The Importance of Being a Ramone
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.