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"Bonzo Goes to Bitburg"
Single by the Ramones
B-side "Go Home Ann" (12" only)
"Daytime Dilemma (Dangers of Love)"
Released June 1, 1985
Format 7", 12"
Recorded Media Sound, New York City, 1985
Genre Punk rock
Length 3:57
Label Beggars Banquet
Writer(s) Joey Ramone, Dee Dee Ramone, Jean Beauvoir
Producer Jean Beauvoir
Music sample
"Bonzo Goes to Bitburg"

"Bonzo Goes to Bitburg" is a song by the Ramones initially issued as a single in Great Britain by Beggars Banquet Records in 1985; the single was not released in the United States.[1] The following year, retitled "My Brain Is Hanging Upside Down (Bonzo Goes to Bitburg)", it appeared on the band's album Animal Boy. The second version of the title is the one used on subsequent live and compilation albums.

Contents

Historical context

The song was written primarily by Ramones lead singer Joey Ramone in reaction to U.S. president Ronald Reagan's visit to a military cemetery in Bitburg, West Germany. Reagan visited the cemetery, where he laid a wreath, and then gave a public address at a nearby air base on May 5, 1985; the visit was part of a trip paying tribute to the victims of Nazism and celebrating West Germany's revival as a powerful, democratic U.S. ally.[2] The phrase "Bonzo Goes to Bitburg" was coined by protesters in the weeks leading up to Reagan's visit.[3] Although intended as a reference to Reagan, Bonzo is actually the name of the chimpanzee title character in Bedtime for Bonzo; Reagan was the top-billed actor in the 1951 film comedy. The phrase is also possibly a play on the title of the film's sequel, Bonzo Goes to College (1952), though Reagan did not appear in that picture.

Reagan's plan to visit the Bitburg cemetery had been widely criticized in the United States, Europe, and Israel because among the approximately 2,000 German soldiers buried there were 49 members of the Waffen-SS. This was the combat arm of the SS, the paramilitary organization that helped run the Nazi extermination camps and committed many other atrocities, including the murder of American POWs. Among those vehemently opposed to the trip were Jewish and veterans' groups and both houses of the U.S. Congress.[2] Before departing for Germany, Reagan ignited more controversy when he expressed his belief that the soldiers buried at Bitburg "were victims, just as surely as the victims in the concentration camps."[4] In his remarks immediately after the cemetery visit, Reagan said that "the crimes of the SS must rank among the most heinous in human history", but noted that many of those interred at Bitburg were "simply soldiers in the German army.... There were thousands of such soldiers for whom Nazism meant no more than a brutal end to a short life."[5]

Tone and style

The song's lyrics, with their explicitly serious content, are a departure from the Ramones' usual style. Joey shares writing credit with Ramones bassist Dee Dee Ramone and Ramones producer and former Plasmatics bassist/keyboardist Jean Beauvoir. Discussing the inspiration for the song, Joey, a Jew and previously a Reagan admirer, explained that the president "sort of shit on everybody."[1] David Corn describes the beginning of the refrain—"Bonzo goes to Bitburg/then goes out for a cup of tea/As I watched it on TV/somehow it really bothered me"—as "snarled" by Joey over a "power-pop beat and melodic hooks galore".[6] Salon.com arts editor Bill Wyman writes of Johnny Ramone "lob[bing] guitar bombs" amid the song's "Spectorian, rushing production". Led by "Joey's pained, pleading voice," it is "the group's greatest song and his greatest vocal performance", according to Wyman.[7] Douglas Wolk fits the song into his general view of Joey Ramone as different from his many musical imitators in that "he never, ever sneered": "the tone of 'Bonzo Goes to Bitburg'", writes Wolk, "isn't contemptuous, just confused and angry."[8] Calling the song "brilliant", David Fricke of Rolling Stone writes that it "vividly captures the sense of helplessness and confusion felt by rock youth in the Age of Reagan".[9]

Distribution

Sources at the Ramones' U.S. label, Sire Records, and its parent company, Warner Bros. Records, gave differing reasons for not releasing the single in America: The Sire products manager said the decision was "both financial and political"; an anonymous Warner Bros. source claimed, "It just wasn't considered a good enough record."[1] Though available only as an import in 1985, the song was put into rotation by many American college radio stations. The original jacket of the single, released as a 45 rpm 12" by Beggars Banquet, included a photograph of Reagan speaking at the site of the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp just hours before his trip to Bitburg; this image was removed in subsequent pressings.[10] For its appearance on Animal Boy (released by both Sire and Beggars Banquet), "Bonzo Goes to Bitburg" was apparently remixed.[11] The title was altered to placate Johnny, a staunch conservative, fervent Reagan supporter, and devotee of Nazi paraphernalia.[12] The single's second B-side, "Daytime Dilemma (Dangers of Love)", had previously appeared on the Ramones' 1984 album, Too Tough to Die. The first B-side, "Go Home Ann", has never been included on an official Ramones original or compilation album.

Covers

A concert recording of "Bonzo Goes to Bitburg" appears on the band's 1991 album Loco Live. The studio version was used in the soundtrack of the film School of Rock (2003). Several bands have recorded cover versions: The Agnews on the anthology album Gabba Gabba Hey: A Tribute to the Ramones (1991); The Huntingtons on their album File Under Ramones (1999); Wednesday Night Heroes on their Move to Press EP (2005); Trashlight Vision on their album Alibis and Ammunition (2006); and MxPx on their album On the Cover II (2009). In 2004, The Mighty Mighty Bosstones' Dicky Barrett and Lawrence Katz were joined by ex-Ramones Marky and C.J. for a live performance of the song available on the DVD Too Tough to Die: A Tribute to Johnny Ramone.[13]

References

  1. ^ a b c Larry Jaffee (November/December 1985). "Disc Spells Hit Time for Bonzo". Mother Jones: p. 10.  
  2. ^ a b Bernard Weinraub (May 6, 1985). "Reagan Joins Kohl in Brief Memorial at Bitburg Graves". New York Times. http://www.nytimes.com/1985/05/06/international/europe/06REAG.html. Retrieved 2009-01-22.  
  3. ^ Franklin, Ben. "250 Are Arrested Near White House" The New York Times April 23, 1985: A20
  4. ^ Richard J. Jensen (2007). Reagan at Bergen-Belsen and Bitburg. Texas A&M University Press. p. 62. ISBN 1585446254.  
  5. ^ Richard J. Jensen (2007). Reagan at Bergen-Belsen and Bitburg. Texas A&M University Press. p. 134. ISBN 1585446254.  
  6. ^ David Corn (April 23, 2001). "R.I.P. Joey Ramone, Singing Protester". Albion Monitor. http://www.albionmonitor.com/0105a/dc-joeyramone.html. Retrieved 2009-01-22.  
  7. ^ Bill Wyman (April 15, 2001). "Joey Ramone, R.I.P.". Salon.com. http://archive.salon.com/ent/music/feature/2001/04/15/joey/. Retrieved 2009-01-22.  
  8. ^ Douglas Wolk (April 18, 2001). "I Wanna Be Joey". Slate. http://www.slate.com/id/104580/. Retrieved 2009-01-22.  
  9. ^ David Fricke (July 17, 1986). "The Ramones: Animal Boy". Rolling Stone. http://www.rollingstone.com/artists/theramones/albums/album/323069/review/5941801/animal_boy. Retrieved 2009-01-22.  
  10. ^ Larry Jaffee (November/December 1985). "Disc Spells Hit Time for Bonzo". Mother Jones: p. 10.   The name "Belsen" in concrete Cyrillic letters is clearly visible on the structure behind Reagan (compare image C28849-9 from the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library); Jaffee misidentifies the image as having been taken at Bitburg. For the timing of the Bergen-Belsen trip, see Bernard Weinraub (May 6, 1985). "Reagan Joins Kohl in Brief Memorial at Bitburg Graves". New York Times. http://www.nytimes.com/1985/05/06/international/europe/06REAG.html. Retrieved 2009-01-22.  
  11. ^ Robert Christgau (July 1, 1986). "Christgau's Consumer Guide". Village Voice. RobertChristgau.com. http://www.robertchristgau.com/xg/cg/cgv7-86.php. Retrieved 2009-01-22.  
  12. ^ Nick Gillespie and Brian Doherty (August/September 2001). "I Dreamed I Saw Joey Ramone Last Night". Reason. http://www.reason.com/news/show/28135.html. Retrieved 2009-01-22.   Steven Lee Beeber (2006). The Heebie-Jeebies at CBGB's: A Secret History of Jewish Punk. Chicago Review Press. p. 121. ISBN 155652613X.  
  13. ^ Phil Bacharach (November 25, 2008). "Too Tough to Die: A Tribute to Johnny Ramone". DVDTalk.com. http://www.dvdtalk.com/reviews/35548/too-tough-to-die-a-tribute-to-johnny-ramone/. Retrieved 2009-01-22.  
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