Don’t Fall in Love with a Dead Man: Looking at the Movie “School of Rock”
They say you always remember your first love. And sometimes, you run into him in the most unlikely places. I just saw mine on DVD, in Richard Linklatter’s School of Rock. My first love was the Ramones, whose music is featured in the film.
I suspect that for me, like for a lot of other people, music, specifically the Ramones was important because it was a promise we weren’t alone in the world. Growing up in a small town outside of Houston in the mid 80s, punk was over, the Sex Pistols had come and gone, and Phil Collins and Aerosmith were kings of the FM wasteland.
Yet for the incorrigible misfits of my tribe– and a few music critics in mythical New York– there was an alternative to radio dreck. In this land of misfit toys, Joey Ramone was our spiritual leader, and Rock ‘N’ Roll High School was our Citizen Kane.
Despite the Ramones macabre lyrics about electroshock therapy “Gimme Gimme Shock Treatment” (I really want a shock treatment) and child abuse “Beat on the Brat” (Beat on the brat, beat on the brat, beat on the brat with a baseball bat, oh yeah…)- their songs were infectious—and subversive, even though we didn’t know the term. You don’t learn words like subversive in detention.
Hearing “Bonzo goes to Bitberg,”—about Ronald Regan’s controversial decision in to lay a wreath on the tomb of a German soldier (1985), made me realize someone else would understand my homemade Regan dart board. The Ramones was a promise that I could escape suburbia, republicans and the Christian right.
I saw the Ramones play in clubs in high school and college, but I only got close enough to touch my idol once. Last time I saw Joey, he was playing in a Christmas Concert in NYC with Ronnie Spector—ex wife of producer Phil Spector. (Phil Spector produced the Ramones album End of the Century, and, in an oft-repeated rumor, Spector allegedly pulled a gun on one Ramone during a session. One suspects that Ms. Spector and Mr. Ramone had much to discuss. )
Joey walked in during the opening band, all tall and gangly in an overcoat, yet no one in the room seemed to notice. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing, it was like Elvis slipping in unannounced. When Joey stopped and stood behind my boyfriend and I, I swear that my heart skipped a few beats and I got a little lightheaded– just as if I had been sniffing the glue the Ramones made famous on one of their first albums. I could have turned around and touched him, but I didn’t. I could have babbled something about how much he meant to me, but I didn’t. After all, if he wanted to be Joey Ramone in public, he would have dressed up as Joey Ramone before venturing into the lower east side. After all, half the other guys there were dressed as Joey Ramone, circa 1976–all converse and leather jackets and long hair. He soon disappeared with his valise and companion.
When Joey later appeared on stage, in Ramones drag with the trademark wig and round glasses, the bill included “Merry Christmas, (i Don’t Want to Fight Tonight)” and “Danny Says”—the closest things to love songs in the Ramones repertoire. Standing there, I kept closing my eyes, shuttling back and fourth in time between the past and the present, between Texas and New York City, from the place I wanted to escape from, to the place I had escaped to.
While I am sure that Richard Linklatter’s experience was different than mine, we should treasure this little love note from Linklatter to the Ramones. Sure, Linklatter might tell you that the movie is a valentine to the Gods of Rock—Hendrix, Plant, Pink Floyd. But I can see the truth. The movie is all about the punk ethos, getting by with three cords, an attitude and a plan. And that’s all about the Ramones.
So girls, be careful whom you give your heart to. Most of the good ones are taken. Elvis and Joey have gone to that great sound check in the sky. You can’t fall in love with a dead man, it’s a relationship that will always leave you unfilled. If he’s dead, chances are that he’ll never come stand behind you and do things to your breathing. That’s a thrill that every girl should experience.
Anna Hanks, Austin, Texas, USA
This article originally appeared on BlueEar.com
REVIEW: School of Rock, by Richard Linklater, 2003
School of Rock is the 2003 film featuring Jack Black as a failed heavy metal guitarist. To pay the rent, Black connives his way into substitute-teaching at a posh private school. Rather than teaching the kids math and history, he teaches them music—and the concept of sticking it to the man.