couldn't write about girls or cars, so we wrote songs about things we knew."
- Johnny Ramone
They were losers, but compare The Ramones' attitude to anyone else's in music at the time and you would think they were the most popular, successful, and beloved musical act in the whole entertainment industry. If Norman Vincent Peale had known that "The Power Of Positive Thinking" could result in something like "Now I Wanna Sniff Some Glue" he woulda freaked. But it's cool - The Ramones felt the same way about Green Day and Blink 182.
To demonstrate what made The Ramones so great when they recorded "Ramones" at the beginning of their career, look at the end when Joey Ramone made his final record just last year. Dig it - Here is this guy DYING OF CANCER after twenty five years of working his ass off to little avail and what does he select to record as his Big Single? "Werewolves Of London"? No, dumb ass, that's next year's Dead Of Cancer Guy. No, Boneyard Bound Joey Ramone picked Louis Armstrong's "What A Wonderful World"! The man is dying a good thirty or forty years ahead of his time and what is he singing to us about? "I hear babies crying, I watch them grow . . . They'll learn much more than I'll never know . . . And I think to myself 'What a wonderful world' . . . Yes, I think to myself 'What a wonderful world'." I betcha Louis Armstrong didn't feel like singing anything like that when HE was going under. Hell, put on anything by most rock singers in the prime of their lives and they sound like the test results just came in and their kidneys are turning into flesh eating worms that are going to gnaw their way through their torso and out the top of their head. What else could that poor Bob Seger possibly be so upset about? I have no idea what them Night Moves he's come down with are, but I sure hope I get cancer like Joey Ramone before I get em. They sound like Hell. Maybe that's what Eddie Vedder's got.
Seems like the great Punk Rockers of the seventies spent all their time riding around on the subway. Nothing will give a young person an attitude like being forced to rely on Public Transit, especially Public Transit that rockets you through a tunnel beneath the surface of the earth while strangers rub up against your butt. People in Los Angeles ride around in cars, which is obviously better than being stuck on the goddam subway every morning, but doesn't seem to have very much for anybody Punk Rock wise. It sounds like Punks in Minneapolis had to take the bus - Which is crummy enough to give us bands as cool as The Replacements and Husker Du - but from the sound of R.E.M. in Athens, Georgia they rode around on a Little Magic Choo Choo Train with a Singing Kitty Kat for an Engineer.
The Ramones spent a lot of time on the subway because they lived in Queens and all the cool rock clubs were in Manhatten. The Ultimate Dream of every Queens guy was to meet a hot chick in a cool rock club in Manhatten and be able to tell her that he lived in Manhatten. How are you going to pick up a hot chick in a cool rock club in Manhatten when you have to take her home on the stupid 7 Train? Boy, if that don't make you feel like a loser nothing will.
The Ramones' big inspiration was The New York Dolls. The Dolls' lead guitarist, Johnny Thunders, was from Queens and his greatest song was called "Subway Train". And you thought Punk Rock just HAPPENED!?!
Everybody has their favorite Ramone and lately I'd go with Johnny because -
A) He's still alive.
B) He's not a drummer.
Before he was a Punk Rock musician Johnny Ramone was a juvenile delinquent. One day this young hooligan was skulking down the sidewalk when he suddenly heard a voice coming out of the sky demanding to know what he was going to do with his life. At That Very Moment Johnny vowed to put a stop to all the "Wrong" in his life and devote his existance to All That Is Good And Decent. Yeah, go ahead and laugh. But when old Blues singers talk like that . . . Ehh, screw youse!
If Johhny Thunders' guitar playing was . . . Oh, cavalier, Johnny Ramone couldn't have been more casual if he'd gone onstage and did an air guitar thing with an umbrella. Maybe the idea was to sound like Thunders only without all those crazy solos. Playing an individual note and then another one after that - What is that, The Grateful Dead? Don't forget that Mister Thunders was an internationally notorious drug abuser - Who knows? - maybe all that "notes" stuff was some sort of hippie drug thing. Thunders was no hippie, but - Taking all those drugs, playing all those solos - how long until Thunders grew a beard and started wearing brown corderoy bell bottom pants? Johnny Ramone was too cool for that packy sack crap! The Dave Matthews Band? That music smells like feet!
Once Johnny agreed to be in a band with his buddies Dee Dee and Joey he went straight to Manny's Guitar Shop and bought a Mosrite guitar for fifty bucks. Mosrite? Where do they make Mosrite guitars? Tel Aviv? He didn't even bother to get a case for it - For years he carried it around in a shopping bag with those stupid looking paper handles on it. But that's Johnny Ramone for you - The Cheapest Man In Punk Rock! To this day he gets late night phone calls from bands on tour all over the world - "Hey, Johnny, this is Nikolai from The Strokes - I'm in Baton Rouge and my gums are bleeding. You know any dentists here that'll work for backstage passes and beer?"
Every great band has to have a Svengali, although with The Ramones' humble roota all they had was an Erdelyi. Before Tommy Erdelyi was Tommy Ramone he was the guy from the neighborhood who had made the biggest dent in the outside world - He'd become a recording engineer, worked with Jimi Hendrix and The Band Of German Junkies, and was running his own rehearsel space when he agreed to manage a band featuring Johnny, Dee Dee, and Joey, all of whom had been rejected by the Manhatten Rock Scene for looking even more awkwatd and uncomfortable in those Glitter Rock get ups than John Cougar before he pulled his head out of his ass. Tommy was clearly a Man With A Vision For The Future. Oh no, don't give me that "We all just started jamming and it all fell into place" crap, Tommy - You were a Man With A Vision For The Future and you know it! You're just bummed out cause you tried that "Just start jamming and it'll fall into place" jazz when you produced The Replacements back in '85 and it came out sounding like Eddie Kramer producing Kiss! Ha ha! You produced the Best Band Of The Eighties and made em sound like "Love Gun"! Hee hee! See what happens when A Man With A Vision denies His Own Vision? Who am I talking to? Oh, I'm in the parking lot outside Pizza Hut . . . What time is it? What's that smell?
The original plan was for Joey to play the drums and Dee Dee to be the lead singer. Wasn't Joey kind of tall to be a drummer? Do they have tall drums for tall drummers? Tommy Lee is very tall and with all that hair in Motley Crue he could do all his playing with foot pedals and hand out autographed drum sticks to kids in the cheap seats. Dee Dee sang well for a couple of songs but then his voice gave out and he sounded like Randy Newman making fun of Joe Strummer. "But I sound okay with my new Mosrite, huh?" Johnny asked. "Shut up!" said Tommy, staring off into Space - Or was it The Future? "What're you lookin' at, homo?" said Dee Dee. The Decision - Joey would sing and they would have auditions for a drummer. Ten million guys showed up and Tommy spent so much time showing them how to play The Ramones Way instead of The Led Zeppelin Way the guys decided Tommy should just be the stupid drummer, this whole "drummer" thing was sucking the pleasure out of the whole thing like Jennifer Jason Leigh's pregnancy in "Fast Times At Ridgemont High".
Whenever "Ramones" comes up on conversation you hear words like "original", "innovative", and "shit" (There's one in every crowd) - Those may be appropriate, but The Correct Answer is "FUN". Look at the cover and you brace yourself for an ear full of "FUCKSCHOOLFUCKTHECOPSFUCKMYPARENTSFUCKFUCKFUCK", but then you put the record on and find yourself listening to the happiest, sunniest, most well adjusted pop music recorded since the medium's Golden Age in the mid sixties. "Ramones" rocks like nobody's business, but presents the full range of human feeling - Happy, Sad, Confused, In Love, Outta Love, Can't Find Your Keys, Can't Understand Why Owen Wilson Is In So Many Movies . . . Okay, okay, I get a little carried away listening to this stuff. But no matter where "Ramones" takes you it always brings you right back to Happy, cause Happy is all The Ramones have ever wanted us to be. Despite what some of the characters around here would have you believe, this really is a wonderful world and anybody who tells you otherwise is nobody you should pay attention to. Except to maybe cheer their sorry asses up, in which case a brand new copy of "Ramones" would make a dandy stocking stuffer this Christmas. And if they don't appreciate it, to Hell with em. Them and their Kurt Cobain.
Eh, lemmee get outta here before I start to sound like Ralph Macchio at the end of "The Outsiders". Or even worse, Stevie Wonder over the final credits of "The Outsiders". Now, THAT'll make you appreciate Kurt Cobain.
Stay Gold, Courtney! Stay Gold!
John Saleeby wrote for The National Lampoon while he was in high school, was a stand up comic in New York, and has contributed to the net humor zines Schmuck.com, Campaign Central, and the legendary American Jerk. He's on medication now so he's probably a little nicer now than he was when you met him earlier. Email - firstname.lastname@example.org