I’m not a Ramones scholar (looking at you, Dale) but I’ve read a fair number of books on the band, have watched documentaries, and, of course, have listened to all the records. Despite my admiration for the band and their work, I know there’s a saturation point with the Ramones—like the Sex Pistols and The Clash and so many of punk’s progenitors—buckets of ink have been spilled in critical appraisal of the quartet and their work. Coming in to this one, I wondered what might be left to say.
Author Donna Gaines addresses this, saying “(a)nyone reading a book on why the Ramones’ music matters already knows the answer and would probably rather spit up than discuss it.” From there, this head-spinning volume doesn’t discuss so much as it considers. After a chapter placing the band in the context of the ’70s, diametrically opposed to the prevalent FM radio dinosaurs, Gaines uses a number of broad topics/chapters to riff on the band. She understands that in discussing the Ramones, form must follow function: can you imagine the betrayal of a long-winded Ramones book? Neither can she. Salient points whiz by, buttressed by heady theoretical touchstones like Adorno and Sartre.
Take the chapter titled PAF, which initially appears to be a discussion about how the band are Punk As Fuck. In this segment, she jumps from anomie (“the condition of normlessness”) to punk as a response to post-World War II norm culture to the identities inherent in Judiasm to trauma to individualism to DIY culture. Phew! It sounds like a lot—it sounds laborious—but Gaines has the uncanny ability to weave these disparate short threads together into a greater piece of work. The buzzsaw pace of her ideas, like songs on Ramones albums, demand that you dive back in and check again.
This is the second entry in University of Texas Press’s “Music Matters” series, a collection of small-ish books devoted to single bands. If this one is any indication, I’m sure the rest of the series are bangers (yes, even the Karen Carpenter volume). Here, Donna Gaines has taken the lightning-fast songs of the Ramones’ oeuvre and welded her own brainy spin on their songs, their personalities, their impact, resulting in something unequivocally fresh and engrossing. Even the biggest fans will find something new to enjoy here. –Michael T. Fournier (University of Texas Press, utpress.utexas.edu)