NEW YORK — Joey Ramone's father has never been too big on his son's peculiar brand of rock & roll. Until recently, exposure to the Ramones' spare, howling blare would promptly reduce Dad to a headbanger (his own, of course) or leave him feeling like he wanted to, well, be sedated.
"The music used to drive me up a wall," he admits wearily. "I tried to get him interested in some good music – his grandmother, Fanny, used to sing for Macy's; you rented a piano from the store for a party and she came with it – so I got him an accordion when he was a child. He loved the goddamn thing, but he squeezed it until there was nothing left of it – I think he loved to hear the wheezy noise it made. As a teenager he was fairly good at the drums, playing em in the basement with his friends, but it got so I really had a hard time standing the racket.
"But say, I got a question for you: How the hell did you find me?"
It wasn't easy. Precious little is known about the backgrounds of the various Ramones, save the customarily mumbled information that original members Joey, Dee Dee, Johnny and Tommy Ramone all hail from Forest Hills, Queens, New York, and formed their one and only band in 1974 after graduating from, or "growing out of," high school. They had been together for less than a year when they debuted to a virtually empty house at CBGB's, the notoriously seedy Bowery club where a blank generation of distinctively raw rockers first gained a foothold. Hammering out a numbing, seventeen-minute set consisting of about eight three-chord, two-stanza songs, the Ramones were instrumental in spawning an aggressive national groundswell of back-to-basics rock bands whose defiant individualism inspired a horde of disaffected young English snots simultaneously rallying together as the Sex Pistols, the Clash, Generation X . . .
New York music writers like Danny Fields of the Soho Weekly News began devoting passionate columns to the four Forest Hills rockers. Mop-haired and sickly looking, with faces so acne-caked they resembled pink peanut brittle, the Ramones were as appealing as their hasty repertoire of head splitters: "Blitzkrieg Bop," "Chain Saw," "Loudmouth," "Now I Wanna Sniff Some Glue," etc.
Meanwhile, on the other side of a widening No Band's Land, the trenches were full of contemptuous mainstream rockers and their fans, not to mention radio programmers, concert promoters and even some critics, all of whom denounced the Ramones as no-talent sacks of shit. Incensed that four mysterious creeps with the same last name (the Ramone Brothers?) had come out of nowhere to release one remedial record (Ramones, Sire Records, 1976) and subsequently generate as much press as the last Rolling Stones tour, the tradition-bound opposition demanded an explanation: Where do these punks get off?
Four years and four albums later, Joey Ramone's father is still pondering the same question. "I gotta be honest with you," says a bemused Noel Hyman, chatting in the office of his Manhattan trucking company, "I was surprised, very much so, when Jeffrey [a.k.a. Joey] and the band started putting out records and getting a little popular. I was always hearing him say, 'We got something here,' until it rang in my ears. And I didn't believe in it at all. I would have liked him to come into the business, really.
"The first coupla times I saw the group play, I must say I didn't like em, but I got used to it – although it took some time. But then, I guess the first time some people taste champagne they wanna spit it out, right? Still, I think they oughta put more different things in their music, 'n' complicate it up a bit, if they wanna get high up on the what-tayacallit – the lists, the charts? I dunno, I'm an old square. Guess it looks like he may do okay after all, right?"
'I'm sick of not selling records," Joey mutters to himself as he peers into the mirror in his cramped upstairs dressing room at Philadelphia's Walnut Street Theatre. "I want to draw more people to the shows, make something happen. If the new album isn't a hit, I'm gonna kill myself."
Recently returned from a well-attended tour of Europe, the Ramones are back on the road to promote their latest LP, Road to Ruin. The album has been almost universally praised as the band's most ambitious and engaging effort to date, demonstrating as it does an impressive growth in musicianship and an expanded compositional flair. Dee Dee has blossomed into a deft, distinctive bassist; Johnny's brisk, chunky riffing has given way to some canny, if restrained, leads; new drummer Marky (a replacement for Tommy, who bowed out last year) provides a solid bottom and a powerful forward thrust; and Joey has evolved – with the help of voice lessons – into a rather spry, inventive vocalist. None of these developments has lifted the band anywhere near the Top Fifty or the lofty status of an arena-filling attraction, however, so the Ramones have dragged their equipment out to Philly by van to headline a modest program on the site of the historic first presidential debate between Gerald R. Ford and Georgia Governor Jimmy Carter.
Snapped out of his dressing-room doldrums by a pat on the back from baby-faced Johnny Ramone (alias John Cummings), the spindly, knock-kneed Joey is summoned into a back room for an impromptu preconcert conference. Timing and pacing are discussed, the meeting chaired by the authoritative Johnny, who clearly is the de facto perfectionist of the group. He's also the most business-minded of the four, momentarily putting their huddle on hold at the appearance of sandy-haired manager Danny Fields, the Ramone's longtime booster. Johnny registers a stern complaint with the straight-faced Fields about the absence of posters in the theater's outside display cases and requests some information on current airplay and record sales in secondary markets, before returning to his cohorts to drill them on the evening's songs.
"Watch the beginning of 'Cretin Hop' tonight," he scolds the lantern-jawed Marky (Bell). "You came in wrong again last night. You're just not hearing it."
"Okay," Marky says meekly. "Tell it all to me again."
"No, we'll play it once quickly," Johnny rules as he plugs his white Mosrite guitar into a small practice amp.
"Hey, I don't want to play too much, John," Dee Dee (Colvin) whines, scratching the arrow-through-the-heart Mother tattoo on his biceps. "Look at my nail. It's split! I want as little pain as possible."
Johnny ignores the bassist's plea and they launch into the song.
His presence not required for the run-through, Joey has slipped into the dressing room and is bent over the dirty sink, rinsing his purple eyeglasses under the faucet. He remains locked in this position for an extended period, oblivious to the ebb and flow of awed fans and curious members of the other groups on the bill.
Ten minutes later, diminutive Linda Stein, thirty-two-year-old wife of Seymour Stein (the president of the Warner Bros.-distributed Sire label) and the other half of the band's managerial ream, strides in, and Joey lifts his head and whispers to her urgently. She nods and then issues a booming command to all assembled: "Excuse me everybody! Please clear the room! Joey wants to be alone to wash his face!"
As the throng moves toward the door, Joey's furtive eyes meet mine – a rare moment – and his face erupts in a crimson blush that temporarily obscures the swollen zit nestled against his pug nose. But the awkward instant is suddenly dispelled by the appearance of a bold devotee who bursts through the stream of departing fans and starts jabbering into Joey's ear.
"I really loved 'California Sun,' man, I really really did!" he gushes. "Could you write an autograph for my friend?" Joey nods shyly and dries his hands on his grimy, sweat-soaked shirt. "Say, 'To Ian, from Joey Ramone,"' the fan insists as the skinny star begins scribbling on a scrap of paper. "And, er, could you please print it, cause he only understands printing . . . "
The Ramones are Dumb – and so is their public.
You read it everywhere – this magazine included – and hear it at parties whenever someone dares to play one of their records. Throughout the recording industry their enemies are legion, many dismissing the four as hopeless mooks. Joey Ramone in particular has frequently been singled out as a Grade A Fancy ninny whose motor responses supposedly were so atrophied by adolescent glue sniffing that now he can't even find his ass with both hands.
Those allegations seem to take on a certain gravity when Joey's viewed in concert. During the show at the Walnut Street Theatre, he clutches his ripped mike stand with abject desperation, weaving around the unsteady axis like a drunk looking for the keyhole. As always, his deathly pale visage is almost entirely hidden by a curtain of matted hair, and his bird legs are locked with spastic rigidity as his jeans droop past his hipless waist.
The set has opened with Dee Dee roaring his ritual "One, two, three, four!" countdown to kick off the Ramones' biggest (Sixty-Six in Billboard) chart single ever, "Rockaway Beach," as their large red, white and blue eagle banner is lowered behind the drums. Following in quick succession are astringent treatments of "Blitzkrieg Bop," "I Don't Want You," "Gimme Gimme Shock Treatment," "Don't Come Close" and "Sheena Is a Punk Rocker."
By this time, the packed house – a surprisingly diverse mix that includes the safety-pin-through-the-nose crowd but also a host of Ivy Leaguers and even some middle-aged longhairs in down parkas – is in a flat-out frenzy, thrusting their fists in the air as Joey leads them in between-songs chants of "Hey! Ho! Let's go!" "Needles and Pins," the latest single, lifts the proceedings to a fever pitch, and a wildly flailing Marky purses his lips as if he's going to puke from the exertion.
Combining the stunning attack of the early Kinks with the energy, flamboyance and spectacular pacing of the Who, the Ramones give of themselves with a kooky totality that is strangely moving. Witnessing the event, even one who is not really an avid fan has to wonder whether the Ramones' harshest detractors have ever seen them in live performance. Thematically, songs about decapitation, teenage lobotomies, headbangers named Suzy, sniffing Carbona spot remover and wanting to be sedated may be an acquired taste, but it's difficult to understand why more hard-rock enthusiasts – especially the heavy-metal helots – cannot find a place in their hearts for the Ramones' explosive sound. No concerts so well executed as their own could come off without some lucid thought being paid to musical craft and presentation, and it's a genuinely triumphant moment when a roadie rushes out at the climax of the Philly date to hand Joey a black and yellow banner emblazoned with the exhortation: Gabba Gabba Hey!
Gabba Gabba Hey Is from the 1930s horror film, Freaks," Tommy Erdelyi (formerly Ramone) explains to me one evening over sandwiches in an East Village eatery. "There's a party going on in the film and one of the midgets has married this pretty woman – she's not a freak. During the celebration, they start chanting, 'Gooble gobble, we accept her, one of us!' Or something like that. So when we wrote the song 'Pin-head' [on the Ramones Leave Home LP], we decided to use the chant, but we changed it to give it more power. We were trying to tell the audience that we're all one."
Unfortunately, Tommy and the other band members are currently estranged. Fed up with the grind of the road ("I couldn't stand it; my nerves were shot"), he left the group after the release of the Ramones' third LP, Rocket to Russia. Born in Budapest, Hungary, Erdelyi, now twenty-eight, immigrated to the United States with his older brother and parents when he was four.
Tommy served as manager of the group during the period when the nucleus was Joey on drums, with Dee Dee and Johnny splitting the lead and rhythm guitar chores. The boys auditioned several bassists before Dee Dee agreed to give it a try, and Joey was drafted as the vocalist, because, as Tommy admits, "He had the best voice." That left the drummer's slot open, and Tommy eventually shrugged, sat down and started pounding the skins.
"The truth of the matter was that my function with the Ramones was as a producer and an organizer," Erdelyi reflects. "My least contribution was as a drummer." He began his career as an assistant engineer at various Manhattan studios, working on John McLaughlin's Devotion album and some of the later Jimi Hendrix sessions that would resurface on Crash Landing and other LPs reconstructed after Hendrix' death.
As producer of their legendary sixteen-song demo and coproducer of all four Ramones LPs released in the States (a live collection entitled It's Alive is due to be issued overseas), Erdelyi sees himself as the Ramones' seminal theorist and the man who played the chief role in honing their musical concepts.
"There was never anything like the Ramones before," he assures me. "It was a new way of looking at music. We took the rock sound into a psychotic world and narrowed it down into a straight line of energy. In an era of progressive rock, with its complexities and counterpoints, we had a perspective of nonmusicality and intelligence that takes over for musicianship.
"Going back to the first album, which was the seed, we used block chording as a melodic device, and the harmonics resulting from the distortion of the amplifiers created countermelodies. We used the wall of sound as a melodic rather than a riff form; it was like a song within a song – created by a block of chords droning.
"I'll tell you what else was distinctive," he says, gathering steam. "The hypnotic effect of strict repetition, the effect of lyrics that repeat, and vocals that dart out at you, and the percussive effect of driving the music like a sonic machine. It's very sensual. You can put headphones on and just swim with it. It's not background music."
Was all of this conceived beforehand or are these just Tommy's accumulated after-thoughts?
"Well," he demurs, "it was always a combination of talent and intelligence."
"Wait a minute," I say, "Johnny told me that the first LP sounded so primitive because that was the best you guys could play at that time."
"Yes," Erdelyi concedes, "but there was always intelligence behind it. If every untrained musician doing the best he can decides to make a record, he's not going to get a Ramones LP out of it."
Intrigued by this high-minded analysis, I decide to schedule a symposium down at Joey Ramone's dingy Lower East Side loft to give the other members of the Ramones the opportunity to explain themselves and their rock perspective. The band assembles around a rickety table at one end of the long rectangular room.
Flopped across a mattress in one corner is sad-eyed Danny Fields, who says he's "a young thirty-five" but looks a bit older. A Phi Beta Kappa from the University of Pennsylvania and a Harvard Law School dropout, Fields is a veteran of the rock wars, having signed the MC5 and the Stooges to Elektra while working there as director of publicity. After being fired from Elektra, he says, for defending the MC5's right to have the word fuck on their album jackets and in their print ads, he moved to Atlantic Records as a publicist – and got fired again, he says, for openly detesting Emerson, Lake and Palmer.
He subsequently resurfaced as the editor of 16 Magazine, wrote a music column for the Soho Weekly News, and then – Gabba Gabba Hey!
A raconteur of considerable renown, Fields maintains a curious silence during the talk.
As I gaze across the table at the current Ramones lineup, I am struck by the great differences in their personalities and backgrounds. All are twenty-six years old and similarly dressed, but that's about all they have in common apart from their music.
Johnny Cummings, the authoritative, business-minded guitarist, was born on Long Island. An only child and a self-confessed teenage reprobate, he drifted from one military academy to another during his secondary-school days, searching for some sort of "discipline" in his life. The son of a construction worker now retired in Florida, Johnny has since found inner peace as a Ramone, a Betamax junkie and an avid reader of film biographies and history books.
Dee Dee (Douglas) Colvin, who is secretly married, was born in Virginia but spent fourteen years as a service brat in Germany, where his father, an army career officer, was stationed. Hard-jawed, with dark chilling eyes, his meek, courtly manner cannot conceal the streetfighter's savvy that earned him the ugly knife scars that mar his upper torso and – he later reveals – his buttocks.
Marky Bell is a timorous outsider from Brooklyn, where his father labored for eighteen years as a longshoreman before becoming a lawyer. He is the most seasoned musician, having drummed over the years with transsexual Wayne County, Richard Hell and the Voidoids and a defunct group called Dust that recorded two albums in the late Sixties for the Kama Sutra label.
Joey (Jeffrey) Hyman, the lovable scarecrow, is a native of Forest Hills. His father and mother have been divorced since the early Sixties. He has a younger brother named Mitch, who is a guitarist with rock critic Lester Bangs' band, Birdland. Contrary to popular belief, Joey is the most clever and quick-witted of the Ramones.
We begin by discussing Forest Hills, which Johnny describes as "a middle-class, mostly Jewish neighborhood – if that means anything." He then mentions that Michael Landon, the star of TV's Little House on the Prairie, is from the same area. I interject that Paul Simon also lived in Forest Hills, and Marky corrects me: "Paul Stanley - of Kiss." When I say no, I mean Paul Simon, he gives me a blank stare.
"Aw, you know Paul Simon," Johnny chides the drummer, but Marky replies with another blank stare.
"Don't mind him," Johnny tells me with exasperation. "He's from Brooklyn."
"Speaking of celebrities," says Joey, "I once played for about five minutes with Keith – you know, the guy who did that  hit song, '98.6'."
Everyone expressed great surprise at this revelation . . . except Marky.
Marky: [Confused] Keith Allison? Joey: No! No! The "98.6" Keith! I auditioned for him, playing drums. He took me out for a beer and it was exciting, ya know? When I first got to his loft he was blow-drying his hair. I brought my double-bass Keith Moon set of drums up there. But he was fucked up because he made me play in a room all by myself, without accompanying me or anything. He said, "Alright – play!" So I played "Toad" or something, ya know? The fuckin' jerk!
How did you pick the name Ramones?
Joey: It had a ring to it, like "Eli Wallach" does. Just sounded good.
Johnny: We thought of Spice and other names but felt, "That's ridiculous."
Dee Dee: We never gave it too much thought.
Where did your American eagle logo come from?
Johnny: I don't know if what we've got is the American eagle, but that's what we thought of at the time.
Dee Dee: It looks good up there. I mean, Patti Smith has the American flag . . .
Johnny: . . . and we have a kind of presidential seal.
Marky: Yeah. "In God We Trust."
Joey: [Snickering] We weren't thinking of God.
Johnny: You want a strong symbol, and that's it.
Dee Dee: [Earnestly] We want to make it clear that it has nothing to do with fascism or anything like that.
Johnny: [Alarmed] Nobody asked ya!
Dee Dee: [Continuing] It's just a sign that I think . . .
Johnny: [Firmly] Nobody asked ya!
You still look like teenage troublemakers, young thugs. Were you?
Johnny: I guess we were sort of juvenile delinquents, but Forest Hills ain't the South Bronx; it's a nice neighborhood. So if you walk around like this [he indicates his leather jacket, T-shirt, jeans] you're already looked upon as a hoodlum. I mean we were just general nogoodnicks.
Dee Dee: But we didn't have an organized gang.
Johnny: We once tried robbing a drug store on Queens Boulevard – unsuccessfully. It was in a whole row of stores and we broke into the laundromat from behind by mistake. The next time we tried robbing a bakery on 63rd Drive; somebody climbed in the window above the door. The police came to my house the next day and asked somebody to identify me, but the person said I wasn't the one. The other kid finked on me – but I don't care 'cause he's gotten killed since then.
I didn't become bad until I got out of high school. Sniffing glue was probably the start of my downfall. My first drug experience was sniffing glue. We tried it and then moved on to Carbona.
That's why we wrote songs about it. It was a good high but it gave you a bad headache. I guess it destroys your brain cells, though.
Joey: Then "Carbona (Not Glue)" got pulled from the Leave Home album because Carbona was gonna sue us for using their name. We thought it was a substance, not the name of a product or company.
Speaking of songwriting, I thought in the beginning that the brevity of the songs was tongue in cheek, a gimmick.
Johnny: [Bewildered] The what of the song was what?
The brevity of the songs was . . .
Johnny: What's brevity mean?
Johnny: Oh, well, we were new at writing songs and new at playing our instruments, so we couldn't write anything too complicated, really. It was nothing intentional. We decided to sing about something that we found amusing.
Dee Dee: And daring.
Johnny: All our songs are written by all of us. We wrote two songs the very first day we were a band. One was called "I Don't Wanna Walk Around with You" and the other was called "I Don't Wanna Get Involved with You." "I Don't Wanna. Walk Around with You" made it on the first album, but "I Don't Wanna Get Involved with You" didn't.
You never recorded it?
Johnny: No. It's very much like "I Don't Wanna Walk Around with You," almost the same song. We might someday record it.
What's the basic lyric?
Dee Dee: [Blandly]
I don't wanna get involved with you
That's not what I wanna do
Come knocking on my door
I'm gonna knock you on the floor
I don't wanna get involved with you
That's not what I wanna do.
How would you describe your own music?
Dee Dee: We're playing at our level of ability.
Johnny: We're playing pure rock & roll with no blues or folk or any of that stuff in it. And we try to be entertaining and bring back the feeling of kids coming and having a good time – united with us. But we never considered the whole local new-band scene here or in England. We never had the weird pointy haircuts. These are our regular haircuts.
Linda Stein said she felt that the Sid Vicious murder case has hurt you bookingwise.
Johnny: We've had a lot of job rejections. We had a lot of radio stations taking us off and rejecting us. We just had a job offer at Notre Dame with Foreigner, and Notre Dame turned us down. We got pulled off stations after the Weekend show with the Sex Pistols. It had nothing to do with us. We don't look or act like them. We weren't out to ruin the music business. There's room for everybody. When we started we were more or less looking at the hard-rock groups of America like Aerosmith and Ted Nugent and Kiss as our competition.
Joey: [Brightly] Alice Cooper helped my life because he was my first hero. I related to the guy – until I found out he really was the way he was.
You mean before he started playing golf with George Burns?
Joey: Yeah, right.
Johnny: [Serious] Joey, wouldn't you like to be playing golf with George Burns?
Joey: [Sheepish] I dunno, but I guess I respected Cooper because that's all he wanted to do in the first place: get big so he could play golf with the stars.
Johnny: It's nice to play golf with George Burns, if you wanna. I played golf in military school for about a year.
The other night Joey said that he would kill himself if the new record didn't do well. Things have been rough, eh?
Johnny: Yeah, but we've been on salary since we started recording. It's not much, it's meager but it's been okay. When we started it was about fifty dollars a week. Now it's $150 a week – actually that starts next week, a raise from $125. We get ten dollars a day when we're traveling, and occasionally get a royalty check for songwriting.
Why did Tommy leave the band?
Johnny: He just couldn't take touring.
Dee Dee: It's very hard to tour.
Johnny: He was getting to be catatonic.
Joey: [Chortling evilly] Tommy cracked like an egg!
Say, Dee Dee, when did you get the knife wounds?
Dee Dee: [Embarrassed] That was something stupid I did. I don't want to say it 'cause it was bad.
Johnny: But now we're nice.
How did you fellas manage to change your dispositions?
Johnny: We got into a group and we became nice.
'They are very, very nice boys," says Joey's mother, Charlotte, as she serves me milk and cookies one afternoon in the pleasant East Village apartment she shares with, her second husband, a psychologist.
A slim, attractive woman in her late forties, the former Mrs. Noel Hyman is an accomplished artist and an avid collector, as evidenced by the tasteful arrangements of paintings that cover every wall of her home.
"Forest Hills is a very conservative, conventional place. I think we were the black-sheep household of our street," Charlotte muses. "It was a meeting place for both of my boys' friends because we also had the basement there open to them, and there was always a lot of music going on.
"You know, they taught me how to smoke pot when they were about thirteen. I realized they were doing something down there, and I didn't want them to do it outside where they could be busted."
Did Joey's father ever smoke pot with the boys?
"I don't think so," she says evenly. "I don't think he would like to hear that I allowed them to do it at home, either. But at that time we were divorced."
Was the house basement also a haven for glue sniffing?
"Not that I know of," she says with a laugh, "but I'm sure there were things that they did that I didn't know about. It's very possible. The little devils tried everything."
It appears her tolerance was as unique as her sons' behavior. Was she upset when Joey quit school to play his music?
"Uh huh. Naturally, like any good Jewish mother, I would have wanted my son to finish high school and go to college."
Does she recall any early songs that Joey wrote and showed to her?
"He showed me everything, but there were so many. I know they all had that little anger in them and I thought it was a great release for him to get it all out of his system."
Where does she think that anger came from?
"Naturally, it was anger against his parents. Probably his father more than me," she adds with a nervous chuckle. "When he'd come upstairs from the basement after playing the drums, I used to say to him, 'You just beat the hell out of me, didn't you?' He'd say, 'Yeah."'
Is Charlotte a Ramones fan?
"Don't you know I'm known as Momma Ramone?" she asks, a little hurt. "I really like them. I guess I have to confess that the first album sounded a little strange and unprofessional, but I caught the energy and I found that fascinating."
Does Joey/Jeffrey ever speak to her about his career?
"No, nothing in particular. Occasionally he lets me read some of his fan mail; all these little girls from all over the country writing to him, telling him they're madly in love with him and that they can't wait to see him.
"And then he gets these propositions," she confides breathlessly, "from forty-year-old women who want his fair body. I think he gets a charge out of that."
A long time ago I used to get drunk and hang out a lot around mental institutions, because the girls there are all loose and they are . . . fun, you know?" Joey tells me later that evening, by way of detailing the parameters of his love life. "So I kind of fell in love with this girl, and every week they took her upstairs to the fifth floor to have shock treatments. They would strap her into a wheelchair. Before they took her up she was fine. Then she came down and she was like a zombie and didn't even know who I was."
"Have you seen her since?" I wonder.
"No. She turned into a real alcoholic. I think that's what happens to you when you have a lobotomy. You have to escape all the time."
"A lot of what you've experienced is recounted in the band's songs," I tell him. "Johnny told me earlier that when you guys were growing up, you could never get any dates with girls."
"Well," Joey explains, "there's a lot of people that really get into being in high school; they go to dances and all that shit. I always hated those people. At that time you didn't really get much – nobody really had any girlfriends and there was just like one Brooklyn chick, named Lois, that everyone was going to and she'd give me a blow job down in the basement.
"Everyone would go there on a Friday night and the guys would line up. She was also the kind of chick that was hideous looking. She was about twenty-seven and, well, it was very hard to get her to fuck. So I'd turn her on to LSD and shit like that."
"Sounds very romantic," I offer.
"Oh yeah," he laughs. "I used to like, on Sundays, take her to my house. At that time I was living with my mom. It was very rough trying to get her down the street to my house without anyone seeing."
"Ever have a long-term romantic relationship?"
"I never had any, like, ones with girls that really liked me. Most of them were short term. These days we get a lot of weirdos coming to a show. We get all these kids who are loners."
With their fortunes currently on the upswing, the Ramones are sure to attract a lot more lost souls. Road to Ruin is the group's biggest-selling album, with worldwide sales just above the 250,000 mark. But the real breakthrough for this beleaguered band has been in concert bookings; the Ramones have made significant strides in landing lucrative gigs since signing an agreement with the powerful Premier Talent. The deal, Danny Fields points out, was made on the same day that Elvis died, and it's just now paying off, with the Ramones finally opening for big acts like Black Sabbath.
In addition, the group recently completed the starring role in a Roger Gorman film tentatively titled Rock & Roll High School. An epic that concludes with the student body blowing up the school building, the movie is slated for spring or summer release, along with a soundtrack album that – barring legal complications – will include a song by Paul McCartney (a big hero of Johnny's) and Wings, originally written for Heaven Can Wait, called "Have We Met Somewhere Before?"
But all these exciting developments raise an inevitable question: Will success spoil the Ramones?
"Well, it's all a game," says Johnny, "but you gotta play to win. We're gonna do it our way though, 'cause we don't wanna disappoint our fans."
"Like, it's weird, you know?" says Joey. "We're very influential. Once when we played in Minneapolis, I think, there were all these kids in the club and everybody was tripping on LSD or something. And they all started banging their heads against the floor, just like in the song ["Suzy Is a Headbanger"]. All of them; it was like, really sick. About 300 people were there."
"Maybe some of your fans will send you their heads when they're done banging them?"
"That would be great," says Joey with a wry chuckle. "It would spruce up my bathroom."
This story is from the February 8th, 1979 issue of Rolling Stone.