Song of the day: "California Sun"

31 Jan

The Ramones were my favorite band in high school. No, wait, full disclosure here – the Ramones have been my favorite band since high school, which was more than 20 years ago.

I think everyone should get to see their favorite band when they’re in high school. It’s often not possible. For example, all of the members may be dead. Or enough of them, anyway, so that it just wouldn’t be the same.

I got to see my favorite band, and just at the right time. It was my senior year in high school: December 7, 1984. A day and a year both laden with significance, and the Ramones played in a small concert hall at UNLV.

It was their 10th anniversary tour, which for a punk band was one hell of a long time. Now, don’t get me wrong. They put on a fantastic show, one that, up until last year, was the best rock and roll show I ever saw. But this was 1984, not 1977. The band (I later learned) weren’t even speaking to each other any more. They’d honed their act to a fine, sharp, point of total professionalism. Not a note was missed, not a lyric forgotten, there was no onstage bickering over what to play next. They even had choreography, if you count Johnny and Dee Dee jumping up onto their monitors simultaneously.

They played as good a show as anyone could ask for, but they had clearly done it a thousand times before. The raw energy of a new band that’s just excited as hell to be in front of an audience was long gone.

Until they played “California Sun”, a cover song. Man, Johnny went fucking nuts. He was all over his side of the stage, his long hair whipping in front of his face. He played his guitar like he was trying to set it on fire. It was a moment of strange intimacy: we were rocking out to the Ramones, and Johnny Ramone was rocking out to…what?

I don’t know what was going on in his head, but I felt like we were seeing the reason the Ramones existed. I saw the teenager from Queens who would listen to the Rivieras on the turntable in his bedroom and tell himself, Man, one day that’s gonna be me on guitar.

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