Johnny Ramone died today. That name might not mean anything to the majority of you. That’s OK.
Johnny Ramone was the guitarist for the Ramones, a punk rock band that got started in the ’70s. His bandmates Joey Ramone and Dee Dee Ramone have already passed, all way before their time.My only public Ramones experience was in 1996 or so. I was at Royals Stadium, and the Royals were playing another miserable game under the watch of manager Bob Boone. I don’t remember what the score was and I don’t remember who they were playing. All I remember was the other team brought in a left-hander and Bob Boone pinch-hit for Johnny Damon, and at that point, I was done.
And then the sound of the Ramones came on the PA system: the famous opening to Blitzkreig Bop. "’Ey! Oh! Let’s go! Ey! Oh! Let’s go!"
I responded by singing out another Ramones song, much to the dismay of those sitting around me:
"Bah bah bah bah, bah bah bha bah bah, I wanna be sedated!"
The Ramones recorded simple music. Their songs were really short, really fast, and for their time, really loud. And they never took themselves seriously.
They printed a story in the sleeve of their first retrospective compilation. I guess most would call it a greatest hits collection, except the Ramones didn’t really have any hits. The story was about their first gig. Joey, Tommy, Dee Dee, and Johnny Ramone walked into a bar, tall, lanky, long hair, wearing t-shirts and leather jackets. The bar owner didn’t know if they were a band or four thugs looking to steal sound equipment. They got up and played a few numbers, all of them really fast, really loud, none over two minutes. And at the end, the bar owner didn’t know if they were a band or four thugs looking to steal sound equipment.
I’m sure the pair of alternative stations in St. Louis in the late ’80s and early ’90s, far on the left side of the dial, played plenty of Ramones. The problem was you couldn’t hear either 89.7 or 89.5 FM if you were more than about two blocks from their dinky little towers. The first station with any kind of power that would play the Ramones was 105.7, which started playing alternative music in 1993. Back in the days before it turned into all Bush, all the time (which was just before it turned into all Korn, all the time), they mixed in some Ramones along with Nirvana and Matthew Sweet and Sugar and The Pretenders and the Gin Blossoms and the dozens of other bands the Ramones had influenced. But it was too little, too late. In 1996 they released an album titled "Adios, Amigos!" And they meant it. No more tours, no more new records, no nothing. And they vanished. I think I heard about Joey Ramone doing a few cameos on sitcoms or something. But the only time I heard the Ramones on radio again was on a retro station right after the DJ announced one of them had died. Which was fairly often, now that I think about it.
But now there’s no retro station in St. Louis to play the Ramones as a tribute to Johnny. And the record industry doesn’t have the patience these days for bands like the Ramones. The Ramones were like the Velvet Underground, in that they were the kind of band that would sell a few thousand records, but everyone who bought one of those records would go start a band.
I read today that Slash learned to play guitar by listening to Johnny Ramone. Slash! Of Guns ‘n’ Roses!
Ten years ago, they’d have let the Ramones record the first album. Some executive would have liked it. It wouldn’t have sold any better, and they’d have let them record a second album, but only because that first album showed some promise. When the sales figures for the second one came in, they’d tell them to hit the road.
Today, if that first Ramones record didn’t sell a million copies, there wouldn’t be a second Ramones record.
I don’t know that we’ll see another Johnny Ramone again. The world’s changed too much since his day. For the worse.