In the month since U2's iTunes terrorist sneak-attack "Songs of Innocence" was released with a lead single about Joey Ramone, the slavish and misguided canonization of the late punk pioneer and his band—who hadn't made a great record since 1977—has reached critical mass.
The problem was that in the no-more-heroes ideology of punk, such idolatry seemed anachronistic at best and clueless at worst. If punk's greatest achievement was confronting the elephant in the room of "what have you done for me lately?", then what sense was there in deifying a man who opened the floodgates of possibility but didn't keep his mouth shut when his returns diminished? Isn't this just the "nobody will be better than the Beatles" mantra of the baby boom redux?
The Ramones are a distant memory now, but their sound and premise loom large over Japan's Shonen Knife, who have spent decades mining the girl group influences, buzz saw guitar and metronomic rhythms of the Ramones.
Watching Shonen Knife—even with but one original member in their current incarnation—made a convincing case for the ongoing influence of The Ramones but not their status as emperors beyond criticism.
Shonen Knife do one thing and they do it very very well: simple, bubblegum pop with the skin peeled off of the bone. The nerves have been taken out as well but Shonen Knife is a celebration. Of what, however, is another matter. Like X-Ray Spex, there's an element of embracing consumerism, but the real reason Shonen Knife is so lovable and resonating is because their world is free of any adult concerns—all we have to do is jump rope, play hop-scotch and rock 'n' roll—which is all that's needed for a satisfying life. So we project our own fantasies on to Shonen Knife of innocence lost, or our own flawed concept of it, and they affirm it with a cartoon character counterculture.
I liked Shonen Knife and I still do. They play wonderful pop music in the purest sense of the term. We can all find a little ray of hope in the trio's guile-free spunky rock music. And if Shonen Knife makes someone feel better about their miserable life for the duration of a show or album, then more power to all parties.