In 1974 four misfits from Forest Hills (NYC) decided to form a band. Other than a shared love of music the Ramones had little in common with one another. Joey was shy and neurotic, his OCD made it difficult to leave his apartment. Johnny was angry and intense, sometimes hitting his bandmates if they messed up during a song. Complicated and known for his penchant for drugs, Dee Dee was the band’s creative force, while Tommy who was supposed to be the band’s manager, became the drummer. The Ramones were troublesome and volatile but together they would save rock & roll.
The Ramones’ uniformed look and stripped down rock & roll was unlike anything that had been seen or heard before. Like a battle cry, Dee Dee shouts 1-2-3-4 and seconds later the band launches into an aggressive song at rapid fire speed. More than forty years later songs such as I Don’t Want to Walk Around With You, Teenage Lobotomy and I Want to Be Sedated still stand out. Today Your Love, Tomorrow the World which includes Nazi imagery shocked Seymour Stein – the head of Sire records. He pleaded with the band to remove the lyrics. (They didn’t.) But the Ramones weren’t trying to glorify the Third Reich – they were poking fun, ridiculing something that was so profoundly evil that it stripped the Nazis of that power and turned them into a caricature.
For twenty two years the Ramones toured constantly, playing more than two thousand shows that helped spread the gospel of punk rock, introducing fans to something new and exciting.
Over the past couple of years the Ramones have become a regular fixture in my life. The alarm on my phone is Blitzkrieg Bop which reminds me: Hey Ho Let’s Go. It is a reminder to get it done. I still listen to CD’s in my car and the Ramones get a lot of play. But it wasn’t always like this, as during my twenties I started seriously listening to the Ramones. I knew their names and a few songs, but once I went to Cinematheque and watched the documentary End of the Century: The Story of the Ramones, I became a convert. The documentary discussed the complicated history of the band; it included interviews with the surviving members, family, friends and musicians. It is an incredible story filled with ambition, crushing defeats, heartbreak, substance abuse and the courage to persevere.
After watching End of the Century a few times – I started listening to their music. Their debut album Ramones helped codify how punk rock should sound, it’s such a great album I didn’t care to listen to anything else. But it turns out that Leave Home, Rockets to Russia and Road to Ruin continued where their first album left off. The songs are fast and aggressive but catchy as well. There is simplicity to their songs as well as honesty to their lyrics. Dee Dee wasn’t just writing songs for the sake of it, he was writing songs about everyday life and things that had happened to him. Except for that part in 53rd and 3rd about being a Green Beret – that was just for kicks.
While working at the Saint Boniface Library a bande déssinée caught my attention. One, Two, Three, Four – Ramones (Bruno Cadène) is the story of Douglas Colvin. Growing up in a dysfunctional family, he moved from Germany to New York City. A drug user since his early teens, Douglas finds salvation in music and becomes Dee Dee. As a founding member of the Ramones he experiences life in a rock & roll band firsthand. Unfortunately, life on the road is hard and takes a toll on his body and mind. Beautifully illustrated in black and white One, Two Three Four – Ramones is a heartbreaking portrayal of a complicated human being.
After reading the BD, I decided to go further down the rabbit hole and after browsing through the library’s website I discovered Marky Ramones’ book: Punk Rock Blitzkrieg – My Life As A Ramone. In the 1970s Marc Bell pursued a career as a drummer; he played in bands such as Dust, Richard Hell and the Voidoids and later the Ramones. Adopting the name Marky Ramone he joined the punk band in 1978, quickly learning the band’s unified front and their professionalism on stage ends once the show is over. Marky recounts the infighting between members and how it created a toxic atmosphere. He goes into detail about the feud between Joey and Johnny and how both went to great lengths not to say anything to one another. But the book is also more than just about the band. Marky talks about his own relationship with each of the Ramones, life on the road, and how his alcoholism led him to get kicked out of the band. It’s a great read told with a lot of heart.
And why stop there? Seriously! Why the Ramones Matter (Donna Gaines) wasn’t quite what I expected. The title caught my attention but it was the complexity of the book that really appealed to me. Sure it talks about the band, its members and how two of the founding members loathed one another but still continued to perform together for twenty-two years. (Seriously – who does that?) The author explains the band`s importance and how their DIY ethics helped them pursue a career even when radio stations refused to play their music. How their personal trauma helped them create music that would give a voice to those who felt isolated and powerless. It’s an incredible book that goes beyond the band and explores their lasting contributions.
The library has lots to offer when it comes to the Ramones – Hoopla (app) allows you to stream the band’s studio albums as well as compilations and live albums, and there are also other books that are worth checking out such as I Slept With Joey Ramone written by the late singer`s brother Mickey Leigh as well as Legs McNeil`s Please Kill Me: The Uncensored Oral History of Punk.
Despite the fact the four founding Ramones have passed, the band lives on – Marky Ramone has a radio show on SiriusXM and still tours. In fact he recently played in Buenos Aires! It`s a good reminder that punk rock is alive and well, it’s just getting old.
For more information visit your local library, neighborhood bookstore or record store!
– Daniel Bohémier