Johnny Ramone claims it was an accident– that time he hit the student body president in the balls with his guitar and got an early incarnation of the Ramones banned from the high school talent show. “I just got a little carried away with the music,” he says.
Bassist Dee Dee Ramone says it wasn’t his fault the principal asked him to leave his classes permanently. “They gave me this long list of credits and I couldn’t figure it out,” he says. “They wanted me to take this academic stuff. All I wanted to take was shop.”
Drummer Tommy Ramone used to build model army tanks and get high from the glue. “A lot of our music comes out of that sensibility,” he says. “We’re intellectual 12-year-olds.”
Joey Ramone, comatose singer, says only that he would like to increase his collection of doorknobs.
Riding a wave of rapturous reviews from New York critics, their album, Ramones, has actually broken into the Top 150 and they just returned from two dates in London with the Flamin’ Groovies.
Their music– an amazing amalgam of higher energy, funnier lyrics and less command of their instruments than the New York Dolls’– derives much of its charm from the Ramones’ instinctive understanding that great artistry can result from turning your liabilities into assets.
“The reason I start all our songs by screaming ‘one-two-three-four’ into the mike is that we couldn’t learn how to do the silent count,” explains Dee Dee, searching his face for zits in a cosmetic mirror on manager Danny Field’s desk.
“Besides, screaming ‘one-two-three-four’ is more fun,” says Tommy. “Our music is an answer to the early Seventies when artsy people with big egos would do vocal harmonies and play long guitar, solos and get called geniuses. That was bullshit. We play rock & roll. We don’t do solos. Our only harmonics are in the overtones from the guitar chords.”
The Ramones (not their real surname) were born in 1952 (Johnny in 1951) and grew up in Forest Hills, Queens, where they went to high school together and got dumped on by girls. “They always wanted to go with guys who had Corvettes,” says Johnny, “so we had nothing to do but climb on rooftops and sniff glue. Musicians never have girlfriends in the beginning – they get a guitar instead.”
“It still makes me bitter they wouldn’t have anything to do with us,” adds Dee Dee. “Back in the glitter days I had to dress up and tell them I was from T-Rex.”
From this adolescent trauma arose such masterpieces of misogyny as “I Don’t Wanna Walk around with You” and “Loudmouth” (“You’re a loudmouth baby/You better shut it up/I’m gonna beat you up/’Cause you’re a loudmouth babe”). Their extensive experience with model building produced one of the ultimate statements on teenage lobotomy, “Now I Wanna Sniff Some Glue.”
“We used to sniff and then call this telephone number and listen to the beeps,” recalls Dee Dee. “I got it all over my pants and shirt. It would be on my breath. Really stank. You can kill yourself that way. I wouldn’t recommend it to kids now.”
For their next album, the Ramones are doing a tune they call “Carbona, Not Glue” in honor of a cleaning fluid they sniffed after the hobby stores wouldn’t sell to them anymore.
After graduation the Ramones got menial jobs to support themselves. Two years ago they began playing at the CBGB, the Bowery bar that specializes in rock. They dressed in leather jackets and, more than any other local band, personified the punk image: they talked tough, played loud, and looked so wimpy their audiences wanted to mother them. “We developed a small following of weirdos,” says Tommy. “Then we got the intellectuals. Now the kids are coming.”
“Some people say our music all sounds the same,” Tommy continues, “but new kinds of music sound alike until you’re used to them. We had the lyrics to our songs printed on the envelope because we were sick and tired of being called stupid mutants by people who weren’t picking up on the words. We’ve finally found an outlet for our self-destruction.”
“Adolescence was sure tough,” says Dee Dee.
Adds Tommy, “Especially when you don’t grow out of it.”
This story is from the August 12th, 1976 issue of Rolling Stone.