Let's not confuse "being rebellious"
with being a political radical. There are
many examples of "rebels" who also happened
to be politically conservative, and the world
of contemporary music contains its share of
such personalities from Elvis Presley and
Alice Cooper to Marilyn Manson.
think it's important for people to separate
an artist's work from an artist's private
life. Ultimately what matters is the artist's
creative output. One should judge an artwork
solely on its merits, and avoid judging it
based on whether or not we like the artwork's
creator. When applying a political critique
to an artwork, one should ask whether the
work promotes conformity and complacency or
inspires action? Does it shore up the status
quo or subvert it? Does it act as a tranquilizing
or liberating force?
has been said about Johnny Cash being a musician
that stood with and for working people. But
how many know that he also performed at Billy
Graham revivals? Cash embraced Christianity
and even recorded himself reading the complete
New Testament (the CD box set of those readings
are a popular item in Christian fundamentalist
bookstores). None of that cancels out the
fact that Cash's songs drew attention to the
plight of working people, or that his artistic
aim was true.
the same can be said of Johnny Ramone. Like
the other members of the Ramones, he was raised
in a working class neighborhood. While he
personally turned to conservative politics
as a way of understanding reality, in no way
does that cancel out the fact that he remained
true to his roots. Close friends of Johnny
noted that his professed conservatism was
at odds with his entire lifestyle. No one
seemed to take his rightwing politics very
seriously... especially since he was steeped
in the world of sex, drugs, and rock 'n roll.
If it is true that he admired Bush, it's a
certainty the feeling was not mutual.
importantly the Ramones existed as a cohesive
unit, and an examination of the music produced
by the band does NOT reveal an outfit driven
by a rightwing agenda... quite the opposite.
The lead singer of the band, Joey, was in
fact a leftwing Jew who gave his time and
energies to liberal causes. Dee Dee Ramone,
the band's bassist and chief songwriter, wrote
quintessential American pop songs about the
country's dark social realities. But it was
Johnny who held the band together with his
rigid discipline and business smarts. Tragically
all three are now gone, leaving former drummer
Tommy as the last surviving member of the
I've stated, what matters in the end is an
artist's creative output. Johnny's personal
politics become irrelevant when compared to
his artistic achievements and their social
repercussions. In effect, Johnny and his fellow
Ramones might as well have placed dynamite
beneath the corporate rock machine. The band's
three cord wall of sound detonated a social
movement that is still with us today, and
that is the legacy by which Johnny Ramone
will be remembered.
by Mark Vallen © All rights reserved.