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Saturday, February 02, 2008

Underappreciated Slabs Saturday: Ramones - Mondo Bizarro



The Ramones stopped me from throwing my life away in my late teens when I faced that post-adolescent crossroads having faced rejection, breakup from the one I then-perceived to be my life mate (amazing the disillusionment you have as a teenager) and an overall uncertainty of self-worth that was pretty dangerous stuff looking back on it. Thank God I fell in love with The Ramones at this critical avenue of my life and let Joey's sometimes erratic but always comforting voice be my sheltering cloak and shield of courage to ditch the cigarettes I briefly puffed for about a month and rise up out of the dirge to be a fucking man, for crissakes, or at least a human being. That being said, to hear anyone crapping on a Ramones album kinda makes me defensive. My devotion to The Ramones has been so I great I let the saliva fling from the corners of my mouth in anger when I once heard someone utter "Subterranean Jungle is a piece of shit."

Okay, reality check; I had to let reason settle in because yeah, Subterranean Jungle is not an entirely worthy Ramones effort, though "Psychotherapy" is certainly a definitive Ramones cut and yeah, I'm kinda partial to their cover of The Music Explosion's "Little Bit O' Soul." On the other hand, I don't wanna hear any slagging because it's the goddamn Ramones on there, forced effort or not, and they more than paid their dues in this country who only branded them legends after they died. Go fraggin' figure.

As Joey Ramone's passing is the only celebrity death I let slip a few tears of heartbreak for, I hear his voice these days and feel a terrible pain as well as twice the joy I ever had when I rebounded and chose to live amidst the happy three-chord insanity The Ramones lifted me to my feet with. Hearing Joey sling out an emphatic series of "Oooohhhhh yeahhhhh's" at the end of "Censorshit" from Mondo Bizarro, an album almost everyone I've come across either dumps all over or simply shrugs their shoulders in indifference to makes me feel that only Sirius radio understands that this a fucking great album that demolishes most of The Ramones' work following End of the Century, and that's the frickin' gospel.

Why people failed to recognize the blunt energy and give-a-damn effort Joey, Johnny, Marky and CJ Ramone ignited into Mondo Bizarro is an enigma I'll likely carry on my shoulders like a loner, but I'm comfortable with that. While Mondo Bizarro is by no means a Road to Ruin, Leave Home or Rocket to Russia, it shouldn't be compared to any of them, because it's a do-or-die album that harnesses the rejuvenating efforts of then-new bassist CJ and carried even further by the torch hoisting of Marky, who, history has revealed to be the middleman between the dispiriting feud between Joey and Johnny. Give Marky tons of props for pushing the Ramones forward as much as Johnny. Marky kept pushing in the name of rock 'n roll, while Johnny pushed for music as well, but with a businessman's drive to keep the entity out of the red, even if it meant getting out of the doldrums that smothered good but slightly stale albums like Brain Drain, Halfway to Sanity and Animal Boy, all albums with moments of greatness but not with the same heart as Mondo Bizarro.

If you watch footage of The Ramones in the mid-to-late eighties, you can witness a literal depression hanging over Joey, which made me want to bawl upon sight, because this was the voice who filled my heart with pride and even now, when life presses its thumb down on me, I go right to Joey and The Ramones to re-energize. When you listen to Mondo Bizarro, you hear a Joey Ramone who sounds like he's rediscovered himself and it's simply beautiful to hear him come back to us all on songs like "Censorshit," "The Job That Ate My Brain," "Anxiety" and "It's Gonna Be Alright," Joey's declaration that life is worth living and that "it's gonna be okay, it's gonna be alright," finding solace in his fans who are "the only ones who understand." Goddamn right, brother. I want to cry right now at the sheer sweetness of this song, knowing that Joey found peace and came out of his fugue to go out of this life with his considerable stance in full and his shaggy head in check.

While we're on the subject of positivity, "Strength to Endure" is a song I jab into my ear as if it was an audile hypodermic filled with self-possession, and delivered by CJ Ramone (whom many listeners didn't give a fair shake to despite his solid bass skills and vocals that are superior to Dee Dee's), "Strength to Endure" is my second favorite non-Joey-sung tune behind the over-the-top destructo punk of "Wart Hog." CJ is so capable on this song he almost passes for Joey at times, but what a fantastic job CJ executes here, as well as his other song "Main Man" on Mondo Bizarro. Tough enough, ol' chum...

I've heard enough people turn their noses at "I Won't Let it Happen," but if they're going to accept "Questioningly" and the Ramones' take on "Needles and Pins" from Road to Ruin, then why can't they recognize "I Won't Let it Happen" as a tuneful, laidback look at life in the vein of The Lemonheads and Soul Asylum? Feh! Then have a go if you're so hard with the hilarious sarcasm of the throbbing "Tomorrow She Goes Away" or the payoff song of Mondo Bizarro, "Heidi is a Headcase," which I'll defend as a top-15 Ramones song, not just because of its bouncy, adrenalized punk blast, but because of its utter cheekiness in the mindframe of the Rocket to Russia and Ramones early years.

A final contention of Mondo Bizarro I've patiently listened to being griped about is the wrap-up song "Touring," and how people balk at the fact it borrows liberally from "Rock and Roll High School." How fucking elitist can you get if you don't see that The Ramones used that familiar melody not only as a tribute to themelves for persevering as a band, and as a tribute for getting themselves out of a blue funk on this album, but largely as a tribute to the fans that stuck by them when they had to find their fame outside of their home country (even as Joey almost desperately wails to his unsympathetic audience that "America is the only home I know")? "Touring" is upright and providential and the perfect finish to a criminally underrated album that is probably The Ramones' last moment of sovereignty. Their all-covers album Acid Eaters is a trip, don't get me wrong, and Adios Amigos is a nice and appropriate farewell, but you have to wonder after Mondo Bizarro failed to get The Ramones little more than a bit of brand recognition from the old punk warriors and a new generation that picked up the vibe what was on their minds then? Seriously, what more could you ask for from a band in 1992 that had survived all that they had for almost 20 years? You're selfish if you expect more than Mondo Bizarro gives. As a side note, it's to the younger crowd's credit they spread the word like madfire that The Ramones had been far too dismissed by their original fan base and it was time to make amends.

Say what you will about Mondo Bizarro, that it's too metal for you instead of punk, that it's not Rocket to Russia (guess what, nothing ever will be), or that it's CJ instead of Dee Dee playing on this thing. At least CJ had more self-discipline having come to the band from the Marines, which probably had Johnny silently splooging in his pants when spotting that on CJ's resume. The telling feature as to why CJ deserved his spot in The Ramones exists in the maddeningly stupid way Dee Dee checked out of this life, apparently hell-bent to emulate Sid Vicious' self-deprecation minus the spectcularly violent mythos.

As far as I'm concerned, if you hate Mondo Bizarro, then hate it; it's a free-thinking country, but fuck you just the same...

6 comments:

bob_vinyl said...

I generally stick to the first five records, but not because they didn't do anything good after that so much as it's hard to top the early ones. I haven't heard Mondo Bizarro in years, but based on memory, I agree that it doesn't get a fair shake.

Ray Van Horn, Jr. said...

It's just incredulous to me that this album got ripped at-large and I think a lot of it had to do with Dee Dee leaving and not many giving CJ a fair chance, and the man did a terrific job, plus I got to see them with CJ and he was commanding on his side of the side...I think this album is one of the most energetic efforts the Ramones ever did and it's baffling so few "get" it

bob_vinyl said...

But you have to understand, Dee Dee was such a great bass player. I think it was disappointment that with Dee Dee gone, the Ramones would never morph into something like his Dee Dee King solo project.

Ray Van Horn, Jr. said...

Of course Dee Dee was a great bass player, and even though his singing wasn't really top notch, he had the attitude, which is why that whole Dee Dee King shit was so shocking. I don't ever, ever downplay Dee Dee's contributions to the band, just making a point that CJ did a fine job in the limited time he was there. I'm pissed off at Dee Dee for dying dumb, though.

bob_vinyl said...

I don't think I'd go so far as to say he was a great bass player, but he certainly made his contribution to the band. I was just being funny though. Dee Dee, even posthumously, deserves to take some crap for that Dee Dee King nonsense!

Ray Van Horn, Jr. said...

hahahaha! Yeah, that was so embarassing.