By Benjamin Leatherman
By Glenn BurnSilver
By Glenn BurnSilver
By Troy Farah
By Roger Calamaio
By Mark Deming
By Glenn BurnSilver
By Brian Palmer
1: Do You Remember Rock 'n' Roll Radio?
Buffy was 16 the first time she saw the Ramones. It was 1984, and she still remembers exactly what she was wearing--black tuxedo jacket, black bra, black jeans and red sneakers. She saw the band 16 times after that. Joey, the gangly lead singer, always wore dark glasses, but he let Buffy see his eyes once. They were brown. "Our secret," he told her.
The Ramones is one of those bands who burrow into your inner ear and sometimes make it to your heart. When the band formed in 1974, bland art rock--Styx, Journey, Kansas--ruled the charts and the airwaves. Unlike the glam queens of the arenas, the four kids from New York who made up the Ramones looked like they'd just walked out of a bad neighborhood and onto the stage. Most of their songs were less than two minutes long. How can anyone play that fast?, people wondered.
By the end of the decade, the Ramones had rearranged the face of pop music and inspired the punk movement. Songs like "I Wanna Be Sedated," "Teenage Lobotomy" and "Cretin Hop" caused a resurgence of the rebelliousness that has always kept rock alive. It's this simple: no Ramones, no Sex Pistols--and no Green Day.
Now, after two decades and 16 albums, they say they're retiring.
Like Buffy, I'll miss them. I already miss the smell of dry ice, beer in paper cups, shouting at the top of my lungs and all adolescent stupidity. Because when it comes right down to it, that's what rock 'n' roll's always been about.
Sure, all Ramones songs sound the same; they're all the same theme song. Hearing them through an amp stack is like being 6 and making a cape out of a towel and jumping up and down on the bed, thinking you can fly.
I'm not going to grieve about this, but I will be pissed if they say they're quitting and then go on and on, squandering our memories.
Joey fudged the question in recent interviews, leaving the door open a crack, summoning fears of permanent "lost our lease signs" and the Who's continuous farewell tour.
Don't you wish the Stones had quit after Some Girls? I do.
2: I Wanna Be Sedated
We need some closure here, and, thankfully, 46-year-old Johnny is more resolute. After all, it was his idea to call the band's new album Adios Amigos!.
"This will be our last album," the guitarist says by phone from New York. "We'll continue playing for this one, and touring until sometime next year, and we'll stop then.
"I really don't see anything that'll change," he continues, "whether [Adios] sold a lot or sold a little. We've done 21 years. When we reached 15 years, I was hoping to get to 20 years. I was hoping to reach our 2,000th show--and we did both of those.
"It's like if George Foreman says, 'I'm gonna quit today,' and retires, as opposed to going out and getting beaten in the next fight. Maybe he'll win that one, but he's gonna lose eventually. Rock 'n' roll is for young kids, and I think everyone should get out at a certain point."
Johnny Ramone (real name: John Cummings) and singer Joey Hyman are the band's two founding members. They adopted the name "Ramones" because they thought it sounded good ("like 'Eli Wallach,'" Joey explained), and with it the conceit that the band members were brothers of that name.
Johnny and Joey were living in Queens, New York, when they put the Ramones together. Johnny was working construction, and did the first gigs and recordings as a lark, figuring he'd be back to his day job shortly. Then the Ramones became the only real job he's ever had.
"I see bands go on and on for too long," he says. "I want fans to remember us at a certain level of performing and I don't want to become less than that. People stay in bands because everything's catered to them, everyone pats them on the back and tells them how great they are all day long. I feel like it's time to deal with the rest of your life already."
3: Let's Dance
Adios is bracketed by perfect Ramones sides, opening with a cover of Tom Waits' "I Don't Wanna Grow Up" and closing with an unlisted rendition of the "Spiderman" theme. They're a tossed-off pair of masterpieces. If Adios isn't the Ramones' swan song, it ought to be.
In between, the songs that don't work are the ones without Joey's distinctive vocals. There's something about his fey tang that makes even the silliest lyrics sublime and gives their nihilism a fast sheen. Ten years after the Ramones' 1976 debut, hard-core bands were stuck in the same patterns, but had lost the gleefulness and substituted an earnest reading of words that made less sense than, "Now I wanna sniff some glue."
But it's not just Joey that makes the Ramones' sound click. Listen to the In Their Own Words compilation, where he essays a solo acoustic version of "I Wanna Be Sedated" at, of all places, a songwriters' seminar. Without Johnny's buzz-saw guitar, the song's just limp and pretty. Left to his own devices, Joey thinks too much.