Friday, September 11, 2015
THE RAMONES, 1985
As much as I will always consider the Ramones one of my greatest influences, and the band that changed my life, my emotions about 'em will, quite honestly, always be mixed. The tale of my stormy relationship with them shall now explain why in detail:
It all began in March of '77 when I bought a little single called "I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend" at Harmony Hut Records at the Willowbrook Mall in Wayne, NJ. The flip side had two live songs, the second of which was "I Don't Wanna Walk Around With You." That was the one that did it. It was simple, insane, catchy and silly. I immediately asked for their first album for Easter. I showed it to my grandmother and she was puzzled. "PUNK ROCK? What the hell is THAT?" she asked, quite loudly. A year later she'd go on to ask me, "What was that song you played that went 'daddy's telling lies, baby's eating flies?' I like that one, it's cute." Why, it's "We're A Happy Family," grandma!
In December '78 I attended a special school assembly at which the featured attraction was a local comedian and TV show host named Uncle Floyd. I was so blown away by his performance that morning at my school that I started watching "The Uncle Floyd Show" that very evening and did so every weekday for the next two years. The Ramones made three appearances on his show in early '79 and I saw every one, and still have the old cassette tape I made of them in fact. Now if only Floyd weren't so frigging uptight (why?) about his fans posting old episodes of his show online.
In the late '70s there was this record fair called the Rock & Roll Flea Market which took place periodically at the Diplomat Hotel in midtown Manhattan. My mother took me there twice. The first time out of curiosity and the second time because word had gotten out that the Ramones were going to play live at it. But the planning wasn't very good, and of course a huge mob turned out. I waited on a line that didn't move for almost three hours, got in but got turned away from the show itself, and didn't get to see a thing. I also almost got knocked down by an enraged fan as he brawled with security trying to force him out. We left just as the cops arrived. Mom claimed she saw Joey make his way in while I was trying to get in. I sure didn't.
As insane as that day was, though, it pales in comparison with the grim night of June 15, 1985, the night I did get in to see the Ramones... with even greater complications this time. There were these local girls I wanted to take out who wanted to see them. The show was at a heavy metal club called L'Amour's, in Brooklyn. I was initially reluctant because I'd never driven to Brooklyn in my life. But they had a friend who knew the way there... or so they claimed. We picked him up along Route 4. That should have been the big red flag right there, but I let him in anyway, and after he insisted we take him to score some drugs first, he got us lost in Brooklyn for an hour before we finally found the show. Then we almost didn't get in because the girls were under 21. Fortunately the doorman was suggestible and eventually caved in, and then we almost got thrown out for lighting up a joint in celebration. I have to give L'amour's credit here. They were nice guys.
At 2 AM the Ramones finally made their grand entrance in a haze of dry ice to the strains of a Morricone soundtrack. Joey, Johnny, and Dee Dee (and CJ on drums) were all there, alive and well. They were just phenomenal. Loud, savage, blistering, giving a new hardcore edge to their classic songs and totally nailing its energy. Suddenly the world around me disappeared and for one single glorious nonstop hour, nothing remained of the night but me and them. Dee Dee's turn upfront on a snarling "Warthog" was a personal highlight. I was on cloud nine, forgetting everything I went through to get there, caring only that I was there and boy, was it worth it. This was the promised land I'd taken so long to finally get to.
Then the music stopped, the lights went up and the ride was over. I crash-landed back on earth to find it was three AM and there was a monsoon outside that we now had to find our way home from Brooklyn in somehow. It took us two whole hours. The dirtbag who "directed" us there, and who almost wrecked my car when I foolishly let him drive for me for five minutes, then got pissed off because I wouldn't drive an extra half hour to take him home. I dumped him on the side of the road. A week later one of the girls I'd taken to the show ripped me a new one for doing so. So much for that. But at least I saw the Ramones, right?
Two years later, in '87, at a Butthole Surfers show at the Cat Club, I spotted Joey Ramone at the bar. I got up the nerve and said "Hey, Joey!" The bastard didn't even acknowledge me. I may as well have been invisible. Perhaps I was. And a few years after that, I was eating Mexican food at San Loco on the Lower East Side and who did I notice a few tables away from me but Dee Dee. He looked horrible, walking with a cane and seeming more than a bit strung out. It was hard to believe this was the same guy I'd seen doing that killer version of "Warthog" just five or so years before. I didn't even bother trying to say hello that time. By then it was definitely all but over for them. We all know what happened later...
Yes, my relationship with the Ramones was a rocky road indeed. But it was real. And with all of them gone too soon, I guess I can appreciate what I went through to see 'em on a more humorous level now. But it sure didn't seem funny at the time.