Joey Ramone on my Atari!

When I was thirteen, me and my friends Jeff and Lonnie started a software company. Not Apple, Microsoft… we were Eclipse Software Productions, and we wrote software for Atari personal computers (not the game consoles, the 800, 800XL, ST, etc). We started by creating images for Broderbund Software’s The Print Shop, which let you print greeting cards, flyers, and so on, on your noisy dot matrix printer. By the end we were writing primitive Word Processing and Check Balancing programs for cheap, selling them all on a floppy disk for $10 when the professional versions cost $49.99 each.

We made a few hundred bucks over a year or so, but we didn’t stick with it, and went our separate ways. As I dive into ’80s nostalgia for a book project, this all came back to me, and one of my favorite memories as a computer nerd in that time was when my hero Joey Ramone appeared in K-Power magazine, a rag for Apple, Atari, TRS-80, and Commodore 64 users and programmers. He gave them an unrecorded demo called “S.L.U.G.” and the staff wrote a BASIC program that would play the tune in all its 8-bit glory, while the lyrics blinked in time to the music. I keyed it in and was overjoyed! The Ramones! on my Atari 800XL! Totally awesome! (that’s ’80s speak for “OMG”). The song is hilariously silly, a love song about a slug, in the ’50s doo-wop vein. It would go really well with a viewing of Slither.

Here are the pages from the magazine with an interview with Joey. If you want the programs to try out on an emulator, the whole issue of K-Power is archived here. Click to embiggen:

Listen to the 8-bit version. But what did it sound like, really? When the Ramones released their “All the Stuff, and More” collections in the late ’90s, the original demo of “S.L.U.G.” was included:

And here’s a video of Joey singing it live in 1998, a few years before he died.

Joey was a hero of mine, a gangly goof who became a legendary rock star by being true to himself and singing about what he wanted, not what was expected of him. And he’s buried in the same cemetery as my grandmother:


Blitzkrieg Burger Bop

blitzkrieg burger

The Blitzkrieg Burger at the Cloverleaf Tavern. a 5oz patty grilled medium rare, topped with a split, grilled Guiness-boiled bratwurst and Guiness steamed sauerkraut, slathered with spicy brown mustard on a delectable, chewy pretzel bun.
I told them to call it the BierGarten Belly Bomb, but they opted for Blitzkrieg. For that name, it should be currywurst with curry mayo, if ya ask me.

Anyway, this was a great burger. The steamed kraut soaked the chewy bun and the flavors worked together. They make one of the best burgers around, so the meat wasn’t overpowered by a slab of seared sausage.

The real Blitzkrieg was how our trivia time plowed through the Maginot line to get 1st place. Once again my nerd powers of random knowledge assisted us. We have a solid team, though we almost lost due to lack of Passover knowledge and a weakness in geography…

Fighting Sandy in the Rockaways

Chewin’ out a rhythm on my bubble gum
The sun is out and I want some
It’s not hard not far to reach
We can hitch a ride to Rockaway Beach

Up on the roof, out on the street
Down in the playground the hot concrete
Bus ride is too slow
They blast out the disco on the radio

Rock Rock Rockaway Beach

Rockaway Boardwalk 1

The Ramones sang its simple pleasures. The boardwalk is now at the bottom of the sea. The homes all along the thin witch-finger of the peninsula are soaked to eye level and silted with muck. Superstorm Sandy did a number on the Rockaways, and all the way down the Jersey coast. I volunteered with New York Cares to help homeowners with the demolition that comes before rebuilding can begin. It will take a long time and a lot of work.


My co-workers and I worked on three houses. We tore out sodden paneling in one, ripped up a ruined hardwood floor in another, and tore the moldy drywall out of an entire ground floor of the third. That’s the house I worked on. Out of respect for the owners, I took no photos of any homes we worked on. I flip 700lb truck tires for fun and wrestle maniacs on Saturday mornings when I could be watching cartoons. Let me say this: demolition is hard work. Smashing walls is fun. Shoveling hundreds of pounds of mushy sheet rock into trash bags and lugging them to the curb, not so much. But that is the job. You’re not there to have fun, you’re there to help people who have lost so much. The worst thing I saw was the door to a girl’s bedroom, polka-dotted with stickers, with nothing inside but sagging walls and sea wrack.

The forward operating base and the bus from Team Rubicon
The forward operating base and the bus from Team Rubicon

The good folks of Team Rubicon, veterans who mobilize to assist with disaster relief, were the first on the scene. AmeriCorps and Conservation Corps took over, and New York Cares is mobilizing the employees of many companies who bus their workers to these sites to offer the manpower needed to make a dent in this enormous tragedy.

Fobbits unwelcome... get to work
Fobbits unwelcome… get to work

I won’t call the scope mind-boggling. You can open Google Maps and trace from Connecticut down to Delaware to see where the storm’s fist landed. The damage is comparable to Katrina, but not the loss of lives. The east coasters were lucky. We had a bigger public transportation system, and many of the shore homes were owned by folks who could afford to leave. A thousand died in Katrina. Sandy killed over a hundred, counting the Caribbean islanders who died in its wake. And most of all, we had seen Katrina. We had not been teased with smaller hurricanes. Irene threw us for a loop, and when the NOAA said Sandy was her big bad sister with a razor in her shoe, we took notice. And she dragged her nails down the coastline and tore our sandcastles apart.

Rockaway Boardwalk 2

If you want to assist, I recommend you contact New York Cares and Jersey Cares to see what help is needed. If you don’t want to don Tyvek suits and masks to tear down moldy houses, you can help sort relief goods and equipment, or deliver meals to the elderly who were displaced by the storm, or help schools and kids in the areas.

And so castles made of sand fall in the sea, eventually…

Commando – The Autobiography of Johnny Ramone

The Ramones turned me from a little nerd into a knife-wielding psycho.

Not really, but they were a factor. My friend Peter Dell’Orto introduced me to them, I think. I may have heard “Blitzkrieg Bop” on a random mixtape, but the first I remember is borrowing RamonesMania in the mid-80s and really getting into it, playing the twin discs so much that the track listing became how I expected the songs to follow. I bought the albums later, and their first four are classics. Johnny himself gives everything after that middling grades, but I liked Subterranean Jungle a lot. That album gets flak for being a little too soft, ’50s rock’n roll style, but we liked it. He was right about End of the Century, the Phil Spector disaster which practically ruined their career. I hate that album.

Johnny Ramone’s Guitar

The book is great, and a must read for any fan. For one, the design is original. A slab cardboard notebook, because he obsessively recorded life events in little binders, including every concert and baseball game he ever attended, and every gig they played. At first, the book reads like many rock bios- a bit egotistical, and not all that interesting, but as Johnny’s voice comes through, it almost reads like a novel with a narrator who unwittingly bares his secrets. He knew the end was coming, the book was written after he was diagnosed with terminal cancer, so he puts his heart into it and doesn’t shy from telling how he feels about anything. And yet there is little bitterness.

It’s well known that Johnny was a staunch conservative, but what comes through is hard-nose patriot, not a hatemonger like Ted Nugent. In fact, he admits that he did a lot of it to get a rise out of people. Sort of a meta-punk, offending the rebels themselves. I can see that. He reminded me of my father in a way, someone who went out of his way to get a rise out of people and make them uncomfortable. Not defending the guy, just understanding him.

Johnny of course tells the story from his own perspective, and how the image of the Ramones was very calculated. They wanted a look, but one that any fan could emulate. They played songs that didn’t reveal their musical limitations, and they grew into it. What they had was passion and a desire to win, and they did not betray themselves. They sang about horror movies, World War 2, crazy people they knew, drugs and comic books. Politics crept through as the end came- the infamous “Bonzo Goes to Bitburg” was Joey & DeeDee, which I wrote about here, and Johnny and CJ sang “Let the Punishment Fit the Crime” and some later songs, but they weren’t very memorable.

I was pleasantly surprised by this book. He is brutally honest and revealing. They were not as successful as we thought, they influenced rock to a great degree by dragging it back to its roots, but their first gold record was RamonesMania, many years after release. They were prolific, they were original, their songs have an infectious energy that is unmatched, in my opinion, even today. And if you want to know what it was like to be a Ramone… let Johnny tell you.

I actually got choked up at the end of the book. Johnny, Joey and DeeDee are all dead. Joey is buried in the same cemetery as my grandmother. I visit them both sometimes. My grandmother means more to me, of course, but Joey and Johnny Ramone taught me it was okay to be weird, and to let that freak flag fly.

Commando: The Autobiography of Johnny Ramone

The Mooney Suzuki

I’ve been hearing this band on Underground Garage, Stevie Van Zandt’s Sirius radio station, and this song cracked me up. It has a mocking yet mournful quality to it. After reading Johnny Ramone’s autobiography, it started playing in my head again.

You may be growing older,
we may be growing old-er,
but you’ll never be older than dinosaur bones
and you’ll never be older than the Ramones

In Johnny’s bio, he said that he put dinosaurs on their last album cover- ¡Adios, Amigos! because that’s how he felt. They went out early, before they turned fifty.  And for some, that’s better. Some musicians rock it long into their seventies. Pete Seeger seemed a little confused when he was on The Colbert Report, but he still played like gold. I haven’t seen the Stones- I’m not paying hundreds of bucks to see any band- but from video, they seem all right. I saw Dylan in the nineties and it was pathetic, we were all making excuses for the rambling wreck onstage. I have a sort of love-hate relationship with Dylan because he writes great music, but you never know what is his image and what is him, what is a put-on.  I’d think at this point, when not acknowledging that he is a legend starts an argument, that he could chill out and let the curtains down. I’m not a fan of anyone who clings to their imagined persona beyond the stage.

My favorite Cary Grant quote is when he said, “Some days I wish I could be Cary Grant!” He admitted the artifice, he retired gracefully. He looked classier than most long into his silver years, but he stopped working. Cary Grant died young, Archie Leach got to retire and enjoy life. I think that’s what most stars ought to do, but not everyone has the fortitude to admit it.

The Mooney Suzuki – Have Mercy

Bouchercon 2012

A great time was had by all. Some visual highlights. I have a big post tomorrow about paying back the reader, so here is some eye candy before I ask you to eat your veggies and think about the reader-writer relationship.

That slinky siren on my arm is the magnificent and multitalented Christa Faust. Her novel Choke Hold- one of my top reads last year and still the best story I’ve read with an MMA fighter- was up for an Anthony Award. If you haven’t read her work yet, she is a noir original. Her scientific knowledge of the genre on film and paper gives her work depth and originality, and Choke Hold tells a great story while giving us a peek at the modern gladiators of the American Colosseum: fighters and porn stars.

This is the voracious and adorable creature known as Sabrina Ogden. Like a blonde baby wolverine, she will claw her way through your heart to get to a cupcake. She is eating a donut here, but we also saw her obliterate french toast, bacon, a bacon cheeseburger, quesadillas, mini cupcakes and 42 ounce steak. At least I think it was a steak, it might have been the remains of a rude con-goer. This dear friend is the beneficiary of the Feeding Kate anthology that you so graciously funded on IndieGogo last month.
So yes. she ate all that with jaw damage.
I shared the burger with her because I am dainty.
She blogs and reviews at My Friends Call Me Kate.

That is Johnny Ramone’s guitar and Some of Joey’s jacket. The opening ceremonies were at Cleveland’s Rock ‘n Roll Hall of Fame. Sorry if this is the gem of Cleveland, but it’s kind of like a giant Hard Rock cafe. They had a Linkin Park guitar there. I’m not even sure that the Elvis, early R&B and Beatles stuff can erase that indignity. But it was nice to visit it, and they have a giant hot dog that belonged to Phish:

Best meals of the trip? Pierogies at a diner and bratwurst at the casino buffet. There were some fantastic restaurants nearby that served roasted pig heads and the hotel bar made a damn good burger, but this is a Polish town and the good eats of our vowel-challenged brothers Wzsgbgnyzcwz are the finest fare. This was a good bar town as well, with plenty of local beer on tap. The hotel had four Great Lakes beers and I enjoyed them all. The Tilted Kilt (Scottish Hooters) had the double IPA Nosferatu, which kicked ass (or bit neck, perhaps). And speaking of bars:

Noir at the Bar was held at Wonder Bar, a fine establishment with patrons of discriminating taste. Meaning they listened while Snubnose Press authors Eric Beetner, Jonathan Woods, Les Edgerton, John Kenyon, Jedediah Ayres and Josh Stallings read their work. Good beer, better stories. Great time.

Josh and Les are buds whose work I’ve talked about before. Out There Bad by Stallings is like James Crumley’s brutal action film put to paper by a street poet. Edgerton’s career speaks for itself, the heir to Ed Bunker, the real ex-con who writes sharp-edged truth. They are both featured in the Protectors Anthology (link to your right) as well.

Bouchercon was a great time- a celebration hosted by readers where the writers go to pay back. Even the mightiest like Lee Child and Mary Higgins Clark (who I met on the plane, and who was as gracious as you could imagine) mingle with the crowds and are as friendly and approachable as can be. If you enjoy crime fiction, this is your Comicon, except you don’t pay for autographs and you can rub elbows and have a drink with the people you came to see.

I met a lot of new people and had great times with them and the “old” friends I met last year. Glenn Gray and Todd Robinson, Johnny Shaw, Stephen Romano, Neliza Drew, Kent Gowran, Joe Myers… it’s a crime family reunion, and a trip I will gladly make every year.

11 years without Joey Ramone

It’s hard to believe that 11 years ago our nation suffered a terrible blow from which we can never truly recover. In April 2011, Joey Ramone gabba gabba heyed into the great rock’n roll beyond.

My friend Peter introduced me to the Ramones. I’d heard a song here and there- Sheena is a Punk Rocker, Rock Rock Rock Rock Rock’n Roll High School- but he lent me RAMONES MANIA, the double LP greatest hits album with its day-glo yellow cover. I must’ve flipped those discs a billion times. We rented Rock ‘n Roll High School from Curry’s Home Video, a video store for suburban New Jersey akin to Kim’s in NYC, who had everything from Kubrick to Pink Flamingos. It informed us on such things as irony and camp and the stunning sexual energy of P.J. Soles.

And it make gawky, lanky, bemopped Jeffrey Hyman look like the coolest black leather zombie in creation.

The Ramones were a fresh take on ’50s rock after the indulgence of the ’70s era. Second verse, same as the first. Lyrics ripped from low budget movies like Tod Browning’s Freaks and the Texas Chainsaw Massacre. They could blister the paint of the walls, then switch to sweet melody like “I met her at the Burger King/ Fell in love by the soda machine” in “Oh Oh I Love Her So.” Their newest album was Halfway to Sanity, with “Bonzo Goes to Bitburg,” which gave Reagan a brutal skewering for saying the German soldiers buried at Bitburg were “victims as surely as those in the concentration camps.” (Now, not every German was a Nazi, and plenty of soldiers die not believing in the country for which they fight, but at the time, veterans groups were staunchly against forgiveness, and so were a lot of other people.)

If there’s one thing that makes me sick
it’s when someone tries to hide behind politics

But the Ramones weren’t about politics, which is what made their one foray into it so stinging. They were about having a good time, and their songs never feel mean-spirited, even when they want to “Smash You” or beat on the brat with a baseball bat. There’s an unspoken but obvious humor in it.

They were a great cover band, from Tom Waits’ “I Don’t Wanna Grow Up” to “Needles & Pins” and versions of “California Sun” and “Surfin’ Bird” that will give you sunburn at thirty paces, like being too close to a nuclear blast. However my all-time favorite is from Joey’s solo career, when he covered Louis Armstrong’s “What a Wonderful World.” He makes it a rock song but imbues it with the same sense of hope.

Joey’s solo album is pretty good, and very funny. He wrote a song about being hot for Maria Bartiromo, the financial news anchor, which still cracks me up. Their songs were rarely about sex, but about the goofy innocent love of the ’50s. Today your love, tomorrow the world.

I regret never seeing the Ramones in concert. Joey is buried in the same cemetery as my grandmother, and I work nearby. So I give them both a visit during lunch hour, sometimes. I miss them both, and memories of them bring me joy.

Here’s the video for “What a Wonderful World,” which stars a young Michael Pitt.