Saturday, April 02, 2005

Weekend Edition: Blame it on The Ramones

In college I did a rotten thing to the features editor of the Lehigh Brown & White—which was, indeed, the actual name of my college newspaper. (The Lehigh sports teams were called “The Engineers” back then, so I guess the “Brown & White” wasn’t so horrible by comparison.)

Sitting around a table with friends at Smuggler’s Tavern one night, we decided for some reason (drafts were 25c, as I recall, which was probably the reason) that it would be a good idea to create, out of whole cloth, a punk-rocker supposedly giving a concert at a venue nearby.

And I would write a review of the fake concert for the Brown & White.

The idea arose from two facts: one, The Ramones had just taken over the New York music scene with an album, "The Ramones," that had made Led Zeppelin seem bloated and irrelevant; and two, among the friends sitting around the table was a guy named Mickey who announced his goal in life was to be a punk-rocker like Joey Ramone.

So, in the space of an hour or two, we created a disturbing young individual named “Jus Mick,” gave him a back-story that might seem believable given the out-of-nowhere success of The Ramones, and plotted how to get the whole thing in print, which, unfortunately for my editor at the paper turned out to be a lot easier than we imagined.

All it took was an 8x10 glossy and a press release.

We took pictures of the real Mickey in the alley behind our apartment, wearing a leather Ramones-style jacket, with combed-down hair and a cigarette hanging casually from his sneering lips. I then wrote a fake press release announcing the concert, and we sent the press release and the 8-by-10 black-and-white glossy of the hot new punk rocker “Jus Mick” to the features editor of the newspaper.

Sometime later I followed up with a call to the editor and volunteered to review the concert, and she gladly gave me the assignment.

To this day I have no idea why we went to such extraordinary lengths to conceive and execute a plan that involved more effort than we put into other activities such as term papers, for example, or final exams.
There was just something about The Ramones that made people do things, stupid things.

I think it was that picture from the first album cover: they looked impossibly cool, dangerous, hard...and the music sounded exactly the same way.

I never saw them live, but even on film the shows were like nothing else. Joey, the singer with a ridiculous amount of black hair, would say something unintelligible to the crowd (he looked a lot like “Thing” on the Addams Family, and you were never sure what was his front or his back).

Then Dee-Dee would scream “ONE-TWO-THREE-FOUR” (although he might have in fact been screaming “How do I love thee? Let me count the ways,” for all you could hear actual distinguishable words)...then there would be a brief, split-second pause before the music started, and blew the doors off the place.

Two minutes later the song stopped like somebody pulled the speakers—no Zeppelin-style Jimmy Page fifteen minute guitar noodling, no John Bonham shoot-me-please drum solo.

Just stop.

Then a brief mumble from Joey and suddenly, out of the darkness, Dee-Dee again screaming “ONE-TWO-THREE-FOUR” (or, perhaps, “My love is like a red, red rose”), and blam—another two minutes of total Ramones sound.

Which is why, back in 1977, our friend Mickey wanted to be a dangerously cool punk rocker called “Jus Mick.” (The name came about after much intense debate when Mickey himself said, “How about just ‘Mick’?”)

In my review, I gave “Jus Mick” a very dangerous, Iggy Pop-style persona, breaking beer bottles over his own head, crawling around the stage on the broken glass and throwing himself into the crowd (I do not believe the term mosh pit had been created back then). The deception did not merely involve describing “Jus Mick” on stage however—I had to create opening acts as well as songs, lyrics, and the fans themselves.

The Brown & White published my review in its entirely, including the picture of a leering, leathered, middle class Junior named Mickey, in an alley a block from campus. We congratulated ourselves that night at Smuggler’s and went about the rest of our college experience, which mainly, to the best of my recollection, revolved around foosball.
I didn't give it another thought.

Then, a week or two later I got a phone call from the editor asking if I could meet her at the cafeteria.

I went. She was sitting at a table, not looking too happy.

“There’s a rumor going around that the review you wrote was a fake, that there’s no such band,” she said. She looked at me the same way she might have looked at her father after hearing from her older, meaner brother that the family dog had been put to sleep, hoping against hope that her father would deny it.

I told her it was true. “I made up the whole thing.” I said it straight out, because
I couldn’t figure out how else to say it.

Her face flushed and her eyes brimmed, but she did not cry. “Why?” she said, as if he father really had put the dog to sleep.

I don’t recall what I told her—something along the lines of “It seemed like a good idea at the time,” probably. I then realized what I'd never considered: that what had seemed like a harmless and very cool prank had actually cost her some standing at the paper.

It had consequences, although not for me, except that I felt badly for her and still do.

Looking back on it, I’d like to think “Jus Mick ”paved the way for “Ali G.” (If you’ve never seen Ali G, get the DVD.) In reality, it was stupid, and, in the full sense of the word, sophomoric.

But the Ramones could make you do that.

I thought of Jus Mick for the first time in years while watching “The End of the Century,” the retrospective on the Ramones recently out in DVD form.

It’s fascinating, amazing, terrific stuff, filled with personalities, egos, humor and pathos.

It's also quite funny at times: interviewed while seated at his home studio drum kit, Marky Ramone wearily recites the old criticisms of the Ramones' fast-eighth-note drum style being too simple and repetitive to be considered real music...then suddenly launches into a slamming John Bonham-style, everything-goes, over-the-top speed-demon drum solo, stops abruptly and says “See, I can do that.”

It's perfect: it's what the Ramones were all about.

I recommend "End of the Century" to all music junkies and newspaper editors…including my old editor at the Brown & White.

As for Jus Mick, I blame it on the Ramones.

Jeff Matthews
Yes, I Made That Up, But...
I Am Not Making This Up

© 2007 NotMakingThisUp, LLC

The content contained in this blog represents the opinions of Mr. Matthews. Mr. Matthews also acts as an advisor and clients advised by Mr. Matthews may hold either long or short positions in securities of various companies discussed in the blog based upon Mr. Matthews' recommendations. This commentary in no way constitutes a solicitation of business or investment advice. It is intended solely for the entertainment of the reader, and the author.


Its_strange said...

Bob, i see you are in the WSJ again. I just wish i knew why

Its_strange said...

Hey Bob, Did Georgetown Professor Angel know of the website you created ? Did he know of the things you have said about Herb Greenberg , WSJ and Rocker Partners ? Did the NJ news film crew know of your comments?

Its_strange said...

Hey Bob, Maybe Georgetown Professor Angel can figure out how OSTK got a "steal of a lifetime" diamond deal ? Did you ask him ?

BelowTheCrowd said...

Early in my college career my colleagues and I realized that our access to typesetting and layout equipment gave us opportunities that did not exist for mere mortals on campus. One of the better pranks we pulled involved a fictitious company called "Capital Management Inc." We used our great powers to put together some really cool looking letterhead that announced our "specialty." To that end we borrowed a phrase from one of the university's portfolio managers who had recently announced his intention to adjust the portfolio by focusing on "futures, options and short term bonds."

We then used this letterhead to advertise "internships" at our "downtown offices." Which were posted on bulletin boards around campus. The newspaper's off-campus mailing address was sufficient to fool many people into believing that we were for real.

We had a great deal of fun sending rejection letters to all the applicants, and I recall us being particularly vicious to one guy in our class that we couldn't stand.

It seemed funny at the time.

By the time we graduated, such a prank was no longer possible. The MacIntosh and Laserjet revolutionized the printing/imaging world. The typesetting equipment that had made the whole thing possible and believable was obsolete by the time we graduated. The days when people would believe you were real just because you had a professional-looking letterhead ended quickly.

And the guy who got that vicious rejection letter? Today he and I serve together on our class committee and in truth he's not a bad guy. In fact, he's the only one of the people involved in this whole episode that I'm still in touch with regularly.

At our last reunion, I finally broke down and told him the whole story. He remembers the letter quite vividly because he couldn't figure out how a potential employer obtained some of the personal details we included in our diatribe.

Twenty years later, he thinks the whole thing was pretty funny. Your former editor probably does too.

The Unknown Broker said...

Great story, Jeff. A fun read.

Thanks for sharing that.

Oh, to be young, foolish, and spending our parents' money on beer-induced silliness, huh?

"Wish I didn't know now what I didn't know then."
-- Bob Seger "Against the Wind