end of the century

I loved the Ramones with all my heart. Like anyone who loved the Ramones, hearing them changed my life, my beliefs, my dreams, it literally altered my spirit. I couldn’t be Patti Smith or Chrissie Hynde or Pete Townshend or Keith Richards, but I could put on my ripped Levi’s and a white t-shirt and a pair of Converse, and save up my babysitting money to buy a motorcycle jacket and look JUST LIKE THEM. More importantly, they said themselves that they weren’t that good, that anyone could do what they did, that everyone should start a band. I was never brave enough to do it but knowing that I could was almost enough in itself. They were freaks, geeks, outlaws, outsiders, comic book characters to some, superheroes to me.

An important part of the Ramones was the characters, the story, the myth, essentially. There wasn’t tons of backstory or hours of indepth interviews in the NME you had to commit to heart in order to truly understand them – all you had to do with the Ramones was buy the records, go to the shows, and that was it: you got it. If you wanted it, it was yours to have, to believe in. Despite being one of those obsessive losers who needs to know as much as possible about the music I am listening to, you never really needed to with the Ramones. It was all there on the surface.

So for all these years I have been happy with this fact. But then, back in March, a friend gave me On The Road With The Ramones, written by their road manager, Monte. It’s absolutely, utterly fascinating, and well-written to boot. I couldn’t put it down, but when I did, my reaction was: “I really wish I didn’t know all that stuff about them.” The myth was shattered and I don’t know whether I’m smarter or a bette r person or if I understand or enjoy their music more because of it. And, my prevailing feeling was that Johnny was a right-wing Republican asshole.

Thursday night, I went to the premiere of this movie tonight, as part of the East Village Festival. It was almost impossible to find out anything about the premiere ahead of time; I finally decided to just walk up to the theater earlier in the day and see if I could buy a ticket. They told me to be there half an hour early, and I was; however, I don’t understand why. There was almost no one there, the theater was maybe 1/3 full, and the promised cast and crew attendance was nowhere in sight. I mention all of this because it seems to somewhat parallel what happened with the Ramones: a lot of sound and fury but in the end, they never got the attention and success they deserved.

There was a lot of controversy surrounding the movie; despite being shown at film festivals and gaining approval, they couldn’t release it because of what amounted to internecine warfare. Joey left this planet before the filmmakers had a chance to interview him, and therefore the interview footage with him in the movie was insubstantial. Danny Fields (as in “Danny Says,” as covered by the Foo Fighters, so I know you know it), former Ramones manager, was quoted as saying that Joey was afraid it was going to be from Johnny’s perspective and Johnny was afraid it would be from Joey’s perspective. It isn’t until you read the book and see the movie that you start to understand what that really means. (I’m not going to spoil it for you if you don’t know and wish to remain blissfully ignorant.)

But somehow it all worked out, Joey’s story does get represented in the film, and now it’s out for everyone to see (follow the link above for the nationwide schedule). This isn’t the best rock documentary you will ever see, and it’s absolutely not the definitive Ramones story on film. However, it’s likely to be the only one we ever get. Joey’s gone, Dee Dee followed soon thereafter, and I can’t see Johnny being willing to go through all of that again. (Not only was my opinion of Johnny from the book confirmed, it was reinforced from the movie; however, now at least I just feel sorry for him instead of thinking he’s just a total dick.)

The Dee Dee footage alone is worth the price of admission. Additionally, some of the last interview footage ever with Joe Strummer is also a centerpiece, Joe relating yet another mythological story, that of the then-fledgling Clash, Sex Pistols, Damned and the rest of the soon-to-be London punk elite turning up at the first U.K. Ramones show and meeting the band (while getting them to sneak them into the gig). Fantastic footage of the hysteria in Brazil surrounding their tour there, courtesy none other than Ramones fan club member Eddie Vedder. Debbie Harry making the unintentionally hilarious observation: “They were very organized.” Legs McNeil getting emotional and ranting, “Those songs were classic American pop songs. Why weren’t they played on the radio??!”

I understand him, though, because by the time the movie ended, I felt the same way. I felt as though the fact that the Ramones didn’t become the biggest band in the world was the biggest travesty of musical injustice the world has ever known. To quote Chris Stein at the beginning of the film, the Ramones should have been like the Stones. There was no good reason they didn’t make it. Of course, if they had made it, would they have still been the band that we all looked up to and worshipped, the band that caused dozens and dozens of known and unknown bands to be formed in their wake? Would they have been so beloved and so influential? Probably not.

I walked by Joey Ramone Place on the way home after the movie. As long as I live in a world where such a thing exists, it can’t be all bad, can it?

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