Solid States is the Posies’ first new collection since 2010’s Blood/Candy, and the circumstances surrounding its conception couldn’t have been more different than those of its predecessor. First and foremost were the double-gut-punch deaths of two longtime band members: drummer Darius Minwalla in 2015, and bassist Joe Skyward earlier this year. There was also a divorce and a remarriage for Jon Auer, who, like Ken Stringfellow, now lives in France. Life-changing events aside, the Posies are back with yet another great album. Stringfellow and Auer will be guest editing magnetmagazine.com all week.
Stringfellow: It’s bit odd to write an analysis/tribute/whatever about someone you’re currently working with, but that makes my good fortune no less of a marvel. So many of the wonderful things that have come my way are, well, truly bolts from the blue. In the compressed timeline of my life, one minute I’m a teenager in a small town, pretty much cluelessly trying to piece together the global picture of music from the few clues I could pick up from radio, Rolling Stone and my local record store (anything more in depth was extremely hard to come by where I lived—oh, internet … if you millennials only knew what kind of weight even the tiniest strands of information carried in those dark ages). And then the next minute, I’m performing alongside the musicians I admire the most.
Well, imagine me, who unf. has a very literal mind, trying to grasp the definition and meaning and application of the word “punk” as applied to music. Yes, we had kids in my high school who had the requisite look: mohawks stood up with egg whites, safety pin piercings. But the music … harder to pin (pin, I mean, pun, intended) down. It was clear that the Exploited fit the bill; they looked like the postcards for sale in London depicting “typical London punks.” (I know, the Exploited are Scottish. Remain calm.) But things kept getting inserted into the definition that confused me. Like the Ramones. The Clash. The Buzzcocks. I got that these bands were a few years earlier than hardcore. But still, finding the common thread between them and T*S*O*L, with my limited access to the outside world, was elusive. Black Flag made a record of almost all slow songs (My War; to this day, it’s in my top 10 albums of all time). Well. It’s OK to just like the music, I figured. I would never look the part, of whatever fashion or anti-fashion was circulating. I was a dweeb, but, without knowing it, I was an individual. Which, as it happens, is one of the tenets of punk at its most Buddhist: Be Yourself. Yes, also anti-authority, anti-police, but according to what I can read into punk’s ethos, these would be natural outcomes of a life spent in pursuit of individuality. An true individual’s life is not compatible with the yoke.
Meanwhile, the Ramones. Whatever they were, I loved them. Basically they were all the best aspects of bubblegum with the twee bleached out. They were, to me, kind of the ’80s Beatles: four distinct personalities, in matching garb, churning out an impossible number of perfect pop creations, but with all the classic elements of real rock ‘n’ roll. My entry point was the album Subterranean Jungle, produced, in fact, by Ritchie Cordell, who indeed wrote some of the bubblegum era’s best known songs. So I’m not totally off, I think, on my analysis. I saw the band live in 1984 on the Too Tough To Die tour, when Marky had already been asked to leave due to alcohol abuse. The show lasted 20 minutes. Dee Dee was hit in the head with a shoe, jumped into the audience to fight … and that was it. I was thrilled. A lot of what I was seeing on MTV, etc., was so prepackaged and controlled. Here was something definitely not under control or subject to some stylist’s tastes. And yet looked and sounded incredibly cool.
Fast forward 32 years later. And I get a mail asking me if I would be interested in taking Andrew W.K.’s place as the singer in Marky Ramone’s Blitzkrieg, singing all the Ramones’ best known songs (and then some). No hesitation, I was there.
Marky is not the Ramones’ original drummer—that honor would go to Joey Ramone. Marky was recruited when Tommy Ramone wanted to get off the road and concentrate on studio production work. Marky appeared on the albums Road To Ruin, the Phil Spector-produced End Of The Century, Pleasant Dreams and, finally, before being kicked out of the band, Subterranean Jungle. Marky found sobriety and six years later, he was back in the band. And stayed until the band retired seven years after that.
My first day rehearsing with Marky, I was as prepared as I could be with the notice I had; I was reading lyrics off the page even though I knew many of the songs and had memorized many of the lyrics. But I was just so nervous about making a mistake. Marky didn’t say much, but what words he did say were encouraging.
Marky is a kind of zen creature—his needs are few. He doesn’t drink; I rarely see him eat. He’s married to his high-school sweetheart (and they’ve known each other since elementary school). They’ve lived in the same Brooklyn apartment since the ’70s. He is quintessentially a New Yorker—in accent (“animals” are “animals”)—and in the sentimental and caring personality that resides under a Brooklyn kid’s tough exterior. He’s trim and fit, and barely ages. According to official sources he’s turning 60 this year. His playing is exactly what every great drummer (except for Dave Grohl*) shares: an economy of motion that provides maximum tone for minimum effort. Marky’s arms barely move past the wrist when he plays. It’s the only way you could play that fast, for that long, every night. At sound check, you’re blown away when he plays a Bonham-esque loop of tom triplets—the staple heavy metal fill—for five minutes; or switches over to jazz grip and plays be bop.
After this new lineup got its sea legs with a couple shows under our belt, my wildest antics let loose, the stage becoming a mess. There’s a great photo of our show in Gothenburg Sweden where I’m doing essentially a one-handed push up off the monitor, holding the mic and clearly making a coiled disaster of my cables. Look back at Marky: a smile a mile wide.
In a musical form without a lot of space for improv, Marky manages to sneak in some wicked fills and rhythmic change up: so fast you have to be looking for it to notice it.
Marky is an entrepreneur, author and is well aware the Ramones legacy rests the most on his shoulders. What people expect from him, when we tour around, is heavy. He’s a window into a world that most of them will never see. I look through that window every night, and the view is incredible.
Hey ho, let’s go.
*Dave is an exception to many rules. He constantly hits hard, and seems to find leverage from some source unattainable to most human drummers.