Rhys Chatham Discovers the Ramones

Rhys Chatham Discovers the Ramones

Rhys Chatham also played a role in the convergence of underground rock and experimental music. This connection began when he was talking to his composer friend Peter Gordon, who asked, “Have you ever in your life been to a rock concert?” No, the twenty-four-year-old replied. Gordon laughed and told him about a great neighborhood club where a cool local band was playing, and asked him to go. “So this was me in 1976,” he said, “the band was the Ramones, the place was CBGB’s.” Chatham had never seen or heard anything like it, and it was utterly romantic to him. “The music was complex,” he said, perhaps the only time “complex” was used to describe the Ramones—a group best known for its short, fast, and sweet bubblepunk songs. “I was playing one chord, and they were playing three, but I felt something in common with that music.” He got an electric guitar and began developing a new compositional style that led to his first major breakthrough, “Guitar Trio.” Informed by both classical minimalism and punk rock, Chatham’s landmark instrumental piece carved out a hypnotic, dissonant template that influenced 1980s post-punk groups such as Sonic Youth.

From Chapter 27 of The Downtown Pop Underground — order online, or from a local independent bookstore


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