Sheena for Ex-President

For a moment in the Reagan years, Dee Dee and Joey seemed to wake up; they wrote "Bonzo Goes to Bitburg," about this B-movie crud they'd seen on TV whose blitheness about Nazis incriminated every pop pose they'd ever clung to—including considerable blitheness about Nazis. Johnny got mad and insisted they retitle the song and never do anything like that again. So, before and after he stopped playing in the band in 1989, Dee Dee concentrated on laments that spun "I Don't Want To Live This Life (Anymore)" against "I Wanna Live." They dominate Hey Ho's second disc, a creepy solo album in disguise. "Pet Sematary" and "Poison Heart" are wrenching; imagine the ones that were left off, like "Worm Man" and "Eat That Rat."

Yet there's a second way to handle the reality, which people choose all the time; you can opt to live in a world where the Ramones did become president. Sonic Youth put a medley of Ramones covers into their set to rev up for their late-'80s rock detour. Frank Black sang "I Heard Ramona Sing" ("if they ever retire, I hope they pull a Menudo") to steel himself for the long post-Pixies night to come. Courtney Love swears on her current single, "If the world is so wrong/Yeah you can break them all/With one song," the music swiping the bridge and fervor of "Bonzo Goes." And when Sleater-Kinney's Corin Tucker belted out "I Wanna Be Your Joey Ramone" she thrilled me more than a dozen Donnas could because she wasn't just girling up the lyrics; she was declaring herself a candidate.

Accepting every Ramones dream as the outright truth is a joke, too—a put-on. But a lot of punk works that way. The fantasy of the world put right is at least as powerful as the vengeful need to imagine it shaken apart. These aren't opposing impulses, they hades of the same color, which is why so many angry rockers have found sweet relief in Ramonesland. Their legacy wasn't just that anyone could do it, or a sound as easily reproduced as fire. It was a surreality that could be conjured when reality wouldn't do, that had to be honored, for year after relentless year if necessary. For the band and so many who loved them, the joke had become a calling.

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