About “Why The Ramones Matter” by Donna Gaines

 Rocket Fan from Russia

A Review by Julia Green, November 2018
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“The American Dream is sustained by optimism, even when nihilism is trendy.” Donna Gaines


Every book tells the story… Now, you have a lot more than this. ”Why the Ramones Matter” offers you lost pieces of a puzzle you’ve been probably collecting and searching for all these years, if you crave for this sort of information about the Ramones, the band we’re all affected by. As it’s known, amongst all the bands, the Ramones have one of the strongest and most devout followers. As you read Donna Gaines book, it feels like talking to a friend; Much more safe than just talking to the sociologist she really is.
The work is part encomium, part eulogy, and I’m completely biased and prone to hyperbole. Like any diehard fan, I’m in an ongoing relationship with the Ramones’ material, inclined to “creative readings” of their text, always wondering: What do they really mean? I’m here to testify that the Ramones’ music matters — culturally, historically, sociologically, creatively, and profoundly.” — Donna Gaines.


“As soon as you start analyzing something, it stops”, — according to Johnny Ramone. One of my favorite quotes I basically agree with. Notwithstanding, we have a right to analyze, reflect and be crazy about what we have deep affection for, even if Johnny wouldn’t have wanted it. We can play with it and heck around, and then get back to the purest source — band’s music.


“The Ramones are my band.” From the first lines, this just gets to you right away and you feel like you’re instantly connected with the author… What new can be said about this? You may ask…


You might sort of expect what’s behind the title — but in reality, it’s much more than this. ”Why the Ramones Matter” covers and observes a wider spectrum of subjects than one could think of. The author’s personality is also the answer to this question, too! This is gratitude returned.


This book is written by a Ramones’ enthusiast — it means more than just being a fan, it means living the Ramones. Donna Gaines is not only a sociologist and acknowledged writer — she’s a bright ambassador out of the Ramones’ target audience camp, which is important and even precious, this alone makes the book unique. New York native, who else could tell it better?.. But, within sociology, it also reveals to be a fascinating journey. A fan, and also a close friend of the band, Donna offers the best of both worlds: stories to tell and insights you’ll be willing to sink in.


While answering the aforementioned question, the also book captures a surprisingly wide variety of subjects, from the alienation of  the post-war teenage generation to a Jewish sardonic, critical response to fascism (highly interesting topic) and from Afro-Punk all-access facility to women rights problems — and fests true open-mindness.


In the eye of this storm, Donna masterfully operates within this rich material, unveiling surprising links where you probably wouldn’t expect them to be found, skillfully connecting the subjects and helping to determine reasons, showing the roots, sometimes not quite mercifully — but all because of unconditional love. This is what good doctors do.


You need this book, not only because you don’t want to be fooled again but simply because it clearly shows you how you can be fooled and how to avoid it. It legitimizes, again, that simple idea that, being a Ramones’ fan aka “major outcast”, you can grow yourself into anything — to any level of success in life. If you were waiting for this sort of direction — here it is.


Ramones rebellion-spirited music was the uplifting force of nature, instinctive answer to the American downward spiral of 70s economics, in an artistic way, it was protesting the end of American Dream in particular as an idea. (This was new to me, because of me being foreign; moreover, — being from Russia, by this representing a very special marginal category: being “an enemy” in 70s, which then echoed in the newfound modern world rhetoric, too. For a rock’n’roll fan, however, the best idea is just to “fuck it”, though.) Ramones have idolized 50-60s — not only musically, but socially too. The best rock’n’rolls were written in 50-60s, of course, and it was a great time to be around, great time to be a kid. Seems, that, however, the 70s have triggered them, in the other way… It was an awakening kick up!
U.K. (L-R) Johnny,Tommy (front), Joey (back) and Dee Dee Ramone (Photo by Ian Dickson/Redferns)
That’s why the Ramones have rocketed in popularity and succeeded fantastically in South America, because those kids can relate! (Mystery solved!) Ramones loved America and NYC. Now the whole world loves them.


(They never really made it in Russia for a different reason — but we won’t go there, because it’s another tragic history lesson…)


When you can’t fit in — even among your peers and like-minded — Ramones make it okay for you just being who you are, being alone and being yourself. Looks like they attract and summon all the misfits — especially those who aren’t seem “cool”; they give them a community to belong to, but without a rotten sense of elitism. Though the Ramones t-shirts are widely spotted now, and even in my village, without many people still having a clue, being a Ramones fan nowadays still means to be a warrior, a trooper: it means having some good level of resistance in your blood and your life on a daily basis, and requires, may I say, balls, — but sometimes the way of a lone samurai seems okay too.


Ramones own the (magic) key to the souls of those who are otherwise absolutely closed to any kind of invasion from the gaudy popular culture of so-called “modern world”, thus naturally resistant to brainwashing. As Donna wisely notices, “Young people have built-in bullshit detectors.” She also provides us the background of this situation, which was quite surprising for me. Through her friendship and personal encounters with the band’s members, she exposes you the whole picture, avere una visione completa.


“America’s outsiders are now an American institution, an integral part of mass culture”, states Donna, — the institution, instead of a reservation, which, from the start, it “meant to be”. Ramones broke through their reservation’s borders, and their fans followed them, like they were breaking through the steel fences on their shows — the kids seeking freedom, but still needing leaders. Too late — it can’t be ignored anymore. While, somehow, we may protest against “the institution” term itself, it’s time to think about those who can’t be supported any other way than by strong authority and brotherly shoulder. And this is an institution you’d actually like to be in. Ramones now are a great modeling force — not just the band.


“We begin to comprehend both their artistic brilliance and their cultural importance.” –Donna Gaines


Being #2 after none others than Beatles means you’re #1 for the rest of the bands who have earned “the institution” status. This niche seems pretty comfortable, however, Ramones will never be tamed.


A natural phenomenon, they still “have it”, they still inspire, without being dated or getting boring — and it’s very well seen today on countless message boards, in forums posts, in social networks and Facebook fan groups, gathering not only hopping cretins but sometimes very life-wise adepts and even original punks, which are not many of left. Older generations meet new ones, and they still have something to talk about, besides mutual appreciation. The problems remain the same, after all. We’re growing on the solutions.


For me, first it was the music, the feeling, anyway — the sense of a theory came later. Talking about Ramones’ songs, Dr.Gaines becomes that teenager again, the person she was when she first heard the band. What is interesting about all Ramones “adepts” that they’re able to carry on the same youthful spirit (Looks like I’m talking like an old man here, lol.) And it’s not something you can “incorporate, it’s something you’re born with. But, the Fountain of Youth is still open for everyone, 24/7, and you only need to try to find it.


“Lost in adulthood responsibilities and obligations, we are welcomed back to ourselves by the Ramones’ music, reminding us who we really are. The ultimate teenage music becomes a lifelong scriptural reference for the scamp in each of us.” -Donna Gaines


Not in particular a “Ramones manual”, this book still can be suggested to those who aren’t familiar with the band yet — because it brilliantly explains their core, and you can trust the fellow outsider here. Once you’re hooked on the whole plot, to broaden your knowledge, getting other Donna’s books seems a must — they are Teenage Wasteland: Suburbia’s Dead End Kids (1997) and A Misfit’s Manifesto: The Sociological Memoir of a Rock & Roll Heart (2007).
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Click to.. You know…
Any way you want it — Ramones can be your band, ideology, religion, father figures, home, sanctuary, Buddhas, bruddars, mentors, best friends you never had, your shining guiding stars, your saints, demons and loved ones. They’re here for you, and for everyone, one only needs to listen… and learn. It’s very possible. It doesn’t really matter, how they get to your heart — but once they did, you know it anyway. You are already here.


WTRM’s goal is not to fix up damaged souls, and minds — though, why not to? — but to help them to fit in better to the reality of modern world * wink*, using your props and advantages as a Ramones fan. Deepening total alienation from society can ruin one’s life — and so Donna as a sociologist has a nice solution for you, proving that there’s nothing wrong with being who and what you are, and giving you some important tips how to go on (More tips in her other books, if you are interested enough in the topic), also warning us about the floating sharks. Now you won’t get fooled again.


This is the kind of book that, after finishing, you’ll be still dwelling on — just like it happens with any decent book you feel special connection to. Just like with Ramones music.


And it matters, too.
Click for Donna Gaines Website
Kamen Rider statue and Joey in Little Tokyo

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