Friday, June 24, 2005

End of the Century: The Story of the Ramones

Originally uploaded by Man_Overboard.
(Dir Michael Gramaglia and Jim Fields)

I'm a little confused. When I saw 24 Hour Party People, the claim was made that it was going to a Joy Division gig that created the inspiration to form the Sex Pistols. Now, exactly the same claim is made for a Ramones gig, when the Ramones grew tired of the miserable attendances at their US gigs and went for the sold out shows that the UK (and Brazil (!)) delivered. According to the movie, they never really hit the big time in the States, although there was much mention of the huge impact they had on bands which did make it big. Lack of popular appeal was attributed to being the precursor of a big movement; the pioneers always pave the way but don't get the gold

Anyway, this was a surprisingly funny and tender movie, tracing the life and demise of one of the world's greatest punk bands. Apparently, the Ramones started simply as a result of Johnny, Joey and DeeDee being the only three people in their area who liked the Stooges (or maybe it was MC5?); that was enough to make them gravitate towards each other and get something going.

Of course, there were the obligatory accounts of intra-band tensions - Johnny stole Joey's girlfriend (and married her - this led to a 17 year spat between them and the song The KKK took my Baby Away); Johnny was right wing, Joey was left wing; Johnny was a control freak, DeeDee and Tony needed their space; DeeDee wanted to be in a band where everyone got wasted on drugs, no-one else did.

This last one surprised me - that the Ramones were on the whole clean living; their commitment to getting the Ramones right meant that they couldn't fuck around with drugs and alcohol. Not much, anyway. Another suprise was seeing Johnny bless President Bush (genuinely) as he collected the musical Hall of Fame tribute. DeeDee, of course, simply thanked himself for being great!

The more I heard about the differences between the band members, the more impressed I became that the Ramones stuck together for such a long time, mainly as the result of a sense of professionalism. I mean - imagine being the leader, in effect, and a guitar player of a band where you have to play
The KKK took my Baby Away, knowing that your lead singer is accusing you of being the KKK!

I wasn't really keeping tabs on the funny comments being made, but I think the funniest thing of the whole movie was seeing shots of DeeDee as a rapper: he later confessed that he was never any good at it, didn't have the moves or the voice; although for a while, he did have the bling. I did like the roadie's comment: that he knew the band had made it big when not just the band but its roadies and management had groupies lined up as well. And I guess there was an element of black humour in hearing about Phil Spector holding the Ramones hostage, at gun point no less, so that they would stay while he made them play a single note 70 times, meanwhile pacing around the room for 12 hours!

Of course, being the Ramones, there had to be lots of music and footage of their shows although, as one camera person said, once thy started doing big shows, it became hard to film. You can understand why really: poor technology meaning the camera had to be up close, where you have hundreds of fans going mental! Even some of the film they did show had degraded so badly that there were just a few blurry images.

Apart from the music, there were quite a few short extracts of interviews with various band members that brought them alive: Johnny seemed to be persistently sour (he saw it as a sign of internal "weakness" that he felt sorry when Joey died), DeeDee was pretty easy going and funny, in a fucked up sort of way - someone descibed him as an eternal hyperactive six year old. All dead now, sadly. Joey being the first to go meant we didn't see all that much of him, but the film did give a pretty good account of his original shyness (the lead singer of the Ramones was shy!! Who'd have thought it.) and growing confidence as the band started to work.

I think the one thing I would have liked was for the music to have been louder - either the cinema needed to turn the wick up a bit or the movie should have been produced with a really in your face sound. Apart from that, it was a great opportunity to see a band which has been a part of my life for so long. I wonder if they will ever do the same for Patti Smith.


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