We wanna be sedated: a tribute to da brudders, whose co-founding member Tommy died last week. He followed Joey (2001), Dee Dee (2002) and Johnny (2004).
BY THE BLURT CRÜE
Ed. note: The death of Tommy Ramone (nee Erdelyi) on Friday July 11 left music fans stunned, not just because we’d lost another beloved member of the community, but largely due to the realization that the last living member of the original lineup of the Ramones was gone. No slight to those who came along later: Marky, Richie and CJ; but to paraphrase a certain moldy classic rock song, in a very real sense, it felt like the day the music died, too. With that in mind, I’d like to turn the narrative over to the staff and contributors who offered to weigh in on the rhetorical question posed at the top of this page. Their musings are clearly from the heart, and in more than one instance the grief is palpable. Farewell, Tommy, and here’s hoping that you, Joey, Johnny and Dee Dee are up there bashing away your two-minute heavenly anthems at the CBGB in the sky. —FM
Forming in Queens in 1974, the Ramones released their self-titled Sire Records debut on April 23, 1976. At the time I was a student at UNC-Chapel Hill, and following classes one afternoon in late April or early May, I went over to my girlfriend’s apartment. After awhile her roommate’s boyfriend burst in, holding a fresh copy of the album. We put it on, and I am not ashamed to admit that my initial reaction was somewhere in between meh and yeucchh, probably due to the fact that my musical diet for the past several years had largely consisted of Yes, Genesis, King Crimson and other haughty British prog acts, and this was simplistic, decidedly lowbrow stuff. At the same time, though, I had been an occasional fan of the Stooges, MC5 and other proto-punk acts, and I also owned a well-worn copy of Nuggets; not to mention Patti Smith’s ’75 debut Horses, which had gobsmacked me (I didn’t really think of it as “punk,” at least not yet). I was also somewhat familiar with the CBGB/Max’s Kansas City scene from reading about it in Rock Scene and New York Rocker as well, and probably Creem and maybe even Rolling Stone, so at least I had a whiff of context in which to place Ramones.
I noted that I’m not embarrassed by my first take on the band: if there’s anything I’ve learned over the years as both a music fan and a rock critic, sometimes the mark of a classic album is that it has to sneak up on you, like a thief aiming to pickpocket or cold-cock you.
Well, what th’ fug. For some reason we listened to the album again, and then again; it lasted, like, less than a half hour? (29:04, according to Wikipedia. —Fact-check Ed.)So certain nuances began to reveal themselves over repeated spins. Elements of surf and garage were detected, maybe even a little British Invasion-derived jangle pop, albeit sped up to 78rpm, along with some of the aforementioned Motor City hard rock and leather-jacketed ‘tude, and possibly even some glam, given Tommy’s wham-bam-thank-YOU-ma’am style of drumming and the inclusion of big-ass guitar hooks in the arrangements. There was also a distinct wall-of-sound vibe to the production, like Phil Spector on an extreme budget ($6,400 to be exact. —Accounting Ed.), and a Mad Magazine-worthy satiricalthrust to some of the lyrics, which Joey sang in an impossibly thick Bronx-ian accent, like some Joisey wise guy on amphetamines. No group that I’d ever heard played and sung like this; that well-outside-the-mainstream edge definitely appealed to my collector-elitist, secret-handshake side. Imagine that: the Ramones were a band for musical elitists, albeit the sort who favored teeshirts and torn-knee Levis over flannels, tie-dyes and bellbottoms.
Within a couple of days I would own a copy of the album, and I would also be fortunate enough to see the band several times over the years. The Ramones and their spawn would inspire me to dive headlong into punk and new wave, even getting into writing for and publishing punk fanzines in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s. The rest is history, so in a sense, now you know who to blame.
Thanks, guys. Now I wanna go sniff some glue. Wait, make that Carbona… —FRED MILLS
One of the first times – maybe the first time – that I ever stepped foot in CBGB’s, The Ramones was playing (don’t know the date, though I feel as if it was after David Bowie’s Nassau Coliseum show). It wasn’t on purpose, but everything about the Ramones seemed like an accident… at first. I had an early promo of the first Sire album and that whole affair sounded thin, even a bit ridiculous (Joey’s dumb monotone voice against the singular thwack of Tommy’s drums, in particular).
Still, above all that, The Ramones was brutally blunt – a frank fact made all the more clear upon seeing them live in a grimy club setting. There, set against Johnny’s clean grouchy guitar crunch, Joey’s voice and Tommy’s rhythmic pulse was utterly awesome and not all dopey. Theirs was a loud, proud vibe that never left them (or me, I suppose) during the possibly 100 subsequent gigs I caught of theirs after that first date.
When I woke up and the first thing I would read that morning was that Tommy had died, I was genuinely sad that each of the original Ramones had gone, with none left to tell the true tale of misfit sedation. —A.D. AMOROSI
The Ramones made me leave home—often: I was one of the lucky ones when it came to the Ramones. I’d been reading about ’em in the New York Rocker newspaper and was right there for their first west coast appearance at San Fran’s Savoy Tivoli in August of 1976 when their first LP appeared. Never heard of the joint, before or since, and it couldn’t have held more than 50 people. My buddy Tony Guerrero and I had a good laugh when the guy in line in front of us referred to them as “the Ramon-ies.” But we really didn’t know for sure. Maybe they were “the Ramon-ies.”
They played every tune on the first album in a plaster-cracking set that couldn’t have lasted more that 30 minutes, and we staggered out into the street afterwards as though we’d gone 15 rounds with Muhammad Ali. Along with meeting my wife, having a baby, and a few other events, it was truly a life-changing experience.
Saw the boys 12 more times through 1988, including once in early ’77 at a tiny club in Campbell, Calif. called the Bodega, capacity around 45. They did an in-store that afternoon at a San Jose record shop where they gave away copies of Ramones Leave Home they’d just signed in ballpoint pen. I took my daughter, then about ten years old, to meet ’em, and introduced her as “the brat” to Joey, even then easily IDed as the most approachable. Interviewed Tommy for Magnet magazine some 30 years later. Most congenial and the perfect drummer for the band (and I told him so). I loved those guys every bit as much as I ever loved the Beatles, Kinks, Byrds or Beach Boys. Long my they wave. —JUD COST
The first time I heard the Ramones was on a live cassette I bought through the classifieds of some music mag (possibly New York Rocker). I didn’t get it. Gimme gimme Television and Patti Smith, not shock treatment.
But the first time I saw the Ramones, it all clicked. The band came to D.C. to play the Childe Harold, a sit-down music venue that didn’t quite know what punk was. (Bruce Springsteen made his local debut there, and Emmylou Harris performed there regularly before she became a national act.)
The Ramones were great. Precise but playful, deadpan but silly, raw and rocking yet with a whiff of performance art. (The way Dee Dee and Johnny stopped the music to remove their leather jackets in tandem was a modern dance.) The band played three sets a night — maybe 25 minutes each — for three nights. The place was full every time, although some of the listeners were more amused than persuaded.
I also interviewed the band — and got to meet Danny Fields! — and learned that Tommy — R.I.P. — was The Articulate One.
The week after the Ramones played, I was told, the Childe Harold fired the agent who had booked them. —MARK JENKINS
Where was I when I first heard The Ramones? Honestly, I have no idea. I graduated high school in 1982 so it was definitely before then. I remember some freaky kid in high school, named Scott, playing them on a boom box in the lunch room once. It sounded different that what I was listening to at the time (The Doors, Zeppelin, etc.) but I liked the energy and it seemed, well happy. I do remember the first songs that stuck out in my mind were “Teenage Lobotomy” and “I Wanna Be Sedated.”
Fast forward one year to the Summer of 1983. I was working a job as a busboy in a casino in Atlantic City, NJ when a pal of my and fellow busser Geno asked me if I wanted to go see The Ramones and the B-52’s at the Philadelphia Zoo (7/29/83…thank you internet for helping me to remember the exact date). Hell yes I wanted to go! It was great, it was incredible, it was…well hell, I didn’t want it to end. The Ramones, in their ripped jeans, leather and t-shirt looked like hoods, thugs, guys I wanted to be like, but wasn’t.
I saw da’ bruddas a handful more times after that (probably 5 or 6 , usually at City Gardens in Trenton, NJ) and those gigs were all special but not as special as that first gig at the zoo. That was somethin’. Can’t believe they’re all gone now. R.I.P.,Tommy. —TIM HINELY
Being born in 1981, I basically missed the Ramones. My earliest memory of them is knowing “I Wanna Be Sedated” from the radio, the way you just know certain songs as a kid. I strongly recall impatience that the ba ba ba-ba section never came soon enough, and I had to sit through SO many verses to get to it. Now the idea of being impatient with a Ramones song, all those 2-minute fits of confection, is ridiculous, but I was kind of a pain in the ass kid.
The first time I became aware of Tommy as an individual “Ramone” was from the back of Tim (the Replacements album he produced). I couldn’t pronounce his given surname (still can’t, no matter how hard NPR has tried to teach me today), and my brother had to explain to me that he was Tommy Ramone. —ZACH BLOOM
Even in the cultural backwater that was Nashville in the 1970s, we’d heard of the Ramones, so we were excited that they’d booked a show in the Music City. Sadly, though, the promoter had scheduled the show at the Municipal Auditorium (10,000 capacity) and sold only 500 tickets, subsequently cancelling the show. No matter, ‘cause the band’s label slotted them into the infamous Exit/In club as an opener for singer/songwriter Marshall Chapman and her band, who were playing an industry showcase for her first Epic Records album.
The audience had no idea what hit them when hurricane Ramones took the stage, ripping through nearly 20 songs in 30 minutes. Their fast ‘n’ furious set prompted Chapman and band to play louder and faster, and the Ramones upped the arms race by playing an unbelievable second set. Chapman closed out with what was probably the heaviest performance of her career, and by the time our Take One magazine crew hit the street, we were dancing with the parking meters.
It was my first – but not last – taste of the Ramones, and although I’d see them several more times with various band line-ups, they were never as good as they were that night. —REV. KEITH A. GORDON
In my early teen years, I was an unapologetic, devoted metalhead. By the time I was 17, metal had lost my interest, lost the jolt it had once given me, and I needed something to focus my music-loving mind on. Like so many other people that grew up in the pre-internet, get-everything-right-now-in-a-nanosecond world, I discovered punk rock and The Ramones, in particular, the old fashioned way: a stoner friend of mine gave me a dubbed TDK cassette of The Ramones’ world-shattering debut. This dude had everything in his collection; if you wanted good tunes, Jay was your man.
It’s clichéd and corny to say but once I pushed play on my Walkman, my life was changed forever. “Blitzkrieg Bop,” “Beat on the Brat,” “I Wanna Sniff Some Glue” and “53rd and 3rd” blew away my ever-loving mind. The Ramones approach to music: taking simplicity, aggressiveness, a love of The Shangri-Las and adding weapons grade amphetamines, changed the way I saw music and the world. Thanks to my stoner friend Jay and Joey, Dee Dee, Tommy and Johnny for pointing me in the right direction. I am eternally in your debt. Rest in Peace, Tommy. —DANNY R. PHILLIPS
I don’t remember the first time I heard the Ramones—probably by working backwards from being a teenaged Blondie and Talking Heads fan—but I do remember the first time I saw them: In late 1979, they came to Dickinson College in central Pennsylvania where I was a sophomore college radio DJ, and thrilled. The venue was totally inappropriate: a staid auditorium with a high stage and no atmosphere, and most of the liberal arts kids were there as curiosity-seekers. But the show was great: a rush of eighth-note guitar chords and black leather, with Joey leaning over the crowd joyfully singing about Sheena and sniffin’ glue and wanting to be sedated. The venue mattered not, and maybe it was simply a pro forma Ramones show, but I loved it.
After the show, the band hung around for a little bit with some of the students, and Johnny tried to convince one of them to trade shirts: he offered his Ramones-insignia T-shirt for one of the simple silk-screened ones the student promotion staff had made. I wish he’d asked me: I still have my threadbare college Ramones T, but I’d rather have Johnny’s. —STEVE KLINGE
I’d read about the Ramones in the Village Voice. I ordered several copies for the record shop sound unheard. An ABC rep dropped off the promo, this was before Sire went to Warners. The cover struck me the same way Meet the Beatles had – high contrast, stark, striking. We threw it on the turntable within moments of receiving the record. Yikes, what an unlikely mixture of stuff, all stuff I dug – Beatles, Beach Boys, Stooges, Dictators, Troggs, Black Sabbath, God knows what else. When the music streamed from the speakers young girls danced. True story. Do you need to know more?
I had a band called Thumbs. We started a record label, later a recording studio. Both were named Ramona. Ours was a catholic, hot mess vision of rock ‘n’ roll that embraced Bob Dylan and the Ramones. We wanted a name that reflected that. The name just tripped off my tongue. And stuck.
I saw the Ramones for the first time in January of ’78, the same month I saw the Sex Pistols. I knew the game had changed. And I was damned excited to be on board. —STEVE WILSON
The first time I heard The Ramones was during my freshman year of college. When my roommate first played them for me, I dismissed them immediately. I can still remember the two of us arguing about them when he suddenly said, “Listen to the words!” I did, heard Joey Ramone singing “Beat on the brat with a baseball bat,” and started laughing hysterically in spite of myself.
Fast forward to last summer. An old friend of my cousin’s hired me to write a short piece on the Ramones song “Rockaway Beach” for The Daily News. Seth, my cousin’s friend, is the executive director of Queens Economic Development and he was working with the News on a campaign to revive the Rockaway section of the borough after it was devastated by Superstorm Sandy. I was happy to write the piece but I only had a few days to turn it around. Wouldn’t it be great, I thought, if I could get a quote from Tommy Ramone, the original drummer and the one surviving member of the band?? I contacted publicist Ida Langsam who gave me Tommy’s email address… and then I waited. It came down to the wire but Tommy got back to me with a great, concise quote right before the piece was due. He seemed like a class act. —DAVE STEINFELD
I gotta admit, I was never much of a Ramones fan early on. In my view, they were too scruffy, too goofy, and way less charismatic than expected my rock stars to be. They were ugly and tattered, with no gift of eloquence and a sound that didn’t seem to boast any special innovation or significance. To me, it sounded liked basic rock ‘n’ roll regurgitation, a rehash of themes that were mostly mundane, nowhere as good as those bands that boasted more craft and creativity.
I actually got to meet them once, at an in-store at Miami’s late, much lamented Yesterday & Today Records, but the close encounter didn’t do anything to bolster my estimations. Sitting behind a table, drearily signing autographs, they seemed slovenly and bored. If there was any spark, any apparent connection, it wholly escaped me.
In retrospect I’ve come to appreciate the Ramones a lot more. The music still sounds daft and primitive, but now I see that spirit of abandon, of not giving a shit recklessness and rebellion that is, after all, essential to a true rock attitude. It’s that same spirit of insurgence and indulgence that was borne by Jerry Lee, by Keiths Richards and Moon, in Lou Reed, Patti Smith, Kurt Cobain and all the others who professed allegiance to a muse but little more than that. The fact that death has decimated the Ramones’ ranks bolsters my newfound fondness for them I suppose — a tragic passing has away of inspiring a certain amount of sentiment after all — but it is sad that a band that was so mocked, so abused and once so vilified, isn’t be around to enjoy the posthumous kudos from those who came lately, like me, and are now belatedly finding that praise so fit to share.
Ramones… rock on… —LEE ZIMMERMAN
I was living in Clearwater, Fla., in 1977-1978 working for a now-defunct daily and not fully aware of just how much resistance there was to punk among people who loved rock (especially Southern rock) and felt threatened by a music they thought was sneering at their values (and maybe it was). I didn’t sense anything dangerous about the Ramones, unlike maybe Johnny Rotten — “Sheena Is a Punk Rocker” and “Rockaway Beach” sounded catchy and good-humored, maybe a goof, and I was always up for a revival of “California Sun.”
Anyway, one night in 1978 after work a bunch of us were watching TV — I think it was Don Kirshner’s Rock Concert — and the Ramones came on. I thought everyone would at least be interested. But one guy got up and turned the station, saying “I hate that shit.” The others agreed. I felt like I was in prison and the biggest thug had commandeered the community TV. From then on I felt different about the Ramones: fun, yes, but they also were a symbol against intolerant, close-minded musical tastes. —STEVEN ROSEN
I was two years behind the curve, and fixated on the music of Barry Manilow and Jefferson Starship. (Your guess is as good as mine). I guess I read about punk rock in Rolling Stone, and it sounded interesting enough to investigate. But it was 1978, how did one do that?
I don’t remember how I discovered KWUR, a little ten-watt college radio station that played the bands whose names I was seeing. Here were the Sex Pistols, 999, the Flamin’ Groovies, and the Ramones. I don’t remember which songs I heard, but yeah, that was something different. I remember trying to understand what it meant to have a song about beating on the brat with a baseball bat. And I had to get in on that.
Tommy Ramone was out of the band by the time I first saw them live. Thanks to a press contact, I was able to interview the Ramones before their 1979 concert the week after I turned 21. With no other option to publish it, my friend and I started a fanzine, Jet Lag. Without the Ramones, I would never have figured out I could write about music. Joey, Johnny, Dee Dee, and Tommy, thanks for teaching me life was bolder than I had ever dreamed. —STEVE PICK
Postscript: Longtime Perfect Sound Forever contributor Robin Cook interviewed Tommy in 2006 during SXSW, where he was performing with his bluegrass duo Uncle Monk. You definitely need to see it—go HERE at YouTube.