Some weeks back, I attended the talk Johnathan Cohen gave on Nietzsche and the Ramones. I thought the talk was very interesting because, while I do listen to the Ramones occasionally, I didn’t really know that much about them as a musical group. I liked the way the talk connected what Nietzsche did in his own work to how the Ramones function as artists. I didn’t really know that their was an ancient cult of Dionysus, and I thought the part of the presentation that focused on how Nietzsche used this type of ideology in his work was interesting.
The argument that the presentation made for the Ramones having done a similar sort of thing to Nietzsche was compelling. I think the talk did a good job of thinking about how music functions and what it is used for. It made me think a lot about the particular ways that musicians aim to make their work function for their listener. In this case the argument was that the Ramones have a similar Dionysian feeling because of their rebellious punk nature. They write songs that are upbeat, but often make a negative commentary on more mainstream parts of society.
I thought the talk tied in nicely with some of the things we have been learning in class because of the way it closely examined how the music of the Ramones functions. It reminded me of reading Audiotopias by Josh Kun, because of the Ramones take an unusual approach to songwriting in the sense that their sound and lyrics are often an attempt at satire. When Professor Cohen talked about the way the Ramones often riff off of what the Beach Boys write about in their lyrics to become the sort of anti-Beach Boys, I thought of the part of Audiotopias where Kun talks about Walt Whitman and America, I Hear You Singing. Kun says, “America, I Hear You Singing was a musical cover-up, an attempt to erase the reality of social upheaval and racial violence by hearing an America sing that didn’t exist (an America that had in fact never existed)” (36). I draw an connection here because I think the Ramones using their songs as the voice for the punk/underdog following is an example of a rebellion against a specific type of “all-American” image that Kun is talking about in his book, and that professor Cohen brought up with his connection to the Beach Boys. The Ramones poke fun at and question such an image in their lyrics, and offer a space in which the sound of that kind of resistance can be heard.