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Road to road to ruin

I’m sorry I couldn’t do better than a centaur joke yesterday, but what can I say?  I was working under duress, and have been for some time now.  For example, after doing my two-day site visit at the U of Buffalo, I awoke yesterday at 5 am to catch my return flight to Altoona.  Why Altoona?  Because I didn’t decide to fly to Buffalo until about two weeks ago.  For reasons that now escape me, I had planned to drive up from State College—which would have made sense in October, perhaps, back when our review of Buffalo was originally scheduled.  But when Janet reminded me that northwest Pennsylvania might not offer ideal driving conditions in late January, I got in touch with Buffalo’s English department and informed them that (a) I would be flying in and (b) I would need a second night’s lodging because I wouldn’t be driving back on Tuesday night.  Yes, that’s right, I had been planning to return by car on Tuesday night.  I don’t know.  Maybe I was thinking under duress.

But I didn’t hear back from Buffalo until the next day, by which point the State College - Buffalo fares had jumped to nearly $700.  Not wanting to saddle an English department with that kind of airfare because of my own indecision and ineptitude, I booked a much cheaper flight out of Altoona.  Only after I made the reservation did I realize that the Altoona airport is in fact the Altoona-Blair County airport, located in the southeastern corner of Blair County 25 miles from Altoona; in other words, I would be looking at a 75-minute trip to Martinsburg, PA instead of the usual 45-minute hop to Altoona itself.  And the airport is basically a box on the side of the road.  Which was OK, because it made check-in pretty easy.

I didn’t think a 6:25 am departure would be all that troublesome, because I always sleep on planes, usually within 30 to 60 seconds of boarding.  No, that’s not quite right: I fall asleep when I see pictures of airplanes.  It doesn’t matter whether I’m on a transcontinental jumbo jet or a six-seater turboprop whose co-pilot begins the flight by donning his leather hat and goggles and yelling “contact” as he spins the propeller by hand.  By the time we’re on the runway, I’m out.  Except that for some reason, this didn’t happen yesterday.  I was constantly, painfully awake for the entire trip back, and though I was able to put the finishing touches on my seminar prep (we finished Henri-Jacques Stiker’s A History of Disability yesterday), I was running on fumes by the time I drove back to State College, arriving at noon for my 12:20 class.

The one good thing about my travels was the Ramones, to whom I listened all the way to Altoona and back.  There’s a back story here: when, three or four years ago, I decided to replenish my late-70s punk/New Wave holdings by buying CDs to replace the albums I would never likely never play again, I introduced Nick to The Ramones and Rocket to Russia.  (I never thought much of Leave Home, and still haven’t gotten around to buying Road to Ruin.) Well, within days Nick had yoinked both CDs (his verb, and a particularly evocative one at that) and had put them in the 6-CD changer we’d installed in the trunk of the Bonneville ten years ago.  Not long after that, the CD changer broke, leaving all 6 CDs stuck in the trunk.  “Nick, my son,” I said, “you’re a man now, and it’s your job to fix the CD changer—or, more precisely, to take it to Circuit City for repairs.” Did Nick ever bring the thing to Circuit City?  Please.  Is the Pope a relativist?

So we haven’t heard those Ramones since 2003.  When, at long last, the Bonneville died and we sold it to a local mechanic, we received in return a box full of detritus, almost as if the automobile funeral directors were presenting us with the Bonneville’s last remains and personal effects.  Soda cans, maps, a couple of novels, three different tire gauges, a Franz Ferdinand postcard, a battery of batteries, and . . . six compact discs, The Ramones and Rocket to Russia among them.

And you know what?  I don’t care any more that those guys were three-album wonders.  They were and are, finally, America’s greatest rock and roll band.  Amanda was right all along.

Still, my loyal readers have every reason to demand an explanation of what happened to their alternate suggestions.

The 32-band tournament was broken down into four regional tournaments: East, South, North, and West.  Under the controversial “Neil Young Rocks!” provision of the North American Free Trade Agreement, Crazy Horse was allowed to compete in the North bracket, along with The Band.  Bachman-Turner Overdrive and the Guess Who, however, did not make the cut.

The East, as expected, was a highly competitive region.  Parliament Funkadelic coasted the Mothership to an easy early victory over Aerosmith, and the Ramones had little trouble disposing of the Pixies, but both the Sonic Youth - Talking Heads matchup and the truly bizarre Velvet Underground - E Street Band contest went into double overtime.  Though the Talking Heads and the E Streeters emerged victorious, the former on the strength of Remain in Light and the latter thanks to the down-low combination of Garry Tallent and Roy Bittan, they went into the second round depleted.  Bruce’s boys wound up unable to keep pace with the relentless funk of Clinton and Crew, while the Heads folded quickly when faced with the Ramones’ speed and straight-ahead attack.  The regional final thus presented fans with drastically different styles, but the Ramones took the palm when P-Funk went into a disastrous miasma of noodling just when it looked like the East Region would make its funk the P-Funk on the grounds that it wanted to get funked up.

The South regional was a study in contrasts, as well.  REM lost a squeaker to the Allmans, who relied heavily (perhaps too heavily) on the play of Duane and their oft-imitated, never-replicated two-drummer defense.  The Wesley-Parker-Stubblefield-Nolan edition of the James Brown Band routed the dBs, as expected, and the Meters trounced the B-52s, but Los Lobos’ upset of NRBQ had many heads shaking.  In the second round, the Duane-less Allmans proved to be no match for the classic James Brown sidemen, as the “funky drummer” approach outpaced even the dueling solos of Hot ‘Lanta.  Los Lobos proved to be less versatile and dexterous than the Meters, with the result that the wolf did not survive the second round.  But the finals went to the James Brown Band in the end, even though their frontman collapsed no fewer than four times and had to be helped off the court after each collapse.

The North was controversial from the start, not only because of Crazy Horse and The Band but because Guided by Voices protested their seeding, saying there should have been a “Midwestern” bracket for them, Wilco, the Replacements, and Hüsker Dü.  As it was, they narrowly defeated Wilco in the opening round, largely because of that band’s relative lack of tournament experience.  Hüsker Dü won an ugly victory over Sleater-Kinney, who insisted that Bob Mould should have been flagged on “Eight Miles High” for unnecessary screaming.  The Replacements managed to get by Nirvana, largely by pruning all the turgid crap from their great mid-1980s albums and overwhelming Cobain and company with an underrated emotional range.  The Band defeated Crazy Horse with surprising ease when they hit upon the brilliant idea of deleting Neil Young’s incandescent solos from “Like a Hurricane,” leaving the band exposed as sloppy and directionless, and then proceeded to remind younger listeners of just why Music from Big Pink matters.  They went to the same well against the Replacements, however, and found it dry, while Hüsker Dü totally pwned GbV on their way to edging the Mats in the finals, just as this humble blog predicted they would.

The West was full of surprises.  The Grateful Dead kept playing for three hours after they’d been defeated by X, oblivious to the fact that the tournament had moved on.  Meanwhile, the Beach Boys, sentimental favorites, had no trouble with Creedence Clearwater Revival, opening a substantial lead in vocals and never looking back.  The Jimi Hendrix Experience won a fiery match with the Steely Dan Consortium of Crafty Studio Musicians, some of whom were surprised to be playing in the West bracket in the first place, and in the must-see matchup of the opening round, Sly and the Family Stone got by the Minutemen in overtime, mounting a final “Stand” that befuddled the Minutemen’s signature double-nickels-on-a-dime formation.  But Hendrix did not have the stamina to outlast the Beach Boys in round two, while X breezed by Sly with a series of audacious Hail Marys and “We’re Desperate” plays that left the everyday people reeling.  The final was a classic matchup of light and dark SoCal, appropriately billed as “Fun, Fun, Fun Under the Big Black Sun.” Cowboy punk and dystopian-LA cynicism against the cheery, crew-cut America of “Little Deuce Coupe” and “Be True to Your School.” Though I expected X to win this one going away, I confess I found myself pleasantly surprised by the Boys’ depth on “Don’t Worry Baby” and their breadth on “God Only Knows,” and unpleasantly reminded of X’s pretentiousness at their very worst.  And so it was with profoundly mixed feelings that I watched Wilson’s outfit win the region in triple overtime, after X’s terrible misplay on “See How We Are” cost them the narrow lead they’d established with “4th of July.”

The semifinals were a letdown, largely because of unfortunate mismatchings.  The Beach Boys simply couldn’t compete with the James Brown Band, and the Ramones had the eerie effect of making Hüsker Dü appear thin and derivative.  When, at halftime, it became clear that Mould and Hart had no answer for brilliant pop melodies like “Sheena is a Punk Rocker” and “Rockaway Beach,” the contest was effectively over.  For the championship game, the Ramones simply reverted to the strategy that had worked so well against P-Funk; when, however, Dee Dee and Johnny realized that the James Brown Band was not likely to waste any time in noodling or other forms of post-psychedelic excess, they hauled out the heavy artillery, beginning with “Chainsaw” and “I Don’t Wanna Go Down to the Basement” and then driving home with “We’re a Happy Family” and “Cretin Hop.” Undeterred, the James Brown Band answered the Ramones’ cover of “Do You Wanna Dance” with a groove that began with “Licking Stick” and segued to “Sex Machine,” “Get on the Good Foot” and “Doing it to Death,” implicitly schooling the boys from Queens on what serious dancing music sounds like.  Inexplicably, however, they responded to “I Wanna Be Sedated” with “King Heroin,” a decisive mistake that cleared the dance floor and left much of the crowd restive and querulous.

So, then, the Ramones it is.  Thanks for playing (and listening), everyone.  I’ll be back later with the results of another exciting competition that’s just concluded.

Posted by on 02/02 at 04:06 PM
  1. The fix was in. I protest (too much).

    Posted by Bob Davis  on  02/02  at  06:38 PM
  2. Fabulous. And you are so right!

    Posted by  on  02/02  at  06:38 PM
  3. …but Los Lobos’ upset of NRBQ had many heads shaking

    Probably all wondering when East L.A. became a part of the South, eh?

    Posted by  on  02/02  at  06:38 PM
  4. The fix was in!

    Posted by  on  02/02  at  07:17 PM
  5. The Grateful Dead kept playing for three hours after they’d been defeated by X, oblivious to the fact that the tournament had moved on.

    Oh this made me laugh heartily.

    But GBV over Wilco?! Seriously?! Hmph. But at least Husker Du trounced them later, so there’s some justice in the world of make-believe music tournaments.

    Posted by Dr. Virago  on  02/02  at  07:18 PM
  6. Probably all wondering when East L.A. became a part of the South, eh?

    Tell me about it.  I felt like I was slotting the Atlanta Falcons into the NFC West—but something had to give, and Los Lobos got bumped over to the South on grounds of general Tex-Mexiness.

    Posted by Michael  on  02/02  at  07:28 PM
  7. The Grateful Dead lost in the first round? We’re all coming to spend the summer in your parking lot, playing our tapes.  Where is this “State College,” anyway?

    Posted by  on  02/02  at  07:57 PM
  8. I’m sorry, but no Zappa in the West bracket? Zoot Alures!

    Posted by  on  02/02  at  07:59 PM
  9. I begin every roadtrip (ten or twelve roundtrips each summer-- averaging 600-900 miles per trip) with “Touring” from MONDO BIZARRO and end with “I Wanna Be Sedated” from GREATEST HITS LIVE (reissued/remastered).  Both on one disc of Ramones for those special moments; “Heidi is a headcase” can say so much in certain public environs.

    Of course for every second in between, i enjoy hours upon hours of live Grateful Dead.  I have more than 2000 hours on disc to choose from.  It takes a very long, long, long, time to listen to that much music.

    Posted by  on  02/02  at  08:02 PM
  10. No Zappa, no Beefheart, and no Airplane.  They were defeated (in that order) by Jimi Hendrix during regular-season conference play.

    And no, the fix was not in.  When I first mentioned this faux-competition back on January 20, I was rooting for X.  Their defeat by the Beach Boys came as a real surprise, and then the trip to Altoona gave the Ramones the final push.

    Posted by  on  02/02  at  08:09 PM
  11. "The Beach Boys simply couldn’t compete with the James Brown Band...”

    pfft.  h4xx0rz.

    Posted by  on  02/02  at  08:46 PM
  12. Do you think the Beach Boys would have still beat X if Billy Zoom hadn’t retired prematurely (and temporarily) and been replaced at lead guitar?  Gotta love “Fourth of July”, a Dave Alvin song, by the way. 

    I’ll be seeing X in three weeks at the House of Blues in San Diego.

    Posted by  on  02/02  at  11:14 PM
  13. Justin, the substitution of Tony Gilkyson for Billy Zoom in the second overtime was probably decisive, even despite the Beach Boys’ cringe-inducing self-parody in “Kokomo.” As for “Fourth of July,” the Blasters themselves almost made the final 32.

    I saw X with Gilkyson in 1993 at First Avenue in Minneapolis, and even then it was a very weird experience.  The kids in the pit were moshing, which was great, and the 30-year-olds like me were standing on the balconies with plastic cups full of Scotch, singing along, word for word, like it was Nostalgia Night.  Which, for us, it was.  And I couldn’t help remarking how much crisper a guitarist Mr. Zoom had been, way back when he was wiggling his ears in The Decline of Western Civilization. . . .

    Posted by  on  02/02  at  11:25 PM
  14. Uh. Unless I missed it somewhere in those 163 comments, I think we all overlooked a rather important competitor in this whole thing.

    The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion.

    Oops.

    Posted by  on  02/02  at  11:56 PM
  15. The kids in the pit were moshing, which was great, and the 30-year-olds like me were standing on the balconies with plastic cups full of Scotch, singing along, word for word, like it was Nostalgia Night.  Which, for us, it was.

    Which reminds me ...

    A friend asked me up last year to Philly to see U2, to which I replied, “Fuck that, man. I saw ‘em 20-years ago.”

    And the Waterboys opened. And I’m pretty sure it was the Long Beach Coliseum. 

    Sucks to be old.

    Posted by Roxanne  on  02/03  at  12:02 AM
  16. Scratch that. Long Beach Sports Arena.

    Posted by Roxanne  on  02/03  at  12:07 AM
  17. "Well, within days Nick had yoinked both CDs (his verb, and a particularly evocative one at that)”

    “Yoink” is a term that became popularized with “The Simpsons”. It is the self-provided verbal sound-effect used when stealing something from someone else. Even the “special guest star” characters on the show use it. Amazingly enough, even after all these years, it’s still funny every time it’s said.

    Someone has even taken the time to catalog the “yoinks”.

    http://www.snpp.com/guides/yoinks.html

    Posted by  on  02/03  at  12:09 AM
  18. Michael,

    I saw X (w/BZ) for the first time in the mid-80s when I came to SoCal with the Marine Corps.  I grew up on Long Island and had no idea who they were. I did, however, know who the BBs were; they were actually the first big name concert I ever went to.  I saw them at MSG.

    I saw X again last year, again with BZ, at the Belly Up Tavern in Solana Beach (San Diego), and the crowd was mostly about my age (43 at the time).  And if you felt old seeing X in your 30s, think about how I felt seeing Social Distortion last week at 44. Lots of moshing going on, which I did expect.  Also, if you ever get the chance to see Billy Zoom with his rockabilly band, don’t miss it.

    Posted by  on  02/03  at  12:10 AM
  19. Paul, Jon Spencer lost to the Monkees very early on and never recovered.  Some say that the Monkees were trading on reflected glory, having had Hendrix open for them for the first few gigs of a 1967 tour.  But the truth is that Spencer never stood a chance of playing in the big leagues.

    Posted by  on  02/03  at  12:17 AM
  20. The Monkees? One of my favorite bands from my twenties lost out to the Monkees?

    Criminy. Maybe I’m really not that cool after all.

    Posted by  on  02/03  at  12:22 AM
  21. Bull. We was robbed. What, were the refs sniffin glue or something.

    Posted by  on  02/03  at  12:36 AM
  22. When’s the World Cup?

    Posted by  on  02/03  at  01:21 AM
  23. Obviously the April 2005 New Orleans reunion of the Meters was no included in the competition.

    Yup we wus robbed.

    PenGun

    Posted by PenGun  on  02/03  at  01:23 AM
  24. Brilliant.  And correctly arriving at not only the greatest American rock and roll band, but the greatest rock and roll band in the world.  Ever.

    Hey, here’s a trick:  You know how you can sometimes get a song stuck in your head, and it’s usually something really annoying?  When that happens to me, I just start singing “I Wanna Be Sedated.” It’s so consummately great that it drives out whatever was in there.  And if I get the Ramones stuck in my head instead, so much the better!

    Posted by  on  02/03  at  02:16 AM
  25. Ramones?

    Thanks Ralph.

    Posted by  on  02/03  at  03:46 AM
  26. That was a hell of a game when the Meters beat the wolves, though I was pulling for the wolves. But the Replacements wouldn’t have stood a chance against The Band if it weren’t for the Replacements shooting thirty-eight freethrows to The Band’s four. That was some serious home cookin’.

    Posted by  on  02/03  at  08:53 AM
  27. At least Duke didn’t win!

    Posted by  on  02/03  at  09:26 AM
  28. Your recent travel plight is situation normal for us. Do we drive through the snowbelt that lies to our south risking horrible deaths due to ice, avalanche, and exposure? Or do we try a flight out of the local Buddy Holly Memorial Airstrip and Rib Shack? I carry more life insurance than any other academic I know.

    On the Ramones, I got to see them twice. I don’t know if they were the greatest rock band of all time, but they had to be the most fun. And they played every song at 11. Bill Hicks would have approved.

    Posted by  on  02/03  at  09:48 AM
  29. I don’t think the refs were sniffing glue, but the Allman Brothers might have been. The fluke of REM losing everything including their religion in the first round can only be explained b/c their center, Stipe, taunted the head official formerly known as Prince, saying Prince couldn’t take REM’s “Chance” away from them. Those two got in a pissing match in the final 30 seconds, with Prince getting the upper hand (he was wearing stripes, after all), yelling “You think You’re Gonna Be a Star?! Baby, I’m a Star!” Then he got all delirious on their southern asses. Duane drained a three unguarded from behind the line (a couple of lines, actually) during the fracas, and the brothers were Southbound.

    I second Dr. V’s comment--the Grateful Dead sentence is hysterical! Great riff, MB!

    Posted by  on  02/03  at  09:48 AM
  30. Not wanting to saddle an English department with that kind of airfare because of my own indecision and ineptitude, I booked a much cheaper flight out of Altoona.

    If The Donald ever heard you say that, you know how he’d respond, don’t you? That’s right: “You’re fired.”

    No no no no, Michael, that’s not the American way, that’s not the Capitalist way, and it’s certainly not the Cheney-Bush way. What you do is book a business class seat out of Philly to Buffalo by way of Dallas-Fort Worth and Bogata, and convince them it’s a bargin at twice what you’re billing them, through your PAC, of course. To accomplish this all you do is inform that you’re acting out of your kindly good nature, your compassionate desire to conserve their scarce resources.

    Say $15,000 is the cost of the flight, plus ride to the airport, parking, tips, and so forth.  You tell them it cost you $70,000 but you’re only going to charge them $40,000. They’ll pay it and be glad for the privilege.

    That leaves you with 25K large to blow in the casino that’s going to be built in Buffalo. And if you play it right, you can get UB to invite you back and comp you for the casino opening.

    Posted by  on  02/03  at  09:51 AM
  31. Egad! There’s no Journey in the tourney!

    Posted by TravisG  on  02/03  at  11:00 AM
  32. The Romones are a lot of fun, but they would need Rollie Massimino riding on Jim Valvano’s shoulders to garner enough karma to pull this tournament off.

    Posted by  on  02/03  at  11:59 AM
  33. Did The Looking Glass make it to the NIT?

    Posted by Bob in Pacifica  on  02/03  at  12:18 PM
  34. Good grief, 10,00 words, is this a Lance Mannion post?

    Posted by Bulworth  on  02/03  at  12:30 PM
  35. Dee Dee would be very proud. Johnny wouldn’t care.

    Posted by The Heretik  on  02/03  at  01:23 PM
  36. Say $15,000 is the cost of the flight, plus ride to the airport, parking, tips, and so forth.  You tell them it cost you $70,000 but you’re only going to charge them $40,000. They’ll pay it and be glad for the privilege.

    No, no, Bill, I was just evaluating an English department.  Now, if I were a Bush appointee charged with “rebuilding” Iraq, then I’d have had me a good old time.

    Posted by Michael  on  02/03  at  01:36 PM
  37. "Now, if I were a Bush appointee charged with “rebuilding” Iraq, then I’d have had me a good old time.”

    Don’t you mean, “If I were a Bush appointee charged with ‘rebuilding’ an English Department?

    Posted by  on  02/03  at  02:18 PM
  38. Further proof of the Ramones’ primacy: Last July 15, the NYT crossword puzzle featured IWANNABESEDATED.

    Posted by Orange  on  02/03  at  03:03 PM
  39. Bill Benson wrote “That leaves you with 25K large to blow in the casino that’s going to be built in Buffalo. And if you play it right, you can get UB to invite you back and comp you for the casino opening.”

    and Michael resonded

    “No, no, Bill, I was just evaluating an English department.  Now, if I were a Bush appointee charged with “rebuilding” Iraq, then I’d have had me a good old time.”

    How strong is UB on Celtic literature? I like Bill’s idea a lot, and you could always call the proposed Casino Caper “Oisin’s 11.”

    Posted by  on  02/03  at  03:14 PM
  40. If somebody come up with idea of James Brown vs. Ramones mash-up. We know who to blame…

    But to be honest, the time has come for somebody to make that mash-up. Anybody finds that file yet?

    Posted by Squashed  on  02/04  at  05:01 PM

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