, shoot the piano player. And throw in Paul McCartney to boot.