Hey, workers of America — did you have an enjoyable Labor Day weekend? Do a little end-of-summer grilling? Hang with your family? Contemplate the plight of the overworked, the underemployed, and the economic disparities between the rich and the barely-getting-by?

Me, I kept humming the seasonally appropriate children’s chorus from Komar and Melamid and Dave Soldier’s “Most Unwanted Song” (”Labor Day! Labor Day! Schools are closed and pools are open! Labor Day! All the way! Do all your shopping — at Wal-Mart!”) I also:

  • Finished reading Tom Perotta’s The Wishbones — pleasant enough, but not as entertaining as I’d hoped it would be.
  • Broke my cheapo sunglasses and bought a new pair of cheapo sunglasses, along with a cheapo watch ($9.99!) that I’m pretty pleased with.
  • Made a vegetable lasagne with spinach, roasted eggplant, zuchinni, and homemade mushroom-rosemary sauce. To accompany it: an insalata caprese of sliced tomatoes and fresh mozarella, lots of basil, cracked pepper, and a drizzle of olive oil and balsamic vinegar.

We also saw “End of the Century: The Story of the Ramones,” which is what “Behind the Music” should have been: honest, heartbreaking, inspiring, and cool as hell. The documentary contains thrilling early footage of four goofy guys from Queens who became punk pioneers, as well as a zits-and-all study of how infighting, substance abuse, and a nation of DJs who didn’t know what the hell to make of their over-before-they’ve-really-begun singles prevented them from achieving mass popularity. The documentary’s laid-back narrative shows the directors’ attempt at an honest portrayal rather than a soapbox-style rant (Nick Broomfield, anyone?) or a predictable melodrama. The film just as easily could have been called “Scenes from a Rock ‘n’ Roll Marriage,” as 22 years of sharing a fictional last name bred dysfunction after dysfunction. While it’s tough to leave the theatre with an impression of Johnny as anything other than a hard-hearted, contrarian, right-wing asshole, he’s given his share of credit for organizing and propelling the rest of the band to record and tour. By contrast, cobbled-together footage of Joey comes across asreveals a painfully shy and likable leftie dork — an ex of mine said that Joey was one of the sweetest individuals he’d ever interviewed — yet his ´┐Żobsessive-compulsive disorder, introversion, and inability to forgive Johnny for stealing his girl point to a darker side. The interviews with DeeDee and Joe Strummer are especially affecting (but never manipulative), and the real-life horror stories — of recording with a gunslinging Phil Spector, of Dee Dee’s ass-stabbing junkie prostitute girlfriend, and of the indignity of playing some dinky Jersey bar right after selling out a 30,000-seat stadium in Brazil — are vivid and sad. Ultimately, “End of the Century” disproves the tired conventional wisdom that the Ramones were more idiot than savant: those fuckers could play.


  1. From Sue on 09/08/04

    I’m glad to know that Joe & I aren’t the only ones who sing “Labor Day!” every year. It’s as inevitable as Aimee Mann’s “Today’s the Fourth of July” on, well, the fourth of July.

    I loved “The Wishbones” when I read it several years ago. Have you read any of Perrotta’s other books? Maybe he’s just not your thang.

  2. From editrix on 09/08/04

    I don’t know the Aimee Mann song (Cast me out of Loud Fans, but I just don’t enjoy her music), but I do always sing X’s “4th of July” on the seasonally appropriate day.

    I think I started Election but quit when I realized I wasn’t liking it as much as the film. Either that or I got distracted by something else, which is a bad habit of mine. I didn’t dislike The Wishbones, but storywise, it felt a little predictable. I’m sure it’s a something-wrong-with-me thing, ‘cos D. thought it was the best fictional representation of actually being in a band he’s ever read.

    The important thing is: When can we expect something new from Michael Chabon? :~)

  3. From Joe on 09/08/04

    His tale of the Alaskan Jewish homeland should be around in the next few months, neh?

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