Sheena is a punk rocker...

So I've been watching a documentary on the Ramones - who when they first came out I HATED but have since come to appreciate - and it gave me a whole weird sense of time and perspective. When the Ramone's burst on the scene I was living in San Francisco - in the Haight - as a very earnest young man with a very young family. I had just left the United Farm Workers Union (for ideological reasons - which is to say because Cesar was acting crazy) and was finishing my undergraduate work at San Francisco State University. My degree was in Political Philosophy and my thesis had to do with violence and nonviolence. Shortly after leaving the city of love I was in seminary in NYC pursuing a commitment to urban ministry, peace and justice and being a good, earnest young white boy.

But I had opted out of much of popular music in the 70s - too vapid for me - and was listening to James Taylor/Cat Stevens (finger picking and blues) and lots of roots music (especially Dave Von Ronk and Mississippi John Hurt - more finger picking.) In fact, I was trying to opt out of a lot of the 70s (which was short sighted in some ways, but still true.) My first baby was born in LA (at home with hippies) and then we were off to a little studio apartment on Haight Street and exploring the inner world. When the Ramones hit, my gay next door neighbor and I used to joke that we could not tell whether they were "white punks on dope" or "white dopes on punk!" The Sex Pistols played the Fillmore and it all sounded like noise. To be sure, Talking Heads grabbed me - as did "Darkness on the Edge of Town" - but the rest did not register.

Jump ahead 30 years and I am the Senior Minister of a significant church in Tucson, AZ and I am having dinner with a family interested in membership. They have two children and as mom is serving up a home cooked meal she tells me, "I came alive when I heard the Ramones!" It seems that she and her husband played in a Kiss cover band, they toured with Alice Cooper and worked as roadies with Kiss in Japan. What's more, the lead guitarist in my church band was a big Kiss fan. Now about three years before this dinner, I had been hanging with a local bar band, the Rowdies, and building a friendship with their guitarist, Chris, and one of their HOT songs was a Ramones medley: I Wanna Be Sedated/Beat on the Brat. (

It brought me back in touch with the Ramones' energy and what they were REALLY trying to do back in the middle 70s. And just as I was trying to opt out of the plastic bullshit of the era, so were they: I was going inward and mellow and they were going crazy and loud. But it was the same protest against the horrible malaise of the era. (Think Bee Gees or "making love in my Chevy van!") So I have come to love the Ramones - and all their punk friends from Television to Richard Hell and the Voidoids - and while I don't often play their music... they touch my heart and soul.

In fact, I think they were one of the voices of the Living God in that era pleading with young people not to sell out their souls. They nailed the spirit of the age when they sang: "24, 24 hours ago, I want to be sedated, nothin' to do and no place to go, I want to be sedated!" In their own weird way they sound like the prophet Isaiah to me: "Your new moons and your appointed feasts my soul hates; they have become a burden to me and I am weary of bearing them... wash yourselves clean, remove the evil of your doings from before my eyes, cease to do evil, learn to do good, seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan and plead for the widow." They were screaming against not only boredom but being co opted of meaning, hope and life with passion.

Me, too! And interestingly I find U2 and Springsteen taking up the hopeful side of this quest. Ani De Franco, Sarah McClaughlin and others, too. Not with the nihilism of the Ramones and so much of the punksters - who all burned out or sold out - but with a modest sense of speaking truth to power... and I'm still playing "I wanna be sedated!"


Black Pete said…
Amen on the '70s. I can't even bear to watch That 70s Show, because it brings the whole nauseating thing back.

Mississippi John Hurt--my man, we are brothers in soul!

I Wanna be Sedated--check out Young@Heart ( see how octagenarians take on the Ramones--edgy in a different way.
rbarenblat said…
I'd never thought to link the Ramones with Isaiah before, but I love the parallel between "I wanna be sedated" and "your feasts and new moons have become a burden to me."

Next time we meet, I should give you a copy of the Intro to Punk cd that Ethan put together, along with extensive liner notes. It was his response to a friend's request (she's a choral conductor who'd always found punk bewildering at best) to introduce her to punk and help her see why it mattered. You might dig it.

Also, do you know John Hiatt's gorgeous cover of "I Wanna Be Sedated"?
RJ said…
Thanks for you good words... and I felt that brothers in soul connection, too. Especially after seeing that you also play a Rick and a Guild (both of mine were stolen 2 years ago and while I replaced the Rick I could not find a Jumbo Guild to work so I now have a very sweet Taylor.) Oh man is the young at heart song powerful, too. Thanks.

And Rachel... I would love to hear John Hiatt's version of "I Wanna Be Sedated." How kewel is that? Yeah let's check in again soon so I can hear that CD. Blessings.

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