Register Thursday | June 27 | 2019

on why i don't hate bryan adams like i should

I just saw End of the Century last night, and it turned what used to be a fairly benign obsession with the Ramones into something I'm thinking I might have to medicate.

I was about fifteen when I first started listening to them - my friend's boyfriend lent her his Rocket to Russia tape and we would sit up in her room and giggle about how Joey only had one vowel sound at his disposal (a schwa with an umlaut). Road to Ruin was one of the first albums I ever bought. I saw Rock and Roll High School when I was about sixteen, and developed a...kind of...thing for Joey. And that was pretty much it until a couple of years ago, when he died.

At that point, I was in an all-girl Troggs cover band called the Troglodettes, playing mostly at open stages with four-song limits, because we only knew four songs. So to expand our repertoire we started writing songs, and it wasn't until last night, watching End of the Century, that I realized that nearly every song I wrote mentioned or invoked or addressed Joey Ramone in some way. (Every one except the love song to David Koresh, anyway.) In retrospect, I think I was in some weird half-conscious state of celebrity mourning.

And that was a bit of a revelation, because I never thought I really understood the celebrity thing. I mean, sure, they're important, they mirror and model the culture that idolizes them, they act out our dramas for us and so forth. But I'd never understood the deep identification that made people hunt for autographs, or cry, for example, when Princess Diana died.

I saw a movie last year that helped explain it some. It was called - I forget what it was called - but it was about a woman in a mental hospital on the Russia/Chechnya border, and it was fairly dark and gritty with madness and death and all, but then whenever it got to be too much, she'd slip into this fantasy world where Bryan Adams was singing to her in the dining car of a train.

I really liked it, because it explained something I'd been wondering about for a long time: when I was teaching ESL, I noticed that a lot of people from war-torn countries really, really dug Celine Dion. People who you would not otherwise suspect of liking Celine Dion. And Bryan Adams, too. And seeing it in that context, with shit blowing up and Bryan Adams descending like an angel of wealth and physical comfort, it started to make sense.

Top Forty people don't have to be interesting; all they have to be is kind of soothing, and number one. The main appeal is their number-oneness, their incredible affluence and the safety and comfort that that implies. And it was kind of cool of Bryan Adams to be in this Russian film that pointed out this moderately unflattering fact about him. So that's why I don't hate him.

(Also because of 'Cuts like a Knife', because anyone who had the sense to leave in a chorus that goes 'na na na na na na na na na na' without trying to write words for it must have had some talent at some point.)

So for me, bundled up in a nuclear family headed by two social workers in suburban southern Ontario, descending angels of safety and affluence were not appealing. What I needed, rocking out to the quadrophonic speakers in my dad's Volvo ten years after punk broke (and still do now, blogging away after a shift at the library and a busy morning reviewing an Iranian propaganda movie) are glue-sniffing, leather-clad, baseball-bat-wielding angels of cartoon decadence to shield me from my suffocating sense of well-being.

So yeah, I get it, the celebrity thing. I think I cried when Joey Ramone died. I'm pretty sure I did. Yeah, I cried.