Published on October 3rd, 2016 | by David Hickey0
The Problem With The Problem of Ramones T-Shirts
A year or two back I was at a family get together and sparked up a conversation with a teenage cousin of mine. I had initially decided to go over and talk to him for two reasons. First, and foremost, was to get out of the banal conversations I had been having with the other ‘adults’ about topics such as the Oscar Pistorius case, the Pope’s resignation and an aunt’s warbling about some motorway that was or wasn’t being built near her home. The second reason, the reason I selected said cousin to talk with, was because I heard his phone go off. His ringtone was the ‘Blitzkrieg Bop’. As I approached my cousin, I also noticed he was wearing a Ramones t-shirt. Jackpot! Someone I could actually talk with.
For me this had the potential to be ground breaking as there is essentially no real music passion in either of my families. Interest and enjoyment sure, but no real passion. So this was going to be a huge conversation for me; The beginning of a kinship and understanding perhaps. You can then imagine my disappointment when my cousin told me he did not know that his ringtone was a song by the Ramones, a band whose t-shirt he was wearing. It was all over his head. In fact, his friend had simply sent him the ringtone because he thought it was cool. Surely he knew it was the Ramones, as the audio file would have shown that detail? Nope. The ringtone was a 10 second loop of “Hey Ho, Let’s Go!” which was what the audio track on his phone was titled.
I often think about how snobbish I acted after, the friendly piss pulling and all that. But after a while it made me think about how anyone ever gets into rock, hip hop, indie, metal, folk, etc. My own journey was full of nonsense and assumptions, but was strongly influenced by image and a yearning to be part of a sub-culture that felt right for me. The posturing and actions I got up to at that age… cringe worthy at times, but fuck knows if I’ve came across anyone who has had overwhelmingly pure moments of clarity from day one of a fandom. You had to be influenced by these other aspects from time to time.
It made me wonder though, how was the spark ignited in any of us?
It all began for me back around my 12 birthday, and the first album I ever bought. Now I had listened to the Prodigy Fat Of The Land and one or two of my stepfather’s Oasis albums. But with no real genuine interest. I only listened to them so I could say I had; in order to impress Stephen Horan, a cool friend in my class. Beyond that, I think my music collection had five articles: a Spice Girls‘ album I had received from a relative a year or two earlier, single tapes of Stardust’s ‘Music Sounds Better With You’, ‘Kernkraft 400’ and Jay Z’s ‘Hard Knock Life’, and finally a 12” Van Morrison record of my stepfather’s that I had destroyed trying to be PaRappa The Rapper.
At the time, I lived with my mother and stepfather in Sligo, between the town and Strandhill. On the day of my birthday party I was informed my aunt had rang a local music shop, Star Records in the Tesco arcade, and prepaid for a £20 voucher for my birthday… but with one condition… it had to be spent on music. I was furious. I wanted the recently released GTA II. Video games were all I really cared about in the wide spectrum of arts/entertainment at that age. When we reached town and hit up the record shop, I was showing utter contempt at the idea of buying some shit CD. I recall picking up some random shite proclaiming it would do. (German power ballad machine Scorpion I think). My mother; noticing my lack of interest, reminded me of the lack of respect my display was showing to my aunt’s gesture and sprung my crap choice back on the shelf. She then offered a solution.
At the time I was into wrestling, and the WCW champion, Diamond Dallas Page had intro music I liked. Somehow my Mum was aware of this and picked up an album. She said it had the song of the wrestler I liked. I said fine. Whatever.
We got home and I flaked the CD on the counter and returned to my room to bang out some sweet as Resident Evil 3. Nemesis job! My mother immediately came up and demanded I listen to the CD or I wouldn’t be getting Four Star Pizza for my birthday tonight. She had me by the balls now, pizza; my Achilles heel. So I grabbed the CD, rifled it out of its plastic, making sure that my mother would witness the fury I had used to do so, I then went to the living room and put it into my stepfather’s old hi-fi system. I sat on the corner chair to the right of the stereo with a thick moody head on me. Collecting my rage, I leaned into the stereo’s controls. I pressed play and changed my life forever.
“Dow-ge-dow—chika-chika—now-now-now. . . Da-dow-ge-dow—chika-chika—neu-neu-neuw”
I sat on that chair and listened to track one of Nirvana’s Nevermind, ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’, again and again. My mother, who was tidying around for the birthday party I was having later, had a wry smile on her face any time I got a glimpse of her. Whilst I, still playing this moody charade, couldn’t help but pleasantly smirk back. Eventually, after about the 5th or 6th playing of ‘Teen Spirit’, my mother, for her sanity, politely suggested I listen to the rest of the thing. The second track ‘In Bloom’, amazing! The third, ‘Come As You Are’, a classic. Ara it was heaven! Later, when my friends came around for the party, they had the notion of playing Resident Evil 3, Grand Theft Auto II, etc. No chance. I made them listen to that album all evening. Well… until the pizza arrived.
Shortly after this, my uncle Gerard gave me four tapes he had back in his room in Renmore: Metallica ‘Master of Puppets’, The Smiths ‘The Queen Is Dead’ (which went over my head at the time), the Queen single ‘Flash’ and my favourite album ever: The Smashing Pumpkins‘ ‘Siamese Dream’. It was in full swing now. Next I needed to find like-minded people.
My first pal in these endeavours was my school mate Stephen, he helped nourish my inquisitive notions. Also he seemed to be way more in touch with things then myself. Unlike me he wasn’t bluffing. He actually knew his stuff. You see, on my copy book in school, I had some bands written on it. Bands I had probably never heard a note of, or maybe a song or two max. Pearl Jam, now my favourite band ever, were only there because I thought they looked cool in a photo I saw, Sonic Youth because their name looked class on my copy, Pixies for much the same reason, and NIN… whoever the fuck they were? Haha! Christ, I think I had Coal Chamber on there. Remember Coal Chamber? Christ they sucked. Anyway, they were all on that copy book in order for me to appear to be in the know, and in order to gain the respect of potential peers and like-minded people, which I craved.
By that summer I had about 10 CDs and maybe a dozen tapes, but nothing major, unlike Stephen. That Gateway desktop computer in the back room of his house was loaded with quality tunes. I remember he had the second half of the Pumpkin’s Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness on it. We sat there and listened to that one afternoon for about 6 hours on repeat it was that brilliant. These days I have the disc art of that album tattooed on my arm.
A few months later my Dad got me a drum kit on a place on William Street in Dublin 2. Super stardom beckoned. While I loved The Chicks and JJ72, I looked to the stars of Ireland’s North West at the time for inspiration. And two acts reigned supreme. The Revs, from Donegal, and Sligo’s own Petronella.
The Revs were my first gig actually. A wet October evening in Sligo’s crammed Record Room was the location of their in-store launch for the single ‘Alone With You’. I proudly wore my ‘In Utero’ hoodie, baggy jean and greasy shoulder length hair. I had no deep musical fuckin’ connection or interest in the track or the band. But by Christ it was inspiring. They were stars to me, to all of us even. (On a side note, The Revs’ self-titled third album is an absolute gem of an album and one of my favourite Irish albums ever. Well worth a spin).
If The Revs were stars to us, then Petronella were Gods. Led by former X-Factor runner-up Tabby Callaghan, Petronella may have well have been the kings of Sligo such was the love for them in that town. This manifestation of adoration they acquired from anyone under 18, and interested in music in Sligo, was well tailored. They use to invite us to their practices and let us indulge them in hero worship, or a quick jam and honourable roadie duties. I didn’t care for them at all. I thought the music was by the numbers (although Tabby was a mean guitarist) and I found it unusual that all their fans and friends were in Junior Cert. It didn’t stop me having a Petronella ‘Feeling So Low’ poster hang proudly on my wall. It featured a wee toy Dalmatian on a beach if I remember correctly.
After a while I decided Petronella did not deserve this love and that some pompous little legend like me was going to take it. A band was formed with some mates I had made through music in the town. Aaron on bass, and supremely talented Anthony (who now plays with the brilliant Old Hannah) on guitar and vox. The criteria, set by Aaron, was that you had to dislike Petronella. No problems there chief. We’d take the mantle, we’d be the rebels, the outcasts, the saviours, etc…
Shame I was crap at the drums. We tried to play Bush’s ‘Glycerine’, ‘Hurt’ by Nine Inch Nails and ‘Territorial Pissings’ by Nirvana. God, I was shocking. The band lasted two practices.
Sometime around this point, I began to feel like I was graduating from this ostentatious nonsense. I listened to who I liked, not who my peers or Kerrang! determined I had to like. I started dressing how I liked now, and I pierced my ear (which was a no-no at the time – until Tabby did it, then everyone fuckin’ loved it. Typical). I also cut my disgustingly greasy long hair. Partially because of the mild teasing one would get being the only kid with long hair in an all-boys school, partially due to it being pulled at in every sporting event I played. But also it was a critical time in my life, and the only girls who would talk to me were the girls from Grange, and our friends the Cozzy sisters. All of whom were well out of this chap’s league. The ponytail did not help me in these matters.
I didn’t think it would really be a big deal. Like at the time, in the clique, I was the only one who had long hair anyway. But I remember many ostracised me over it at the time, even my band mate Anthony, with his short back and sides, he was outright mean one time, implying I was a (dreaded) sell-out. Christ, I was still wearing Doc Martens, black 501’s and my Nirvana t-shirt, playing in bands, etc. But it wasn’t enough.
I think about all this and how pathetic it may all seem from the outside. But I would be honestly lying to myself if I thought this wasn’t somewhat necessary. Next to no one has humble or pure beginnings in their passion of music and divergence into sub culture. Image and scene does in fact matter. Follow it, or better yet, create it. I found a mountain of music, learnt to play instruments and made amazing friends. . . as a result of being a fuckin’ spanner for a large period of my youth.
And it still continues in some respects. I wear a leather jacket. I am not a biker. It has no practical applications for me. I wear it because I think it looks cool and that it says something about how I go about things. I wear it so it will help identify me to others of similar interests. That is the image it presents. It is the same image someone like the Black Rebel Motorcycle Club or The Clash used to get me to listen.
Many will scoff at that and say you should only judge by the music. But how can you do that if you’ve never heard it, or of it?
For example: imagine being in a record shop, completely oblivious to the world of music. You see a Katy Perry record, and then a Divine Comedy one. You’ve never as much as heard a whisper of either. I don’t know about you but I am certainly buying the Divine Comedy record. Why? Because that cover of Hannon in his sunglasses smoking has already told me that he doesn’t play pixie pop.
I smoke, I wear sunglasses. Perhaps myself and Neil Hannon share wider forms of opinions born out of potentially similar life experiences. The same experiences that both got us into music, wearing sunglasses and smoking. Perhaps we can expand on these shared ideals if I listen to your record Mr. Hannon, because Ms. Perry has certainly not conveyed any sense of familiarity or understanding with me?
It is these blind, but oxymoronically informed, record shop assumptions like the one mentioned that have provided me with Alice In Chains, The Velvet Underground, Pink Floyd, My Bloody Valentine, Nick Drake and The Strokes to name a few (although blind assumption once led me to Fall Out Boy’s Infinity On A High. From the cover I thought it was going to be like Lisa Hannigan, The Waterboys or the Pumpkins or something. . . how wrong was I!
When I next saw my cousin it was at another family get together more recently. He was wearing all black, got his nosed pierced and had a bad Black Flag shirt on… result! We talked. The previous meeting was never mentioned.
At the end of the day, we almost all have similarly murky tales of origins in our hindsight filled lives. But look at the best moments and build upon them. I found some idea of who I was, we all eventually do. But it is up to oneself to decide what part of their story is going to be the most significant and continued with. Is it that you once owned a copy book that had Coal Chamber written on it? Or is it that the first album you ever bought was Nirvana’s Nevermind.
“Dow-ge-dow—chika-chika—now-now-now. . . Da-dow-ge-dow—chika-chika—neu-neu-neuw”. David Hickey