The Ramones: Part Three
Crazy Mama’s was cut in half by a steep stairwell. On the north end of the room there was the bar and a tiny area filled with Formica tables and hard plastic chairs that were most often found in elementary school cafeterias, the easier to wipe them down. To the left of the bar was another tiny room with a pinball machine and one of those machines you could blow into to see if you were too drunk to drive. To the right of the bar was the dance area, small, sticky, and packed to the gills with sweaty bodies dotted by black dyed spiky hair, pierced lips, leather jackets, and more borderline disorders than a community mental health center. A huge mirror ball hung down and splashed white-light reflections over the herky-jerky and morose bodies, and the reflections went on into eternity as all the walls were covered with mirrors. There was a doorway that sat on the other side of the stairwell that connected the dance floor to the sitting area. It was used by those who wanted to avoid the rush of the bar, and it was here that the skinheads were congregating, apparently spoiling for a fight with anyone who dared venture into their territory.
I sat at a table with my two beers, milking the bubbles spiraling from the dark bottles for the courage to twist myself about on the dance floor. I just need to collect my wits. Between the sparkles of the bursting white lights that flecked the pulsating bodies in a projection of phosphorescence the made every person quiver in the haze of smoke and the discomposure amplified by the guitars blaring from the speakers, the room shook with the energy of stripling sexuality fueled by the eagerness that alcohol imbues. I gazed at my shoes, cracked black leather with heels burnished raw—a fantastical thrift store find that were discarded once and needed to be again. My jeans were frayed, a hairy knee poking out as if it were a rodent looking for a moment to cut free. I swallowed the last of my beer and walked towards the dance floor. Spinning onto it in swirl of fluid movements, I skirted across the floor, the worn leather soles gliding in the spilt beer as the moment where guitar combines with dance shut the rest of the world out.
The next song, “One Last Caress” by the Misfits, was the most beautiful ode to murder and rape ever written. Part macho bombast, part crooning Jim Morrison, and all Ramones derivative. That little muscle bound dwarf Glenn Danzig rode a spark of glory for one set of anthem evil demos before morphing into a farcical cartoon of himself. Barely over a minute and a half, enough time to dig into the subconscious isolation that the best punk rock brings to live action. In a moment the DJ blended into “Bring on the Dancing Horses,” perhaps sensing that the tension in the room was now palpable. Echo and the Bunnymen penned a few outright hymns of geeky cockiness for the mascara drenched and lovelorn who brandished tattoos under fishnet stockings, spiky hair, and black lipstick. The whole room swayed to the words of disintegrating love. Wrought over the unfulfilled passions of their twenties, couples collapsed into one another.
As the song petered out I headed to the bar to fetch another drink or two. I stepped around two of the skinheads who were discussing the sudden change to “fuckin’ pussy music.” As I listened to the DJ playing the heartstrings of the mirror people, and Julian Cope instructed the world to shut its mouth, Keith came upon me and said, “Mate, those fuckin’ skinheads are fuckin’ with me.” He gestured over his shoulder towards several glaring skinheads who wore their uniforms of intimidation as if they had picked them from the rack at the local JC Penney’s: ankle high boots with white shoelaces pulled tight, white t-shirts, and gray suspenders making a perfect “X” across their broad backs. They looked menacing, but that was half the battle they were waging. There were roughly seven of them, but through the lens of drunken history and the perturbation of the moment, I can’t recall with certainty. They smiled at us,
“Um, those skinheads over there?” I asked, as if there were skinheads in every pocket of the club.
“Yeah, especially the big fucker.” Keith was short in stature and handsome, with long curly golden locks that had seduced many a beautiful girl. He oozed easy charm and in our own personal battles of seduction he clearly had the battle won before even engaging in conversation. The big fucker was a big fucking skinhead. He was nearly a head taller than me, with a crooked grin and his big fucking shaved head, the baldness speaking volumes of fear.. We walked over, feeling braver than I ever should have, with guts full of alcohol and a temperament that was as shaky as North Korean foreign policy. I put my beers down on table next to the doorway.
Keith stood next to me. He was smiling. Perhaps the friction of violence energized him or perhaps he didn’t really think there would be violence. With a history of barroom brawls and some frequent ass beatings by my older brother while growing up, I wasn’t scared to take a punch. I also knew when to quit. One skirmish I got in off of Chittenden Avenue lasted one gigantic swing and a miss. If it would have connected, perhaps I would have been like the great home-run/strike-out champion, Dave Kingman for a day, but if I missed I was still Dave Kingman. On Chittenden, the gentleman smiled and punched me square in the front teeth. I yelled out, “Owww!, Ohhh, that hurt! Okay, you win,” and walked over to pick up my pizza, wiggling my front teeth all the way home as the big galoot hollered at me, “Hey, you can’t quit after one punch.” Turning I explained, “Listen, I gave you my best shot, you hit me in my teeth. I It hurts, so you win. I’m going home and eating pizza.”
Knowledge carries a lot in any experience. I don’t believe that Keith had ever taken a punch let alone thrown one. I knew that most bar or street fights ended quickly, in fact mostly in a matter of seconds after three or four punches, the majority never connecting. Take two drunken men, place them in a smoke-filled room with loud music and other people and ask them to try to hit one another and most likely you’ll end up with a PG-13 version of America’s Funniest Home Videos. I leaned up into the big skinhead’s face, stared into his eyes and said, “Hey, are you fucking with my friend here?”
Noticing that several of the smaller skinheads had gathered around him, as if they were the stink on his shit, he smiled and said, “What the fuck is it to you.” As he glanced at his skinhead buddies for support, I hit him right in the chest and he toppled over like a drunken man is prone to do. Immediately, regret rained over me as several of his team plowed into me as if I were a tackling dummy. I was clutching my thick plastic brown glasses in my hand. Flipping over a table with our momentum, I yelled to Keith as I felt big- leather skinhead boots kicking my ribs
I thought, “Oh yeah, these guys kick, I forgot about that. They fight in packs.” I felt a boot against the back of my head, and got scared. Being a twisty sort, I had perfected the practice of escaping from years of fleeing my brother. I held onto one guy’s leg and turned into it. When he fell over I scrambled away and headed towards the stairs. Keith was nowhere to be found.
I ran into Pearl Alley, which runs parallel with High Street, cut through another small alley, and was back on High Street. I ran all the way to Larry’s, where I knew I would be safe. Nothing felt like comfort than being part of something where everybody knew your name, your choice of drink and easily submerged themselves into your drama. I ran like a fat kid from school. I felt some blood dripping down my neck, but it did not seem too bad.
Bursting through the doors of Larry’s I went up to the bar and asked, “has Keith shown up?”
Becky, the tall bartender, looked aghast and said, “No, what happened? Your head is bleeding a little,” as she handed me a drink. There is nothing better for a concussion than a few alcoholic beverages.
“We got jumped by some fucking skinheads at Crazy Mama’s. I didn’t see Keith.” I retold the story to others and the woman I was supposed to meet seemed to enjoy it. “This may work in my favor,” I thought.
Roughly an hour later, Keith sauntered into the bar, flashing his white teeth and grinning. “Oh, thank God you’re okay, mate. As soon as you were flung over that table, I ran. They chased me all the way to 15th Avenue. I didn’t know where to go, so I ran into a party and they were going to kick me out until…I pulled out that bag of weed! It fuckin’ did come in handy!
Two days later we arrived in Cincinnati to meet up with the Ramones. We had backstage passes and saw the show from the wings of the stage, drinking the backstage Heinekens. Joey said that they waited until five because they wanted to take us out to eat but couldn’t wait any longer. Johnny asked if I had brought his copy of the Wild Angels soundtrack. I had forgotten it, so he said, “Well, next year I’ll pick it up.” At the end of the show, Keith pulled out his camera. I suggested he take a photo of the costume cabinets—those huge black leather cabinets found backstage at Broadway shows. Written in white spray paint on the side was “Ramones” and inside there were four leather jackets on hangers. The band had changed into normal, casual t-shirts, and I don’t recall them drinking any alcohol. They were truly salt of the earth. There never was a next year. They never returned to Columbus and broke up about a year and a half later. I still have Johnny’s copy of Wild Angels. If anybody knows his widow, I would love to return it to her.
perhaps an ever better m version by Dave Pajo:
not to be confused with the bad skinheads: