Special Event: Jonathan Cohen on “Disciples of Dionysus: Nietzsche and the Ramones”

On November 7th, I attended Jonathan Cohen’s talk on “Disciples of Dionysus: Nietzsche and the Ramones”. I walked into the even not knowing what to expect because I knew nothing about Nietzsche or the Ramones, and my knowledge of Dionysus was limited to his association with wine or alcohol. Cohen began his talk by discussing who Dionysus is the Greek God of wine, fertility, chaos, and the law. While this is a confusing mix of traits to associate with one God, Jonathan Cohen thoroughly explained how all these things could connect. Dionysus is a God of the law because in mythology he decided which laws were good enough to be followed, and is therefore not always lawful. His disciples were often women who, if I remember correctly, would punish men by ripping them apart and eating the pieces of their bodies.

Clearly, there is a lot of lawlessness here as well as the association with outcasts. Next, Cohen gave some context as to how Nietzsche connects to this. This part was a little difficult for me to follow and retain, as I don’t have a lot of practice with philosophy, but I know that early in his career, he positioned himself musically with another composer and later in his career was fervidly against him. His musical progression became less neat and more chaotic in order to achieve a different sound.

Finally, we arrived at the Ramones. Cohen explained how the Ramones are the true disciples of Dionysus and Nietzsche because of their outcast brand of rock. Everything from their physical appearance, their sound, and their lyrics suggest a group of people who are outside of order and have their own rules. Cohen showed us his point by having us listen to songs by the Ramones and read the lyrics at the same time. They are tricksters, similar to Dionysus, and use terms that embody the other, such as pinhead, punk rocker, punk, cretin, and lobotomized.

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This connects to Josh Kun’s Audiotopia most strongly through the idea of discovery. In his introduction, Kun describes how the music around him growing up influenced his perception of the world. It created this audiotopic space where things he had never thought of before were possible. As he exposed himself to new music his understanding of the world grew. Cohen described that during the Ramones’ time, there were not many bands quite like them. In fact, they often drew themselves in direct contrast with the Beach Boys, who were clean and had a clean, good sound. The Ramones projected a new identity for listeners, and they projected a new sound. Their sound was more chaotic and allowed listeners to bring their own experiences to the table when listening to their music. This is evident by the followers they attracted and how popular they became. Music allows people to gain access to different kinds of culture and learn about new ideas in a safe way. Even as Jonathan Cohen played their songs for us, we too learned more about the Ramones and their connection to Nietzsche and Dionysus.

Belanna Morales is a senior English major at UMF. This post was originally written for the UMF Literary Theory 2018 blog, which is used by students in ENG 455 Literary Theory to write about course reading material and sometimes to apply the ideas from course readings to events on campus. The Jonathan Cohen talk was scheduled as part of the ongoing Noisy, Wild, and Extremely Troublesome: Lectures in the Arts and Humanities at the University of Maine-Farmington, sponsored by the Humanities Division at UMF.

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