Distancing #32: Road to Ruin


Like everyone, I spent the weeks that preceded shelter in place going about my life as usual, unaware of the massive interruption that was about to occur. I was preoccupied with ordinary problems—I was having trouble finding copywriting work, I felt like I couldn’t focus on revising my writing writing until I had the stability of paid work, and my brakes were making this unnerving whimpering sound, like ee ee ee ee ee. But otherwise everything was fine. It was an average-feeling, unremarkable time.  

The soundtrack to those weeks in February—to my pre-Covid life—was the first four Ramones albums. I don’t know what got me interested in the Ramones but I spent February listening to those albums over and over. Road to Ruin was the one I played the most. The other three all have at least one song that betrays that the band grew up listening to ’60s girl groups and the Beatles, but on this one they unapologetically lean into their pop sensibilities. I’m a big fan of ’70s power pop, so naturally I found songs like “Don’t Come Close” and their cover of “Needles and Pins” satisfying (I’ll never get over Joey singing “needles and pin-za”); the fact that these sentimental pop songs are mixed in with traditional bratty Ramones material made me like the album even more. 

I mostly listened to Road to Ruin in the car. I listened to it when I drove to physical therapy, when I drove to Liam’s birthday party at the Albatross where he hosts (hosted?) trivia, and when I drove to the mechanic again and again until he figured out why my brakes went ee ee ee ee ee. I listened to Road to Ruin so I wouldn’t have to hear them make that whimpering sound, which bugged me even after the mechanic assured me it wasn’t indicative of any serious brake trouble. Road to Ruin made everything feel breezy. It made sitting in traffic tolerable. It made me take turns a little faster. It made me feel cool. In my car, I practiced singing all the lyrics with Joey’s singular weird accent. I got pretty good at it. 

Now my car is covered in a coat of pollen and the glue that secured the phone holder to the dashboard has melted off in the sun. Shelter in place has mostly eliminated the need to drive anywhere, the possibility of having anywhere to drive, and at first I forgot about Road to Ruin. But a couple of weeks ago I had to drive to the Mission and I listened to it again. In my car, singing, “Nothing to do, nowhere to go, oh / I wanna be sedated,” I laughed at how uncannily the album’s mood mirrors our collective situation. Road to Ruin is largely about frustration, unfulfilled desire, anhedonia, unrequited love, rejection, and boredom. But the songs are beautiful, and there’s a sense of humor (“I don’t like sex and drugs / I don’t like waterbugs”). I value that impulse toward beauty in the face of despair.

Now the album brings me this rich double nostalgia: I’m nostalgic for the weeks before shelter in place, with a new appreciation of how free I was, going to birthday parties and driving my friends home, singing “I’m Against It” together in the car. And I’m nostalgic for the experience of nostalgia that’s always been part of the pleasure of listening to the Ramones, the nostalgia for an idea of 1970s New York I only know from books and photos and songs. 

Maybe being nostalgic for three months ago isn’t nostalgic enough. But February 2020 feels more distant than any other time in my life, in part because of how near I know it should feel. I’ve barely even had to trim my bangs since then, and yet it seems like another lifetime. 

— Amy Berkowitz
San Francisco, day 63

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