Ramones: End Of The Century.
“IT’S THE END - THE END OF THE CENTURY. IT’S THE END - THE END OF THE SEVENTIES”
Following is a review of the controversial forthcoming Ramones documentary feature called - Ramones: End Of The Century.
As you trakMARXists may already be aware - this film was produced by a couple of naïve idealistic film makers, Michael Gramaglia & Jim Fields, who never bothered to get clearances for the material which they used and shot - so there is still some time to go and some dollars need spending before it sees the light of day (if ever).
Bankruptcy and messy litigation is still a distinct possibility.
It seems these guys undertook this project in a typically naïve cut and paste fanzine kind of way.
The film opens and closes with scenes from the Ramones induction ceremony in the rock-n-roll Hall Of Fame.
The film plays out the warts and all story of the Ramones and offers various bewildered opinions as to why they never managed to truly break through - even though they played some of the greatest ever rock-n-roll. Ultimately they were real people and victims of timing, circumstance, chemistry and bad luck.
If you are seeking to validate a punk blueprint for life you will be disappointed. Just like the Ramones themselves, the film will not quite deliver to the commercial mass - but the fans will love it.
It wasn’t all bad, however - and the film does show there was a certain dignity and integrity with which the Ramones managed to hang onto this thing called ‘Punk’ for so long. Like most of us, they knew nothing else - and in any case - nothing else was ever going to be as much fun as starring in and playing in the most underrated, exhilarating, inspirational, influential bands ever (even through the road was rocky - much of the time).
Typically, the film follows the genealogy of the Ramones through their formation in Queens. We travel with them through their journey from their Forest Hills backyard to their virtually impromptu showcase at CBGB where they were signed up to play on the spot by Hilly Crystal. Here they quickly began to grow their fan base and stature amongst the other CBGB stalwarts.
Pretty soon CBGBs would be teaming with 500 Ramones fans.
They sign to Sire, they play their first UK gigs at the Roundhouse. Their seminal influence on the formation of the parallel London scene cannot be understated.
The film also suggests some of the reasons why some internal feuds raged for far too long, focusing on the internal tensions and allegiances. The alleged theft of Joey’s girlfriend by Johnny raged till the very end.
The documentary also features some touching and inspirational family revelations courtesy of Joey’s mother, Charlotte and his half brother, Mickey - where they describe Joey’s difficulties as a child.
After the turning point bad gig where they were bottled off whilst supporting Johnny Winter at Waterbury Connecticut, Joey understood that the Ramones had to go to England.
It was at the Roundhouse when the Ramones first met up with the Clash, the Pistols et all.
There is a reflective interview with punk stalwart Joe Strummer not long before he died - regarding that UK breakthrough period:
I got the impression Joe thought the Clash were in a different politicised league but he conceded that without the Ramones he did not think the London scene would have been possible.
The Clash loved the Ramones delivery and took their pacing values away from the early London gigs as a present from the Ramones. The Bruddas drew 3000 to their first Roundhouse gigs whilst playing out to only low hundreds in some American clubs.
As we know - Linda Stein scouted them on behalf of Sire chief, Seymour who understood them completely.
Tommy Erdyli welds the film together in the same way that he appeared to initially weld the band. Although Dee Dee at one point discredits the impact of the Tommy factor. Tommy joined because they couldn’t find the right drummer. Eventually he was replaced by the grateful Marky Bell who, whilst a still a Voidoid, could see the Ramones were the future.
“Shit I Wish I Was In This Band” - when he saw them for the first time.
We witness the apparently accidental formation of their classic 1-2-3-4 ‘break out intro’ - initially leading into Blitzkrieg Bop - as a result of an on-stage band song sequencing conflict at an early CBGB gig.
For a time The Ramones were all living out of art director Arturo Vega’s NY loft apartment, which was possibly more significant than was originally understood.
As you would expect, the Ramones story is sympathetically underpinned with contributions from Legs McNeil & John Holmstrom - co founders of the seminal Punk Magazine.
So why did the Ramones not take over where the Beatles and the Beach Boys left off? Why were the Ramones not a truly global force? This seemed to be the ongoing question running through the film.
A recent LA Punk edition of Mojo Magazine reflected the feeling of the music industry with regard to punk and its commercial possibilities - at the time:
“If the Pistols and the Ramones can’t break through then what chance have these bozos got” - when considering the possibilities for the likes of the Zeros and the Germs. The initial punk surge appeared to fizzle out fairly quickly in commercial terms.
In the film, the Pistols were underlyingly blamed for the initial punk implosion as they were too dirty and obnoxious to enable the break through that was hoped for.
This commercial analysis puts things into some kind of perspective for us long distance observers. The Ramones were effectively a high profile cult band - in their own back yard - whilst being punk mega stars (of a kind) in Latin America.
We should maybe try to remember that punk probably only really broke through in 1979 when the likes of the Clash dressed up the turkey in a slightly different way.
For some inexplicable reason the Ramones did not quite hit all the right buttons.
The Ramones were so easy to get that I will always be amazed by this. The film shows there have been times where they have dwindled into virtual oblivion -frustratingly only the hardcore believer or the enlightened Latin territories could see it.
The film shows scenes of mass fan hysteria shot in Brazil and Mexico. The Latino cultures were much more up for it. The Mexican and Brazilians were smarter than the rest of us and saw the Ramones very clearly. This appreciation that the Ramones truly deserved was not nearly so evident back home.
In South America the kids could relate to the unwanted urchin they saw in the Ramones. In Brazil alone there are 1,000,000 abandoned kids who sniff glue and have no future who loved the Ramones’ raw message - look forward to this amazing footage.
In Brazil the Ramones filled 30,000 capacity football stadiums you could see what they should have become.
Appropriately - after the Adios Amigos album the Ramones retired after 21-years. Sadly, for 18 of those, Johnny and Joey never really got along.
From the film - it is apparent that the Ramones did OK from the live show - but this side was critical to their income. Later American Ramones tours played out to only hundreds of fans in places like Boston, Rochester, Newhaven & Philadelphia - whilst Nirvana, Soundgarden & Rancid were stealing their stadium thunder.
The pitifully small audiences at this time were depressing to witness on the film.
The Ramones have never sold millions of albums - so how have they become so influential?
Whilst questioning the genuine depth of any Ramones musical influence (as in my opinion no-one sounds quite like them) - I have concluded that the Ramones have become even more important for their graphic imagery and iconography. This film shows that this probably began with the low fi graphically influential first album sleeve by Roberta Bailey/Arturo Vega - as much as anything else - in this way the Ramones have come to symbolise the spirit of punk.
Possibly the Ramones influence is in fact more complex than I had originally thought.
Dee Dee came out of the film very well, beneath the drug and drink ravaged republicanism was a coherence and alternative vision which was successful and necessary - to a degree - as punk sub-scenes evolved dissolved and revolved.
The Joey footage was limited and final broadcasting publication of the film appears dependent on some perceived journalistic imbalances being corrected by the executors of Joey’s memory estate.
Before he died Joey was to have shot further footage but his illness prevented this.
This film has little or no mainstream release potential - although I gather that there are some plans to show it in selected cinemas in the UK. This will not run well in the cinemas. This is purely a fan film and was viewed as such. Even then it doesn’t really deliver any answers to those unanswerable questions.
Without giving too much away I have summarised with a selection of quotes from the film in order to give you some kind of flavour of this documentary:
Daniel Rey producer - “the Ramones made half of all previous music instantly obsolete”
Daniel Rey producer - “the Ramones produced the loudest loudest/fastest/tightest/barrage”
Danny Fields manager - “Joey took everything that was wrong with him and made it beautiful - he was a hero that overcame the odds. A liberator who triumphed over geekiness, failure and unpopularity - an alien in the world that he was raised in”
Debbie Harry - “they were like military”
Dee Dee Ramone - “all Johnny was trying to do - was take advantage of a once in a lifetime situation and be adult about it”
Joe Strummer - “the Ramones were as tight as the royal marines”
Joe Strummer - “they were like white heat - they hit you like a pile driver”
Johnny Ramone - “we loved each other even when we were not acting civil”
Johnny Ramone: (after Joey’s death) - “I was sad because Joey was part of the Ramones and I loved the Ramones”
Johnny Ramone - ”I almost hated myself for caring about Joey as we never really got along”
Legs McNeil - “the Ramones wrote classic USA pop songs - why weren’t they played on the radio?”
Mickey Leigh (about half brother Joey) - “all he wanted was an explanation - an apology”
Mickey Leigh (again about Joey) - “on stage his character exploded an amazing transformation took place”
Monty Melnick - “Johnny was like a sergeant in the army the band manager”
Seymour Stein - “I signed the Ramones because they wrote great songs”
Tommy - “I became the drummer because no one else was right”
On the whole this documentary film is better than I expected. Sadly - just two months after induction in to the hall of fame - Dee Dee died of a heroin overdose.
Vince Lombardi(High) tMx 16 08/04