All’s Quiet on the Eastern Front

This is one of my favorite Ramones songs, and the Ramones are my favorite rock band. It doesn’t get a lot of attention because it wasn’t on their first four pure, unimpeachable records that set the blueprint for punk. It’s a Dee Dee song – he even gets a vocal part – and lyrically it describes roaming the streets of New York City as a young derelict after dark. I think it is pure rock and roll poetry.

Particularly:

Shaky lock and kicky door
Smoky air that I adore
Down in the alley is where I hunt
All is quiet on the eastern front
Stalking the street till the break of day
New York beauty take my breath away

See that first line? It takes a pure, unselfconscious writer to commit to that, because it can read as lazy or dumb, when it’s actually brilliant. The narrator is a young hoodlum. He is looking to commit break-ins. Any door he sees he only regards in terms of how easily it can be kicked in. A lesser writer might have had to expend more words on what goes through this junky kid’s mind, but Dee Dee lived it, and he knew it was a “shaky lock and kicky door.” How better to say that? It’s pure writing – not child-ISH, but child-LIKE: the unmediated honesty and directness that comes from children and often gets lost in maturity. Writers suffer who lose it.

That’s the kind of songwriting I see in Michael Hurley, Jonathan Richman, Daniel Johnston, a few others … honesty and exuberance of language and lack of self-consciousness. Dee Dee is up there with anyone you want to name.

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