New Again: The Ramones
ABOVE: (LEFT TO RIGHT) DEE DEE, JOEY, TOM, AND JOHNNY. PHOTO BY SHIG IKEDA
In New Again, we highlight a piece from Interview’s past that resonates with the present.
The Ramones were punk pioneers. With their leather jackets, sunglass-wearing singer Joey, frantic two-minute songs, and simple lyrics they were the antithesis of everything that was popular in music at the time: the anti-Motown, funk, free-love, prog-rock, and blues-rock.
Formed in 1974 by four unrelated boys from Forest Hills, the Ramones never achieved the commercial success their legacy might lead one to believe—they only had one US “gold” album, and it was a compilation album released in 1988. They did, however, pave the way for popular punk acts from The Sex Pistols to The Clash to Nirvana.
Although the Ramones officially disbanded in 1996, the original quartet ended when Tommy Ramone left in 1978 (Marky Ramone replaced him as the drummer). By 2002, Tommy was the sole surviving founder. The band’s 22-year run was not particularly smooth; Johnny Ramone was an unapologetic conservative and Joey wrote anti-Reagan songs such as “Bonzo Goes to Bitburg.” Dee Dee struggled with a heroin addiction and bipolar disorder, Joey and Marky with alcoholism. In the 1980s, Johnny married Joey’s ex-girlfriend, Linda.
When Catherine Guinness, socialite and then-Interview copy editor, met Johnny, Tommy (whom Interview referred to as “Tom”), Dee Dee, and their manager Daniel Fields in July of 1976, she described them as “each more charming than the next.” She was being generous. In honor of the Metropolitan Museum’s upcoming Punk exhibition and ball, we’ve selected some of the best bits (or bits that are fit to print) from Guinness’ interview with the band.
CATHERINE GUINNESS: Tell me about Forest Hills.
TOM RAMONE: It’s a suburb of New York City and we all grew up there.
DEE DEE RAMONE: It’s nice because there is absolutely nothing to do at all. So you have to be really creative kids.
TOM: It’s the perfect place to grow up neurotic.
GUINNESS: Did you all grow up neurotic?
TOM: No we managed to escape that.
GUINNESS: Were you in gangs?
DEE DEE: You could say they were gangs.
JOHNNY RAMONE: Forest Hills doesn’t have real gangs.
TOM: They have punks.
GUINNESS: What did you do in Forest Hills?
DEE DEE: Stick out.
TOM: Well, I was a nice person, but they were terrible. My mother didn’t want me to hang out with them, it was horrible.
JOHNNY: We tried to rob stores—unsuccessfully.
GUINNESS: “Unsuccessfully” meaning you didn’t rob, or you got caught?
JOHNNY: I broke into the wrong store and half of us got caught.
TOM: We used to hang around together, listen to music, play stick ball, do nasty things. And the reason our group got together was that they stopped playing the music we liked on the radio.
GUINNESS: Like what?
TOM: Great songs—real rock and roll, loud, fast and fun. Basically that’s what we are—rock and roll musicians.
MEANING AND MEANNESS:
GUINNESS: Tell me about the lines of your songs—especially the one about 53rd Street.
TOM: Oh, it’s a very heavy message you know.
GUINNESS: About a hustler?
TOM: It doesn’t mean anything.
GUINNESS: Why did you write it?
TOM: Why did we write it? I dunno.
JOHNNY: Why did we write it?
DEE DEE: Out of meanness.
TOM: Yeah, out of meanness.
GUINNESS: Are all your songs mean?
DEE DEE: No.
JOHNNY: Yeah most of them are mean and some of them are just nasty.
GUINNESS: Do you want to have a nasty, mean image?
TOM: That’s just the way we are.
GUINNESS: What—nasty and mean? You don’t seem nasty and mean.
JOHNNY: I guess we have to try being nasty and mean because we’re so nice.
TOM: Yeah, we’re nice deep down.
GUINNESS: Why do you wear leather jackets?
DEE DEE: Well, we always wore those y’know. When we were kids it was just good to wear them. But now it seems to be kind of fashionable to wear them.
GUINNESS: Don’t they get rather hot on stage?
TOM: I think I’m going to start wearing plastic ones. Leather is getting rather dated.
JOHNNY: Plastic! I ain’t wearing no plastic one.
DEE DEE: Me neither.
GUINNESS: But you’re right, leather has become associated with S&M now.
TOM: What’s S&M?
GROUPIES ARE JUST:
Catherine: Are you all heterosexual?
DEE DEE: What’s that?
JOHNNY: Does that mean we like girls?
DEE DEE: We don’t want to say that.
TOM: Every now and then, it’s O.K.
JOHNNY: Whenever there is time.
GUINNESS: Do you have any groupies?
DEE DEE: Yeah.
GUINNESS: Are they very young?
DEE DEE: The bigger we get the younger they get.
GUINNESS: They just hang around hoping for you?
DEE DEE: They’re a bit of a problem. It’s not even a sexual thing. It’s keeping a person amused. They want something from you, I don’t know what it is. They come with their little offerings and it’s not sexual at all, because none of us are really into sex. They give you what you want, y’know. So we don’t come on heavy, because I guess we all have somebody…
TOM: Keep going, keep going, you can hang us!
DEE DEE: Well, I don’t know, I’m not up on stage just so that I can pick up some girl or something.
TOM: Is that what we’re talking about?
DEE DEE: It’s if we’re heterosexual.
TOM: Yes, we are heterosexual. Groupies are just very enthusiastic fans, that’s all.
GUINNESS: Do you care about politics at all?
DEE DEE: No.
TOM: We’re running Chowyramone for president.
GUINNESS: Chairman Mao?
TOM: No, Joey Ramone—he’s the singer.
JOHNNY: Did you see the Carter thing in Cream? They dared him to send the Ramones to Vietnam and he had little or nothing to say.
DEE DEE: Who is Carter anyway?
JOHNNY: I dunno, he’s a new guy. What happened to Humphrey?
DEE DEE: I don’t care, I believe in royalty.
JOHNNY: How’s Reagan doing?
TOM: Reagan’s doing pretty good.
DEE DEE: I think it would be nice to be a prince. I was reading about one and he has all these mistresses all over the world.
TOM: Basically, I think deep down inside we believe in an autocratic system.
JOHNNY: What’s that? How can you say that? I don’t even know what it means.
JUST SAY NO:
GUINNESS: Were you hairdressers or junkies before you became pop musicians?
TOM: There’s been rumors going round. I never confirm any of them. Some of us I heard were hairdressers and some of us were junkies.
DEE DEE: Everybody in America went through the drug culture thing, y’know. And every smart kid got out of it. It used to be a big deal to take drugs, now there’s nothing to do with drugs, you know what I’m talking about.
TOM: Take drugs, piss in bottles, hang out on roofs and throw the bottles down on people’s heads.
JOHNNY: I used to do that. But you see what drugs do to you.
DEE DEE: I used to be a hairdresser. They rescued me.
GUINNESS: Did you do bouffant hairdos?
TOM: Yes, Dee Dee was the number one avant-garde hairstylist.
JOHNNY: Where are you going?
DEE DEE: I’m going to get some beer.
JOHNNY: What do you mean—beer? We’re playing tonight.
TOM: You’ve got to have discipline. We never drink before a concert, you see.
DEE DEE: You can’t play this kind of music and be stoned.
CATHERINE GUINNESS’ INTERVIEW WITH THE RAMONES ORIGINALLY RAN IN THE JULY 1976 ISSUE OF INTERVIEW.