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Becoming Johnny Ramone

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At age 14 or 15, in military-school uniform with his father.   

We were still evolving into the image we became known for, but it was trial and error at first. I’d give Tommy a lot of the credit for our look. He explained to me that Middle America wasn’t going to look good in glitter. Glitter is fine if you’re the perfect size for clothes like that. But if you’re even five pounds overweight, it looks ridiculous, so it wouldn’t be something everyone could relate to.

It was a slow process, over a period of six months or so, but we got the uniform defined. We figured out that it would be jeans, T-shirts, leather jackets, and the tennis shoes, Keds. We wanted every kid to be able to identify with our image.

Some bands blow it before they even play. The most important moment of any show is when a band walks out with the red amp lights glowing, the flashlight that shows each performer the way to his spot on the stage. It’s crucial not to blow it. It sets the tempo of the show; it affects everyone’s perception of the band.

Now all the mental notes I had been taking over the years came into play. No tuning up onstage. Synchronized walk to the front of the stage and back again. Joey standing up straight, glued to the mike stand—for the whole set. Keeping it really symmetrical. It was a requirement we adopted, a regimen that started immediately when we’d hit the stage, to make sure you immediately go into the song and not lose that excitement before you even start.

I’ve always thought you’re better off playing shorter. Ramones songs were basically structured the same as regular songs, but played fast, so they became short. When I saw the Beatles at Shea Stadium, they played a half-hour show. I figured that if the Beatles played a half-hour at Shea Stadium, the Ramones should only do about fifteen minutes. You get in your best material, and leave them wanting more. I don’t think anyone should play for more than an hour.

I mostly went to our shows alone. I’d go out to CBGB and I’d think, “I’m surrounded by a bunch of assholes.” People thought I was unfriendly, but I wasn’t. I just didn’t like the people I was around. I didn’t have anything in common with them. We were working; CBGB was where I worked. When I was a construction worker, I didn’t hang out with those guys after work either.

Rock and roll is an unhealthy lifestyle. You have too much freedom, and there is a lot of pressure to produce. People who don’t know how to handle the situation take drugs. I didn’t. I went back to my room with milk and cookies. The fans lined up outside the nearest 7-11 in any city we played, knowing that the Ramones van was going to head over there right after the show. I wanted to get back to my room and watch SportsCenter on ESPN.

When we started, I believed that if you were good in this business, you would succeed. But it doesn’t work that way.

We wanted to save rock and roll. I thought we were going to become the biggest band in the world. I thought the ­Ramones, the Sex Pistols, and the Clash were all going to become the major groups, like the Beatles and the Rolling Stones, and it would be a better world. It would be all punk rock, and it would be great.

There was a big hype about punk rock taking off, but it didn’t happen. In England, they promoted punk rock, and everybody had some hits. Promotion was what it took, and that never happened in the United States. We turned to Phil Spector as a last resort to get played on the radio.

Spector had been after us for a while: “Hey, you want to make a great album?” Right from the start, he was abusive to every­body around him except us. He was also painfully slow. This was not how I was used to working. I didn’t want to be living in a hotel for two months doing a record.

Spector would make us think we were going to change studios every day, so we never knew where we were going in advance. At the end of each session he’d say, “I’m not sure what studio I want to use, so call me tomorrow and I’ll let you know.” But we never moved. We’d be at the same place every day, Gold Star Studios. We’d call and he’d say, “Okay, we’ll be at Gold Star.” Yeah, that’s what we thought, since that’s where our equipment was set up, but for some reason he always wanted us to think we might move. He was crazy. He’d scream at the engineer. He never ate and never slept. We suspected he was doing cocaine. One day, our soundman came by, and Phil started in, “Who the fuck are you? Why are you here?”; the same thing over and over, for half an hour. We said, “Phil, this is our soundman.” But he wouldn’t stop. “Who do you think you are anyway? You’re nobody.” It was awful how badly he could treat people.


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