Remembering the Ramones

ramones-end-of-centuryI loved this article in Rolling Stone about the Ramones. It reveals what we knew all along: it was never an act for the Ramones. They really were cretins, plagued with mental and physical ailments and limited intelligence. They were put on this earth to do one thing: Be the Ramones. They did that perfectly and then they all died.

My first Ramones album was the Phil Spector-produced End of the Century, which was an utterly bizarre intro to the band. “I guess this doo-wop shit is punk” I thought. Somehow I still became a fan.

I saw the Ramones two or three times in Miami in the late 80s. They were, of course, great.

But my biggest Ramones moment came during my junior or senior year of high school, when they did an in-store appearance at Yesterday & Today records. My friends and I raced to see them after school, expecting a long line. The place was empty. No one cared about the Ramones except us.

Joey, Johnny, Marky, and CJ (I think this was after Dee Dee quit) sat behind a table, looking pale and uncomfortable in their leather jackets under the glare of fluorescent lights. I nervously approached and asked them to sign the only slip of paper I had in my pocket—an admission slip from the school office; I’d been late that day.

All four Ramones looked over the slip and laughed. “He was tawdy! He was tawdy!” they said in their thick Queens accents. For a moment I felt like I’d joined their tribe of cretins.

 

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PJ Harvey’s “Rid of Me”: 21 years later

It’s 1993. You’re young. Kurt Cobain is still alive, but he’s in your periphery; you’re more into the Chicago scene — Jesus Lizard, that sort of thing. You make zines and mail them to friends around the country. One of those friends sends you a cassette of PJ Harvey’s “Rid of Me.”

PJ Harvey - Rid of Me album coverYou know nothing about PJ Harvey. There is no Google, no Wikipedia, no place you can turn to for information. The cassette from your pen pal is hand-labeled, so you don’t even have an album cover or liner notes. You can vaguely picture the poster at the local record store, but you’ve never examined it.

You play the cassette. The first track begins with a muted guitar riff that emphasizes rhythm over melody. She plays low, single-string notes that one could almost play on a drum; the beat is tribal. A woman’s voice sings over the riff, full of restrained anguish.

You are terrible at deciphering lyrics.* But this deficit makes you more attuned to the emotions behind the words; her vocals are just another musical instrument to you, but they carry as much emotional weight as Rachmaninoff’s piano. (In the absence of lyrical comprehension you also tend to project your feelings onto the singers you like.)

Then the drums kick in and all hell breaks loose.

The soft/loud dynamic is more startling than any Nirvana song. Yet it only lasts a few seconds before going back to the muted plucking. Hell breaks loose again during the outro and the song ends with PJ’s distorted soprano and these lyrics are clear enough for you to understand: “Lick my legs, I’m on fire / Lick my legs, of desire.”

WTF was that? “Lick my legs” was so unexpected that you forgive PJ Harvey for rhyming “fire” and “desire.” You play the cassette again. And again. For months. It’s perfect.

PJ Harvey remains a favorite through her 1998 album, “To Bring You My Love.” Now she’s doing the diva thing; she’s not the howling basement caterwauler you once imagined; but that’s okay: you’ve grown up a bit too. You see her once in concert at a large amphitheater as part of a bill with Veruca Salt (!) and she plays only six songs, this tiny figure in a red dress on a huge stage. After that you kind of forget about her.

Fast-forward 21 years and you see this tweet:

https://twitter.com/WeeLaura/status/498651661024653312

It’s PJ Harvey in 1993 on…Jay Leno? You must have missed that the first time around.

You watch, hoping to unravel some of the mysteries of 1993-era PJ Harvey. Somehow it feels as uncomfortable as watching yourself on video. The camera is too close. The vocals are too high in the mix, like on the karaoke of American Idol. The loud/soft dynamic is neutralized. When she sings “Lick my legs” in her throaty, higher register, it almost comes across as farce. Like she knows it’s a weird line sung in a weird voice. When you heard this on your hand-labeled cassette for the first time, that voice sounded otherworldly, not quite human. Now it’s clear that PJ Harvey was Polly Jean Harvey and all too human.

Moments after performing her psychodramatic masterpiece, PJ Harvey sits down with Jay Leno to make small talk about sheep castration. The other guests are comedienne Kathleen Madigan and actor Michael Richards (whom Jay Leno mistakenly calls Michael Kramer.) It’s surreal, as seeing your adolescence repackaged and commercialized always is. You worry that this was PJ Harvey’s first introduction to millions of people and they did not get it. (Today’s analog is St. Vincent’s performance on SNL.) This happened 21 years ago but it still bothers you. This is 100% your problem, not PJ Harvey’s. She moved on many years ago.

Today you accept that instant access to information is mostly a good thing. But you also miss not knowing things. When you had only partial information — a hand-labeled cassette, a scrambled image on a late-night cable channel — your mind filled in the blanks. It was possible that your favorite bands could be apocryphal — projections of your own psyche, not just a humans with guitars. Who could prove otherwise?

You wanted so badly to know everything, but the years of not-knowing may have been the most formative.

 


 

* One time you asked your dad what “correnulate” meant. He said he did not think that was a real word. The lyric you had misheard was “But it’s too late” from Black Sabbath’s “Paranoid” (“I wish I could / But it’s too late”). You went years thinking it was “correnulate” and that you just didn’t know what that word meant.

 

 

Hired!

I started looking for a job in earnest just after the New Year. Nearly four months later I’m pleased to announce that I’ll be joining Dell.

Many people helped me along the way, and I thought I’d pay it forward by sharing my job-hunting methods. I hope it helps someone, or at least provides a few minutes of amusement.

Social Networking

Taking a cue from my friend — and fellow Dell-er — Sarah Vela, I began my job hunt online, with this “Hire Me” post, which I then linked to a gazillion times on Twitter, Facebook, and elsewhere.

I also changed my Twitter and Facebook avatar, just like Sarah did.

In the “Hire Me” post, I tried to strike a balance between professionalism and Austin-style keepin’-it-weird-ness.  The post received a lot of good feedback, which was initially encouraging. But after a few months of no job, I began to worry that it was too weird and not professional enough. It might have been paranoid of me, but I toned down the weirdness and also began to be more conservative in social media. Who knows whether any of this made a difference, one way or another. Maybe some recruiter was about to offer me a million dollars a year to tweet random observations about my elderly cat, but decided to pass because my blog was too boring. This is just one of the pitfalls of job hunting in 2012. You want to be authentic but not eccentric.

My wife also hit up her online network, especially on Facebook. It was gratifying to have husbands-of-friends-of-friends-of-my-wife crawling out of the woodwork to try to help me.

Plain Old Networking

I had a veritable army of support during my job hunt. Probably the most valuable resource were all the moms and dads at my daughter’s school (you know who you are). THANK YOU! I enjoyed many lunches, coffees, email exchanges, and phone calls within this network. I felt like everyone was looking out for me. Whether or not it led closer to a J-O-B, it was always good to explore possibilities and get my morale boosted by good conversation and the fries at Hyde Park Bar & Grill. My parents and in-laws also provided a steady stream of referrals. Any one of these could have led to a dream job. It was only a matter of time.

LinkedIn

Most of us ignore LinkedIn except to connect with the occasional past colleague or maybe to post in the “Cat Fancy” group. But when you’re job hunting it is a tremendously valuable resource. First, tons of companies post jobs there — and some only post jobs on LinkedIn. Second, you can set up all kinds of custom searches that filter by multiple criteria: Salary, location, keyword, industry, et al. (Protip: If you include salary in your search criteria, you will miss out on jobs that don’t specify any salary. I learned this the hard way.) I had five or six custom searches and got email alerts every day.

I upgraded my LinkedIn account to “Job Seeker” ($29.95/month) . This upgrade allowed me to send email to people out of my network, become a “featured applicant” when I applied for jobs and, somewhat creepily, see who’s viewed my LinkedIn profile. (I’m going to miss this last one.) If you’re looking for a job, this upgrade is totally worth it. It was easy to downgrade once I landed a gig.

Organization

I’m not the world’s most organized person, but I am fond of using spreadsheets to track things. I had two: a frequently updated  list of links to companies where I might want to work and a list of all the jobs I’d applied for.

Every few days I’d visit all the links in the first document to see if any new jobs had been posted. (There are many companies who post only on their corporate website — jobs that you will never see on Monster, LinkedIn, or anywhere else.)

The second spreadsheet became useful once I’d applied for a bunch of jobs. As the recruiters started calling, it was useful to be able to quickly reference the position I’d applied for, where I’d seen it posted, and a brief job description. And every time I was turned down, I moved the job off the main spreadsheet into a new tab called “Rejects.” This tab will make for good bedtime reading when I need a dose of despair.

Acts of Desperation

There is a point in a sustained job hunt in which you believe you are doing everything wrong and that it’s time to think outside the box. It was at this point that I awoke one morning determined to create an online  “Choose Your Own Adventure” game in which recruiters could play until they made all the right decisions, culminating in hiring me. This might have been a good idea if I were an actual computer programmer and/or had limitless time. Instead I did it totally half-assed. What can I say? I was desperate.

In the end, none of this made a difference…

After applying to more than 60 positions, speaking with dozens of recruiters, interviewing with a handful of hiring managers, and rejecting one offer, I finally received a job offer from Dell.  I’d applied on their website on April 10, had a phone interview less than two weeks later, an in-person interview a couple days after the phone interview, and an offer the following day. The entire process, from submitting my application to getting hired, took less than three weeks.

It’s not supposed to work this way! 

And in fact, it almost didn’t work at all. I’d very nearly given up applying for positions at Dell, having applied previously for 10 other jobs without hearing anything back. You gotta be persistent.

…but I’m still glad I did it

I think part of the reason I got the job at Dell was because I’d had so much practice leading up to it. I’d had four months to practice my interview skills. Four months to identify what I am really good at and enjoy vs. what direction my career could take, if absolutely necessary. And Dell really impressed me; it was amazing to see such a huge company move so quickly to recruit someone. I start the job in two weeks (I still have client work to wrap up) and I’m thrilled to be starting something new.

Rabbit, Run

It was 1987, close to midnight on a warm Miami night. My friend M and I were taking a shortcut home across an unlit golf course. We were about halfway across when we heard angry voices coming from about 50 yards behind us, then fast-approaching footsteps.

“RUN!” said M, and we ran. I had short legs and was wearing heavy combat boots. M quickly outpaced me and disappeared into the night. I was being chased, alone in the dark, and my predator was closing in. This was not going to end well.

I was 15 and had begun hanging around M a lot. He was a skater kid, a freckled blond who wore baggy shorts and flannel. He lived with his mom in a small house in Coral Gables. His mom was never home so M would skip school, smoke cigarettes and listen to records all day. He had an amazing collection of UK-import Dickies records from the late 70s. His favorite band, though, was Social Distortion. He wore their t-shirt under his flannel practically every day.

minor-threat-ep.jpgM did lots of things to get attention. He gave the impression of someone who did a lot of drugs, although he didn’t have any money for drugs, and I never saw him do drugs. One time he said he’d been in a mosh pit the night before and someone with a spiked ring had punched him and cut the inside of his mouth. He pulled down his lower lip to reveal a wide slice along the ridge of his gum. It was years later before I figured out that everyone has that “slice” on their gums. He also gave me one of his Minor Threat records (the iconic one pictured here)—hinting that he wasn’t going to be around much longer so he might as well. (M survived at least four more years; I last saw him at UM. I was a student; he was just riding a BMX bike around campus, completely unchanged. A Google search today reveals nothing.)

I too did things to get attention. In fact, just that day M had used a Bic disposable razor to give me a mohawk. It was uneven and left large bloody cuts on my scalp. Later, my driver’s ed coach would remark that I had a dead ferret on my head. I also had braces and was small for my age. My appearance during this stage of adolescence once prompted a child crossing the street in ethnically diverse South Miami to remark, “Damn, that’s one ugly-ass cracker!” Looking back, he had a point, and my haircut didn’t do me any favors.

So I’m running as fast as I can, running for my life, even, and it’s not fast enough. Someone bigger and faster and stronger than me, who wants to do me harm, is quite literally breathing down my neck. I reach the far end of the golf course, cross into the backyard of one of the houses on the perimeter when a large hand grabs hold of my t-shirt and yanks me to a stop. I’m caught. I’m dead.

He’s winded. He’s still holding onto my t-shirt but he’s doubled over, catching his breath. “I can’t believe I caught you,” he wheezes. He’s big, much bigger than me, but kind of pasty-looking and baby-faced. He’s wearing an unseasonable leather jacket and an unfashionable fedora. He’s not someone I would ordinarily find intimidating but now that he’s chased me across a golf course and dragged me to a stop I’m plenty intimidated. I’m long past “fight-or-flight” having already fled and lost. Now there is no choice but to fight and I am going to get my ass kicked.

Then a funny thing happens. We look up at the house in whose backyard I am about to get pounded. The house has large sliding-glass doors that lead to a bedroom. A bedside lamp is on, and on the bed are a man and a woman, naked, chubby, mid-coitus. My oppressor releases his grip on my t-shirt and for a moment we just stand there, watching, open-mouthed. Then I quietly slip away into the darkness.