Quite an interesting article from this band`s earliest days. These days they are everywhere, as it is high fashion to wear t-shirts with this band on it by people who have never listened to their music. It is indeed a strange world.
`Waitin` for World War III` blues
By Max Bell
Joey Ramone is wandering around the empty Roundhouse, looking vacant and clutching a brand new camera under his arm like a teddy bear substitute. A slow trickle of other Ramonites follow in his wake, yawning. Enthusiasm isn`t one of their strong points, perhaps because they look a mite nervous underneath those sub-Fifth Dimension hair cuts.
You have to admit they are pretty weird. Four guys straight out of the teenage wasteland hanging loose while waiting for the advent of World War III. Four kids who came out of Forest Hills, New York suburbia, who all wanted to fight in Vietnam but ended up playing rock `n` roll instead, “cuz there`s nothin` left on the radio ta listen to no more.”
I`m not sure if they provide what I want to hear on my radio either, their interpretation of the rock ethic being akin to having your brain pulverised by a bloody mallet, but they got spirit. Waiting for their sound check, bass player Dee Dee is already complaining about the lack of power leaving his stack and the English sound crew aren`t taking the slating too kindly. The grudge will later culminate in a screaming row between band and console at the concert.
See – The Ramones don`t take the realities of the electronic medium into account: their idea of playing is to plug in with the amps juiced to maximum level and don`t let nothin` come in the way of their fingers and your ears. They perform so it hurts. Ramone rock forbids the audience to pass pleasantries while it goes down. In return Johnny Ramone leaves the stage with gore-soaked hands most nights, flesh cut to ribbons for the sake of taking your lobes somewhere they were never intended to go.
They write songs about murders, hustling male prostitutes, and mundane nihilism. The most optimistic vignette in the Ramone lexicon is to do with sniffing glue:
“Now I wanna sniff some
Now I wanna have somethin`
All the kids wanna sniff
All the kids want somethin`
The only overtly classy thing about the Ramones is actually their manager, Danny Fields, a sweet-natured PR whose previous credits with the business include keeping Jim Morrison sober and trying to break down the curse that surrounds Iggy Stooge. Even he`s got his work cut out with this lot, though. It`s rumoured that a Ramone won`t do an interview unless Danny is present to explain the long words. Some people say that Fields has to read out their press to them as well.
This isn`t altogether fair. Guitarist Johnny and drummer Tommy, the usual spokesmen for the group, are the sort of guys who would have left school in the fourth year. It`s doubtful whether Dee Dee and Joey ever got that far. They have that kind of New York subway. Bowery boy and Queens madness graffitied all over. They sound like the characters from Top Cat: Dee Dee is Brains, Joey is Fancy, Johnny is Chu-Chu and Tommy is Benny.
Still, what they lack in normal intelligence they make up for in cleanliness which puts `em several steps closer to God than all those smelly hippy bands. When I interviewed them at the Kennedy Hotel there was a queue for the bathroom. Dee Dee is reckoned to consume three showers per day (“Nuts to da woiter shoitage”) and the only times I ever saw him he was drying his hair. They make the Dolls look positively grubby.
The room is cluttered with punk ephemera: leather belts and garbage pulp mags full of archly self-conscious interviews with Big Apple street runts trying desperately to out do each other. The Ramones are a definite part of that schtick manager Danny has several fingers in both Punk and 16, and those mags like The Bay City Rollers, so you can tell where they`re at.
Dee Dee is attempting to slip into something tight, a tee-shirt that Danny gave him with Mae West on it. He purports not to know who Miss West is, which I find easy enough to believe: “Ain`t she da ugliest chick ya ever saw?” he quips. “Dat`s why I wear it. I dunno who she is, but she sure is ugly.” The interview was conducted in the presence of Dee Dee and Johnny, and most of it plays back like the scripted version of Steinbeck`s Of Mice And Men; no prizes for guessing who Lennie is. Danny was there too to prompt his siblings.
I ask where exactly they play now, with Sire Records pushing for acceptance outside New York in an effort to manufacture the first punk outfit who are popular away from the unrepresentative environs of their home town. It`s significant that no comparable band, with the exception of Kiss, have ever made it pay out of the urban sprawl. The Punk syndrome so far has been characterised by its built-in auto-destruction, so according to the schedule The Ramones have one year in which to bank their takings before another sensation replaces them. Today your love, tomorrow Mink De Ville or Blondie.
Johnny is adamant that they are an exception to this rule: “We play outa New York too. We did a two thousand seater with Johnny Winter at Waterbury, Connecticut. That`s our biggest concert so far, and tonight.” Dee Dee:
“I had ta dodge a lotta bottles there. I wanted to get the hell out. Are the kids gonna throw things tonight? Will they like us?”
While I`m searching for an answer to this heartfelt question, Johnny inadvertently puts his elbow on the master switch for all the lights in the room. Dee Dee jumps up like a bat out hell.
Danny: “Did you did that? Who did that? Now we`ll never get the T.V. on again.”
Dee Dee grunts quietly while Johnny fiddles around with the switch. The lights come back on and Dee Dee beams. “Did I do that?”
Johnny: “The audience was old but it`s starting to get younger, the kids `re mostly…”
Dee Dee: “Nuts.”
Danny: “The kids who go to concerts at the beginning of something are living on their own anyway.”
Unlike their predecessors, The Ramones, through the cagey auspices of Fields, have secured a five year `real deal` out of Sire Records and obtained quite a bit of advance money too. With full promotion they have a substantial advantage over The Dolls on their Mercury days, and much better gear.
Dee Dee: “We spent a fortune in equipment.”
The Marshalls they`re using at the Roundhouse are rented however.
Dee Dee: “We wouldn`t use that crap.”
Johnny: “But we have the same stuff at home.”
Dee Dee: “We have the best. Before our contract we had nuthin`” (he starts to shout dangerously like Brando in On The Waterfront). “NUTHIN`.”
He returns to fondling his beer can, combing the tangles out of that cute sheep dog fringe, and staring at the T.V. which has the sound turned off.
I start going into a daze, trying to remember the facts The Ramones number on behalf of their credibility: like how Tommy was run over by a taxi-cab; how the missing link Ritchie had to be locked up in a mental institution; how they used to rip off T.V.`s and throw them off thirty storey roofs; how they give away lethal baseball bats after every gig. And how they`re still only twenty three and twenty four!
Johnny tells me about The Dolls. “They`re from a previous generation of bands, they were already breaking up when we started. Anyhow, they never really made it out of New York by going on the road. Still, we got a lot of inspiration from that scene.”
Field butts in tactfully: “Don`t write them off, they`ve reformed with a new guitarist. They could be back, and besides their importance was to provide a ready-made market for this kind of music.”
Brains raises himself from the realms of apparent slumber: “I tink dey were de best and…”
Johnny interrupts “For the audience, the clothes, those devoted followers are still there.”
Yeah but they had a lot of drug problems. Do you take drugs? I ask nosily.
Brains: “One of `em died. Dat`s a big problem.” He chuckles contentedly at this bon mot.
Danny offers me his soda water by way of an answer, but Dee Dee is still mumbling “…a nut for a manager.” He pulls up his comic shirt to reveal an ugly flesh scar about two by six with thread marks you file your nails on.
(The actual story on The Dolls at present as related to me by Sable Star (travelling with Greg Shaw, the Flamin` Groovies` manager) is that the lads are starving on government security. Meanwhile Johnny Thunders, Sable`s ex-beau along with Nickee and Dave Johansen had joined up with ex-drummer Jerry Nolan and erstwhile Television anaemic Richard Hell to colate The Heartbreakers. Confusing innit? Unfortunately their other guitarist, Walter, once of the Demons, is dying from a brain tumour.)
We move on to who writes what – all songs being credited to the band as a unit. Johnny responds cautiously: “We all write `em. We`re influenced by old hit singles: Freddy Cannon, Buddy Holly, Presley, Roy Orbison, Peter Lemonjello, and Joey likes Peter Noone. There`s more recent things – heavier rock. MC5, the Stooges (Fields also managed them a few years back and Lou Reed. He must be some kind of masochist). The album took a week to finish. Three days for the music, four for the vocals. It was cheap.”
So where does the image come from?
“That`s how we are. We`re nice too but I guess we are sick and deranged. We`re mean… uh… we try to be mean, there`s a lot of built-up hostility and, what`s the word Danny, oh frustration from life. I hope we ain`t burnin` out though. We have a lot of energy. We rest all day and sometimes it don`t get used up.”
I remind them of the follow-up to their image, the fact that they`ve been represented as dumb in the papers. Johnny says it takes intelligence to be original but Dee Dee is far more emphatic on the matter:
“We don`t go around hittin` people but we used ta. Anyhow we may not be the brightest guys on the world… but I don`t think I`m no mutant weed.”
Johnny: “People say Joey`s dumb, cos he don`t talk too much” (Dee Dee, appreciating this idiosyncrasy laughs uproariously). “We don`t sit around and look at the walls. The words on the album don`t mean nuthin`. We put `em in because they rhyme, it`s total nonsense. Same with the lyric sheet. So people could read and get familiar with good lyrics, otherwise no-one would understand them.”
See, they have no pretensions to being anything other than is obvious at first sight. Because they`ve been on the level I ask what kind of music they hate most:
Johnny: “Can we say anything, Danny?”
Danny: “Just say jazz.”
Johnny: “Oh, not as much as disco.”
Danny: “Don`t you hate jazz more than disco?”
“No, I hate disco more, but jazz is really grating.”
Dee Dee: “Jazz is like bein` dragged through the walls.”
Johnny: “In a way our music is similar to disco with the lines repeating over and over and the beat. I don`t like folk music either.”
As it`s almost time to leave for the concert I prompt Danny into telling me why he ever agreed to manage The Ramones: “It was like The Doors. After five seconds of seeing them I knew I wanted to work with Morrison, and The Ramones have that too. After five seconds I knew I was in the presence of something original. They will be playing in big places soon. Maybe a lot of people hate it but a lot of people love it and those people are going to make them big.”
Dee Dee, who is nearly falling off the edge of the bed by this time, raises his eyes momentarily from the silent screen: “I dunno about that. But I like playin` big hotels.”
On the way out to the car Joey reappeared through a crack on the door. As he stumbled out to the limo all eyes in the hotel turned towards him but he was blissfully oblivious. Fields was looking flustered by this time, particularly as it seemed to take a lifetime to load them all in the car, not usually a difficult operation. Finally it was decided that Joey was indeed too tall to squeeze with any comfort in the back seat. Danny pulls him out crossly and motions tetchily at the front door. “You sit in there Joey,” he sighs.
The driver is wondering what exactly he`s let himself in for. He`s not the only one.
I have personally transcribed this from the original paper. Any errors in the text from the original magazine may not have been corrected for the sake of accuracy. If you have a music-related web-page where this fits – please make a link to the article. With credits to the original writer of the article from all of us music fans!
This number of New Musical Express also contains articles/interviews with these people: Paul McCartney, Twiggy, Stuart Sutcliffe, The Flamin` Groovies, Ian Hunter, The Who, Eric Clapton, The Sensational Alex Harvey Band, Jefferson Starship, Weather Report, Roxy Music, The Crusaders.
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