Last Friday, Tommy Ramone (born Erdelyi Tamas) died, of bile-duct cancer, at the age of 65. He was the last living member of the original Ramones; the last survivor among that gang of visionary teenage lunkheads who met in Queens, took a common surname like spouses or brothers, fought like both, and, a few years later, recorded their classic first three albums, their eponymous 1976 debut, 1977’s Leave Home, and Rocket to Russia; the last name to be crossed off the logo worn across the chests of Debbie Harry, Harry Styles, your aunt in 10th grade, yourself in 10th grade, your most irritating Facebook friend’s newborn baby (what a cool parent!), and innumerable others.
Tommy was the drummer. He was also the band’s first manager and the lead writer on some of their best-known songs, like “Blitzkrieg Bop,” the track that opened their first album and the doors to their international fame/eventual T-shirt ubiquity.
Unlike the other sexy, neolithic dirtbags in the Ramones, Tommy pulsated to the back beat more than he generated steam heat. He orchestrated their publicity, recording sessions, rehearsals, and all manner of other bureaucratic concerns, tempered fights, and fiddled meticulously with the Ramones’ songwriting style until they actually sounded like distant relatives of music. Tommy stopped drumming for the Ramones in 1978, but he would go on to produce two more of their albums, that year’s Road to Ruin and 1984’s Too Tough to Die.
However hard the rest of the band tried to present themselves as scuzzy human embodiments of the word zit, Tommy knew the value in the more subcutaneous aspects of adolescence. If there’s anything as universal as a Ramones T-shirt, it’s what’s so often underneath it: the machinations of a teenage heart. The kind of decimating crushes at work there mattered just as much to Tommy as the band’s outward brattiness did—how else do you explain a song like “I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend,” which he also wrote? That sensibility guided the Ramones’ music to immortality—without it, they could have easily become gimmicky one-note longhairs with no “forever,” or even a “next year,” to speak of.
You can hear those two impulses—a stubborn lack of generosity when asked to give a fuck, except for this GREAT ABYSSAL PINING FOR LOVE—on my favorite album of all time, the Replacements’ Tim. That’s at least in part because Tommy produced it. I’m really grateful that he did. I’m really grateful for Ramones and Leave Home and Rocket to Russia. I’m really grateful that the Ramones were a band that championed being a cretin with a not-so-secret cesspool heart of gold pulsating to the back beat, and that Harry Styles blithely wears that message across his chest, just like everyone else, because the Ramones made it look so cool. I’m really grateful that the Ramones were a band. Tommy was the drummer.
Here’s a Spotify playlist of the first three Ramones albums and Tim, if you’d like to remember Tommy Ramone and the transformative music that couldn’t have been made without him.
Next item on Amy Rose’s Downer Report: Two of the most dire problems in the U.S are the lack of treatment and resources for mentally ill people and our frequently inhumane and violent prison system. (I WARNED YOU, DUDES. I’M IN ONE OF MY MOODS.) These issues come together to awful effect in this (heartbreakingly unsurprising) story about the brutal violence prison guards inflict on inmates at Rikers Island, New York City’s largest jail complex. The article cites a secret governmental study undertaken this year by New York’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (who in the hell came up with that name, even):
The study, which the health department refused to release under the state’s Freedom of Information Law, found that over an 11-month period last year, 129 inmates suffered “serious injuries”—ones beyond the capacity of doctors at the jail’s clinics to treat—in altercations with correction department staff members. The report cataloged in exacting detail the severity of injuries suffered by inmates: fractures, wounds requiring stitches, head injuries and the like. But it also explored who the victims were. Most significantly, 77 percent of the seriously injured inmates had received a mental illness diagnosis.
That is a fucking mess, right? The details of the assaults on prisoners are too gruesome to lay out here; many left their victims with severe and permanent health problems or injuries. While it makes sense for guards to physically defend themselves from attacks, it does not make sense for anyone to egregiously wound inmates after suicide attempts (this has happened five times in the past year), or beat them while they’re restrained and/or handcuffed (as happened in 80 PERCENT of all the recorded uses of force on prisoners). The violence that takes place in our prisons is repugnant, and it’s not limited to New York. If you’d like to learn more about the conditions in which incarcerated people live and why our prisons need mass systemic reform, the ACLU has tons of great information that’s well worth checking out.
OK. Before we continue, take a deep breath and look at this picture of a kitten being annoyed that her friend copied her outfit, because your girl is not quite yet done with the Downer Report:
Pretty great, right? Now: This story about the negligence and misogyny with which Hobart and William Smith Colleges responded to a student’s rape allegations is also very terrible and very important. Please read it, and then, PLEASE MOVE ON, because I’ve inflicted more than enough misery upon you. I am the horse and you are the kitten. Forgive me! At least we both look cute?
The luminous rapper/singer/comedian/actor/filmmaker Jean Grae has always had a sharp, sardonic sense of humor, and she’s at her funniest when she’s throwing verbal side-eyes. There are plenty of these on That’s Not How You Do That: An Instructional Album for Adults, her new full-length record, which dispenses common-sense for adult humans who need it in (very acerbic) song form.
I had the worst week, but listening to “Read the [Twitter] Timeline. It Retains Information” cheered me right up. Other highlights include “Don’t Be a Dick to the Waitstaff” and “Were You Raised in a Barn, Or Raised By Wolves?” It’s not often discussed, but here’s a secret: Sometimes adults act like babies and need to be sung to about manners like babies. Thanks, Jean!
More scientific proof that alien life is totally within the realm of possibility: “electric bacteria,” a strain of bacteria that can survive by eating electrons gleaned from rocks and metals. From a great New Scientist article about how electric bacteria work:
Stick an electrode in the ground, pump electrons down it, and they will come: living cells that eat electricity. We have known bacteria to survive on a variety of energy sources, but none as weird as this. Think of Frankenstein’s monster, brought to life by galvanic energy, except these “electric bacteria” are very real and are popping up all over the place.
SCIENCE IS AMAZING.
Marvel Comics is changing the superhero game by adjusting the lineup of one of their biggest titles, The Avengers, to represent more of their readers. Thor is now a female character, and Falcon, a black character, will take over Captain America’s role.
Marvel has featured female heroes before, like Black Widow and Storm. But Thor and Falcon are part of what Marvel calls the “Big Three”—their most popular heroes—along with Iron Man, all of whom have, until now, been white men. I can’t wait to read about Thor thrashing her foes with some badass hammer swings!
Fast Company profiled the San Francisco-based hackerspace Double Union, which is run by Amelia Greenhall. What’s great about this place is its mission to promote a safe environment in which women can manifest their technological genius. Even better, it’s an effort to combat sexism in the male-dominated culture of Silicon Valley. “A full 63 percent of women in science, engineering, and technology have experienced sexual harassment,” the article says, while women are often undermined or excluded from jobs there despite their skills and intellect. Good work, Double Union!
I was SO STOKED to see that Unlocking the Truth, a heavy metal band made up of eighth graders, has been given a record deal by a major label. It’s really inspiring to see young children of color Making Shit Happen in predominantly white spaces, and I can’t wait to play air guitar in my room to their debut album!
This week, the former Secretary of State/Senator and all-around wonder woman Hillary Clinton appeared on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart to promote her new book, Hard Choices (which I really want to read). Jon Stewart always balances his pointed questions with comedic levity, and this combination worked especially well when he asked Clinton about her presidential aspirations. I don’t want to spoil the interview, but it’s worth watching: She drops some very obvious clues about her ambitions.
When I saw the announcement for Lena Dunham’s book tour, I could have burst into song. As if I weren’t already excited for her forthcoming essay collection, Not That Kind of Girl: A Young Woman Tells You What She’s “Learned,” she’s jazzing up each stop of the tour with some Extra Special Guest Stars—among them, Zadie Smith, Carrie Brownstein, Miranda July, Mary Karr…AND OUR OWN JENNY ZHANG! We’ll see you on your book tour, Lena!
Although the #BringBackOurGirls hashtag and the campaign to raise awareness about the kidnapped Chibok girls have lost some momentum after months of apparent inaction by the Nigerian government, the young activist Malala Yousafzai met with President Goodluck Jonathan to urge him to get the girls home safely.
I can’t stop listening to “Bigger Party,” Speedy Ortiz’s new single. Thank you, SO, for making sure my song of the summer features the lyrics “I’m sorry for the time that I made out with all your friends / I’m really a shithead.” I’ll be keeping this on repeat until the band’s fall tour with Ex Hex!
The South African writer and Nobel Prize recipient Nadine Gordimer died on Sunday at the age of 90. Her novels were repeatedly banned by her country’s government because they spoke out against the racist apartheid system. I and so many others will remember her important work with great respect and love.
Judging by the response to Casey Jane Ellison’s new video series, Touching the Art, the standup comedian is ready to take over for the big-name art critics. A sample of Casey’s wisdoms: “What is art? Who cares? Why?” Her quite legitimate talking heads (including photographer/professor Cathy Opie and New York Times writer Jori Finkel) respond with appropriate levels of goofiness.
I was pretty excited to read that the writer who coined the term Manic Pixie Dream Girl wrote an apology about it this week, since, as you may know, I’ve had an issue with that label for a while now. Although I think Nathan Rabin’s apology, taken as a whole, is a little bit humblebraggy, this is something we can all get behind: “Let’s all try to write better, more nuanced and multidimensional female characters: women with rich inner lives and complicated emotions and total autonomy, who might strum ukuleles or dance in the rain even when there are no men around to marvel at their free-spiritedness.”
I’m incredibly obsessed with the suburbs and its happenings, so this compilation of suburbia-centric films is very important to me.
Scientists have developed a material even darker than black. It absorbs all but 0.035% of light, and even more amazing, it’s so dark that, according to the article, “the human eye cannot understand what it is seeing‚shapes and contours are lost, leaving nothing but an apparent abyss.”
Today marks the 20th anniversary of Marilyn Manson’s Portrait of An American Family, one of the best albums I’ve ever heard. I recommend giving it a listen, or watching the 1995 video of Marilyn CRUSHING IT on The Phil Donahue Show, to celebrate. ♦