- Text by Shelley Jones
When punk savaged its way out of the gutter and into the mainstream in the mid-1970s it was a reaction to the ubiquitous overblown stadium rock that was dominating the charts; a played-out genre that had once been subversive and now lounged – high, safe and soft at the edges – in The Playboy Mansion.
Punk, and the rebel gang of misfits who pushed its awkward, dirty face into record shops, clubs, TV shows and teenage bedrooms across the UK and US, defined itself in opposition to everything – politically, socially and stylistically. It celebrated simple chords and playing loud; anti-institutional behaviour and DIY principles. It encouraged kids everywhere to pick up a guitar and start a band. It gave outsiders a community to build from the bottom up – an outlet to scream about the frustrations of Western life.
Back then, punk wore a leather jacket and skinny jeans. And no one embodied its spirit better than The Ramones. Together with bands like The Damned, The Buzzcocks, Sex Pistols, The Clash, Television, Richard Hell and The Dead Boys, The Ramones hacked apart and safety-pinned back together popular music to form a sonic zine of bad-boy influences that sent the city kids into shock treatment. First they pogoed out of CBGB’s and into The Bowery night and then they pogoed further afield to every derivative dive bar in every corner of the globe. Walk down Bangkok’s infamous Khaosan Road for example – a stretch of backpacker debauchery in the cuts of Southeast Asia – and you will find rows and rows of knock-off Ramones tees nestled between ladyboy ping pong shows and shots of snake blood. Everybody surfs to the sound of Rockaway Beach.
When Tommy Ramone died two weeks ago, July 11, 2014, he was the last original Ramones member to leave the line-up. Joey, Johnny and Dee Dee all met untimely deaths – Joey and Johnny to cancer and Dee Dee to heroin – in the early years of the new millennium. With each loss, the burden has fallen to the hundreds of thousands of Ramones fans to carry the torch and keep their memory alive.
What follows is a collection of tributes from some of The Ramones’ colleagues, contemporaries, friends and fans. RIP Joey, Johnny, Dee Dee and Tommy, you will never be forgotten.
Rock, hip hop and subculture photographer, New York
“When the Ramones came to London for the first time I was photographing them for Melody Maker at the Hammersmith Odeon. They seemed bigger faster louder than any band I had ever seen. Like being run over by a ‘Mack truck’. I knew their music from being in LA – those songs seemed pure Americana, which I loved.”
Glen E. Friedman
Skate, punk and subculture photographer, New York
“The Ramones were the first PUNK band that I loved! And it was their template that set the bar for all the best punk to come. ‘Teenage Lobotomy’ still gets me fucking stoked every time I hear it. It’s Alive is a masterpiece.”
Artist, New York/Los Angeles
“They meant a lot to me.Even tho not being a musician myself—and their influence and inspiration to musicians transcended any other band of their time—they also had an effect on the arts as a whole for which they are not fully recognized—or immeasurable I suppose.I saw their first gigs ouyt here(LA),and it was a revelatory experience.I stopped seeing them and largely stopped listening to them after their first two albums.I don’t think they could compete with that early shock of greatness.”
Punk filmmaker, Los Angeles
“The Ramones sounded an alarm to my teenage ears, letting me know in no subtle way that it was the end of the Twentieth Century. Sheena was a punk rocker, and that changed everything. Not only that, but they were the stars of a movie (Rock n Roll High School) that blew my mind!
I met Tommy in 1987 when he was producing Redd Kross’ first major label release, Neurotica. He was the first Ramone I would meet. He was nice and very unassuming. His work as a producer cannot be overlooked either. I met Joey later in 1991, and he was probably the first musician I was completely speechless in front of. I wouldn’t trade that moment for anything.”
Vocalist, Dinosaur Jr., Massachusetts
“I love Tommy, what a beat. Definitely the best Ramones drummer. No one could imitate his sound. RIP.”
Punk and subculture photographer, London.
“The Ramones were in that weird movie I saw as a very young kid on HBO. At the time I couldn’t believe the band was real as I lived in a avery small town in Wisconsin. The Ramones were my first exposure to punk rock via HBO. Today if I even think about Rock n Roll High School the song begins to loop in my head for hours.”
Vocalist, Cro-Mags, New York
“I saw the Ramones in 1977 at CBGBs when I was 15. It was life changing. I was on the streets of Rockaway Beach and the Lower East Side of Manhattan. They captured the mood of NYC at that time. It was a crazy fucking place. So when they sang, “We beat the brat with a baseball bat oh yeah,” or, “Rock Rock Rock Rockaway Beach,” I was living that shit and identified with their music. I knew Joey personally and would talk to Dee-Dee occasionally over the years. Great dudes, always kept it real, never had an attitude. They inspired so many musicians myself included. I mean shit, the Bad Brains even got their name from a Ramones song. The Ramones WERE fucking punk. End of story.”
Bassist/vocalist, The Misfits, New Jersey
“For me the Ramones brought back the original rock ’n’ roll. As you know ‘Blitzkrieg Bop’ was a defining track that you hear now at sporting events and all around the world to herald the punk scene. For those of you who don’t know, it was Tommy & Dee Dee Ramone who wrote that song. It has a binary drum beat that was the backbone of the entire movement that changed the world.”
Vocalist/guitarist, Black Flag/The Misfits, New Jersey
“Sometime in the summer of 1976, right before the end of my junior year in Redondo Union High School, I used to meet up at a friends’ house, Mary Mullholand, to listen to music and do whatever teenagers do. She lived near a Music Plus chain store. This is where we all went record shopping. One day after school, I show up and she had just purchased three albums. The Runaways’ first album, Rush’s 2112, and The Ramones’ self-titled debut. She must of just went through the R’s in the bins. We proceeded to listen to The Runaways first. Great! Then Rush, longwinded. We saved The Ramones for last on purpose.
The first side of that record stayed on her turntable for three weeks. We were in shock and almost a little scared even to turn it over. Once the side was over we were like, “Play that again,” still trying to come to terms with it. The next day after school, it would be the same thing, “Play it again.” Eventually, a few weeks later when school had ended, we flipped it over to listen to the rest of it, and we kept on listening for the rest of that summer.
Looking back on it now, we were witnessing the change of rock and roll. It was a great change, and we loved it, but it was confusing at the same time. I had already been listening to bands like The Velvet Underground, Iggy and the Stooges and The New York Dolls who had all basically been ignored by the American public and unappreciated until many years later. The Ramones were even further off the beaten path than their predecessors. To me, more than anyone in the musical revolution, the Ramones seemed to hit the nail on the head from the very start. We had heard the myth about the Ramones, and weren’t really sure what to expect of their sound. But after hearing that debut album, lives were changed.”
Editor of Johnny Ramone’s autobiography Commando
Vocalist at Osaka Popstar, New York
“I first heard the Ramones when my older sister introduced me to the Road to Ruin album as a kid in the late 70s. From that point on, the Ramones defined the type of music I liked the most, the style of music I’d eventually endeavour to make, and even personified what I identified with aesthetically. They transcended music alone and represented so much more to me, they still do. From approximately age ten, through my teens, whenever I’d get a haircut I’d ask, “Like the Ramones,” assuming everyone universally knew. Needless to say they never did. Little did I know then, I was theoretically part of an underground secret society. As the years passed, I’d come to learn that few around me seemed to fully recognise or appreciate the brilliance of the Ramones.
By the time I was sixteen, fate would lead me to meet the entire band by chance. I was starstruck. At the peak of my Ramones fandom, we hung out for an afternoon on the streets of NYC during a music video shoot for Sire. The fact that they were still living fairly blue-collar lives went right over my head at the time. Later in life as an adult, I had the good fortune of working with my heroes in a number of different capacities, including projects I’m very proud to have seen through to fruition. I continue to manage Dee Dee’s Estate with great pride, and even had the surreal honour of accepting a Grammy on Dee Dee’s behalf, when the Ramones received the (long overdue) lifetime achievement award at the 53rd Annual Grammys. I have memories I’ll cherish forever. But with the good comes the bad, and from the inside you’re ultimately exposed to things that can change your viewpoint forever – more than you may realise going into it.
Having had the rare pleasure of knowing my heroes, one of the great tragedies of the Ramones is that they were grossly under-appreciated during their lifetime. With each passing death, their acceptance and acknowledgement swelled. I can say from first hand conversation with them, I truly don’t believe that Joey or Dee Dee fully realised just how important they were to the world before they passed away. To me that is tragic. Johnny had a glimpse of it, having witnessed the world’s reaction to Joey and Dee Dee’s deaths. Fortunately Tommy, the “normal one” (although he confided in me jokingly that if he was the “normal one” we were really in trouble!) was able to observe many years of the recognition the Ramones had deserved decades earlier.
Time and time again I was gifted with the opportunity to share some of those moments and experiences with Tommy first-hand, and for that I am eternally grateful. Tommy was a humble, very down-to-earth person, and even having known and seen all he had prior, I sincerely believe he would have been pleasantly surprised and genuinely touched by the mass outpour of love and appreciation the world would show him in his absence.
There is so much that can be said, and I’ve likely gone on far longer than I should, but like the Ramones’ music, there is a complexity beneath the simplicity of it all. So I’ll conclude by saying this, among all the obvious things you take from the Ramones, maybe even bigger is this idea – try to appreciate what you love when it’s around, while you still have the chance.
All good things may come to an end, but what the Ramones left behind will live forever.”