“You don’t need to change the world; you need to change yourself.”
– Don Miguel Ruiz, The Four Agreements: A Practical Guide to Personal Freedom
Since I’ve acknowledged that I have depression and anxiety and made that crucial first step to get help, I’ve learned that treatment and recovery is a never ending process. The most difficult barrier to overcome has been reprogramming and retraining my brain since it seems that the default setting for anyone with depression and/or anxiety is to automatically focus and dwell on the negative. For example, if your boss calls you into the office you assume it’s because you did something wrong. If your girlfriend wants to talk you assume she wants to break up with you. Or, if you see ten news stories you focus on the politician busted for fraud or the latest school shooting.
As I mentioned in Tuning Out Depression: R.E.M., a big help in resetting my thought process has been reading and rereading The Four Agreements: A Practical Guide to Personal Freedom by Don Miguel Ruiz. This book has been instrumental in helping me see more of the beauty in the world and ignoring, or at least accepting, the ugliness. The reality is that the world can be an ugly, vicious place. Humanity is inherently flawed so, regardless of what decade you live in, you will always be surrounded by thieving politicians, senseless wars, racism, an unfair gap between rich and poor, you name it. What I’ve learned though is that you have a choice in how you deal with this reality. You can simply point your finger at everything that’s wrong with the world by ranting and raving and complaining, or you can focus on the positive things in your life and put forth positive energy into the world and hope that it rubs off onto other people.
This shift in perspective has made me appreciate the music of The Ramones much more in recent years. I’ve always been a huge punk fan, particularly the Big Three of ‘70s punk: The Ramones, The Clash, and The Sex Pistols. All three bands were disenchanted and disenfranchised with the world, but they dealt with it in different ways. Joe Strummer and company were more political minded, with angry call-to-action anthems like “London Calling,” “White Riot,” “Know Your Rights,” and “London’s Burning.” Johnny Rotten and company amped up the anger with some added shock factor for good measure, unleashing seething classics “God Save The Queen” and “Anarchy In The U.K.” A few years later in PiL, Johnny Rotten/Lydon would later declare that “anger is an energy.” However, while anger can certainly be cathartic, it is also a negative energy. If you only hear Johnny Rotten scream that there is no future, well… that can be pretty depressing and bleak after a while. Anger can be healthy in small doses, but a little goes a long way.
The Ramones were just as disgusted with the world as The Clash and The Sex Pistols but they chose another approach in how they dealt with it. They planted their tongues firmly in their cheeks and took the piss out of the world, while still having some optimism for a brighter future in songs like “Something To Believe In,” “Strength To Endure,” and “I Believe In Miracles.” Instead of singing about fascist regimes and police and thieves, The Ramones sang about doing the cretin hop, bopping ‘til you drop, sniffing glue, beating on brats with baseball bats, psychotherapy, and being the quintessential outsiders. But aside from the goofball lyrics the music of The Ramones was *gasp* fun. The band took the bubblegum melodies of The Beach Boys and added in some buzzsaw guitars and breakbeat drums to create a sound that would set the template for punk music.
“I believe in miracles / I believe in a better world for me and you.”
– The Ramones, “I Believe In Miracles” from Brain Drain
When The Ramones broke up in 1996, Joey Ramone eventually started to work on his first solo album Don’t Worry About Me. Unfortunately, the circumstances were less than ideal during recording since Joey was dying of cancer. However, in typical Ramones fashion Joey dealt with his imminent death by recording perhaps the most uplifting and optimistic song of all time: Louis Armstrong’s “What A Wonderful World.” Joey was facing death in the face and still saw joy and beauty in the world. If that’s not enough to inspire you and put things in perspective, I don’t know what will. You can’t change the world with one single action, but you can change yourself. By doing so, even if it’s refraining from complaining, smiling at a stranger, laughing at a shitty situation, or sharing your story of kicking depression in the arse, you have the potential to inspire change in others. Joey Ramone and the music of The Ramones has inspired me and countless others, and has helped make this planet a pretty wonderful world.