By: Emily Votaw
People say some pretty stupid things about The Ramones.
Because they are too hard to nail down.
They weren’t starving, impoverished Post-World War II punk rockers (albeit with fabulous publicists) like The Sex Pistols were; or angry, politically informed cerebral punks like Joe Strummer and Mick Jones.
And they just couldn’t mesh with the arty post-modern accuracy of bands like Television and the Talking Heads. Perhaps some of this can be attributed to the fact that The Ramones’ self titled debut actually came out in 1974, three years earlier than the first established wave of CBGB rockers. But I don’t really think that chronology plays that big a part in the overall feel of the band.
Earlier punk acts – and there were plenty of them: The Stooges, MC5, and The New York Dolls — are still markedly unlike Joey, Johnny, and Dee Dee. The Ramones lacked the raw blues feel that Iggy developed, staggering onstage in the late 1960s; they didn’t quite have the hard garage-rock edge that MC5 had, and they certainly didn’t take their wardrobe as seriously as David Johanssen or Sylvain Sylvain did around 1971.
So, how do you categorize a band whose sound is based sheerly on a handful of barre chords and incredibly rhyme-tastic lyrics? Lyrics so rhyme-based that, once, when seized with the desire to scrawl something, anything originally penned by Dee Dee in a manifesto-sort-of-way in one of my middle school journals, I literally could not find one line that didn’t at least kind of make me cringe when it was torn away from the raw power of the band’s music.
I don’t feel that way anymore. I am not longer immature enough to be completely turned off by rhymes, and as I have grown older I have found the poetry in their lyrics – words just as hard to categorize as the rest of The Ramones.
In order to understand the band, by default, you need to understand punk rock and what punk rock really means – that it is a lens more than a lifestyle, more than a code of dress or even a type of rock-n-roll music. That, in many ways, it has a lot more in common with the ideology that was the trademark of the counter culture of the 1960s than might be immediately obvious.
The Ramones were more than a band – they were a couple of kids from Queens who all adored rock n roll music. Enough to try and start a band, which is a pretty hefty amount of dedication in and of itself. And they wrote about things that few bands had wrote about before – and not because they were trying to impress anyone but the people kind enough to listen to them.
Songs laced with images from dopey monster movies and themes like boredom and frustration.
These were just as much statements about youth culture, about modern society and about punk rock as they were the band’s humble attempts at making a record that would actually bring in a good paycheck. And for that reason The Ramones are sincerely the most punk of all punk bands – because they never tried to be punk rock.
Joey notoriously idolized Pete Townshend and financially viable rock n roll – the reason that the foursome teamed up with Phil Spector for 1980’s End of the Century was thanks to Joey’s adoration of Spector’s early work.
There is something so very melancholy about the Ramones. Something about a band that desired commericial success in a way that later punk acts, like The Replacements, would never dream of. The Ramones did not want to be a punk band. They wanted to be The Who, The Beatles, they wanted to sell out stadiums and go on world tours with their music.
But the band only ever scored one gold record – 1988’s compilation album Ramones Mania.
The band disbanded in 1996 – after relentlessly touring for over two decades.
On April 15, 2001, Joey died after a long and complicated battle with lymphoma.
On June 5, 2002, Dee Dee overdosed at the age of 50.
On September 15, 2004, Johnny succumbed to prostate cancer.
All within eight years of the band’s disbandment, almost as though they needed the Ramones as much as their fans needed them.
Emily Votaw loves writing about music for us. That’s the only reason why we like her. j/k check her out