Erik Lacitis / Times staff columnist
Guys weren't alone in 'rock 'n' roll high school' days
It is 1979. She is the preacher's daughter, attending Bickleton High School out there in wheat country in Eastern Washington. Her older brother, Neal, plays an album for her that he's brought home. By then he is attending the University of Washington. It is the Ramones.
Karen Eisenbrey hears:
"Hey ho, let's go, Hey ho, let's go ... The kids are losing their minds ... They're piling in the back seat, They're generating steam heat, Pulsating to the back beat, The Blitzkrieg Bop."
On Halloween of her senior year, the preacher's daughter makes her own Ramones T-shirt, and teaches her classmates how to pogo. At first they look at Karen like she's nuts. A few months later, she's proud to report, a whole bunch of the kids are jumping up and down to the music.
Guys often think that in those high-school years, when rock gets you through the turmoil of growing up, that this stuff is just a guy deal. Guys sometimes need to be reminded that girls, too, get through the turmoil with the help of the music.
A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about Joey Ramone, who died of lymphatic cancer at age 49. He was the front man for the group, and I wrote about what the Ramones meant to several generations of now-adult men, the guys you see at office desks or shopping for building materials at Home Depot.
That's when I begin hearing from numerous women.
"I had to let you know that it wasn't just guys who breathed a long sigh when hearing about Joey. I cared, too," Eisenbrey tells me. "Right now, I'm a 37-year-old at-home mom. But back in the late '70s, I was that shy, socially invisible smart girl that every high school has. Any identity I had was carved out with rock 'n' roll."
I ask two of the women who contacted me to stop by the newspaper. Eisenbrey is one. The other is Deirdre Reinert, 33, a customer-service employee at Amazon.com.
All right, let's turn back the clock once again. It is 1980, and Reinert is a sixth-grader living in Medina. Her parents are divorced; she's attending Forest Ridge School of the Sacred Heart. Her hangout is Bellevue Square.
There is a record store there that Reinert likes. One day, a clerk tells her to listen to a particular band. It is Blondie, part of the New York City punk-rock scene, the same one that spawned the Ramones. Reinert begins to listen, and suddenly her world is changed.
"It just made me nuts. There was something about it that woke something inside me. It was something primal. It made me feel full of energy and happy and cool," she remembers.
Reinert and some friends play the Ramones in the school lounge. They pogo to the music. Reinert tries to look punk, by doing things to her hair, cutting little holes in her clothes.
Her dad gives Reinert a hard time about the punk stuff; her mom is more understanding. In high school, Reinert earns money answering the phones and doing filing at her dad's business. She buys a 1963 Comet because she likes its big fins. When the girl who is her best friend, and lives in Seattle, can't get together with Reinert, she drives around Bellevue by herself.
"There were so many Friday nights when I was lonely, and I'd drive for hours," she says. Of course, the Ramones are blasting on the car speakers. They are always there for her:
"Sheena is a punk rocker, Sheena is a punk rocker ... Well, she's a punk punk, a punk rocker."
In many ways, even though she ended up at Amazon.com, those days still are with Reinert. She shows up to meet me in a miniskirt and white go-go boots. Her hair and makeup definitely aren't the usual office look. Her husband, Rick, who works in desktop publishing, is in a Ramones clone band. They met when trading Ramones collectibles.
Karen Eisenbrey, meanwhile, looks very much like that mom you see taking her son to soccer practice; the tidy jeans and shirt outfit. Those soccer-mom types can surprise you.
She still has that old Ramones T-shirt she made in high school. She still remembers those teenage years in Eastern Washington:
Her dad, the preacher, and her mom, a nurse, don't try to shut down the music that has captivated their daughter. On Saturday mornings, when it is time to clean the house, the mom and kids will do it along to the Ramones:
"Fun fun rock 'n' roll high school, fun fun rock 'n' roll high school. ... "
In her teen years, Karen even takes up playing the drums. On Saturdays, her brother drives her the hour it takes to get to Sunnyside for drum lessons. There is a straight stretch of road in which they sometimes put the pedal to the metal - the old 1968 Pontiac Tempest reaches 90 miles an hour, the local AM rock radio station blasts away.
These days, in the mornings, it is National Public Radio that Reinert listens to. That's when she hears a short news blip about Joey dying. "How could that be? He died of cancer, like regular people," she thinks.
Glimpses of Joey Ramone
We sit down, and the two women keep turning back the clock.
Deirdre Reinert remembers being in high school and taking the bus with some friends to the HUB Ballroom at the University of Washington. The Ramones are playing there.
Before the show, the girls sit in a lounge, and suddenly the door to the ballroom opens and Joey walks out. The girls cannot believe it.
Later, when the show starts, she and her friends bounce and bounce to the music. "I felt like no matter how fast, hard and wildly I danced, I just couldn't dance hard enough," she remembers.
Over the years, she sees the Ramones live in concert seven times. She manages to get backstage access, and the guys recognize her. She isn't a groupie, and the band always is very nice to her. Sometimes Joey gives her a hug, and once, even kisses her. She has yet to forget that kiss.
Not just a guy thing
That is all before life gets complicated and Reinert begins noticing the years going by. It's before she has to worry about her credit cards maxing out, or about a layoff notice from her dot-com job. At the bars, they used to ask her for ID. Not so much anymore.
Reinert tells me one last Ramones story. In the 1980s, she worked as an aerobics instructor at a fitness center in University Village. Just like that, the chain closed, and Reinert had two days' notice. "Know what I did in my last aerobics class? I played a tape of all Ramones," she says.
Rock 'n' roll gets you through all the turmoil stuff, and sometimes guys need to be reminded that rock isn't just their universe.
Girls, too, remember lying in bed, covers pulled over their heads, radio playing so no one, but they, can hear.