Jim Fields and Michael Gramaglia's "End of the Century: The Story of the Ramones"
November 9, 2011 2:01 PM   Subscribe

The most vivid figure in Michael Gramaglia and Jim Fields's End of the Century was the least articulate and most archetypal of the Ramones: Johnny, the right-wing prole whose hard-ass sense of style the others nutballed and softened and accelerated and above all imitated. ... Exciting and absolutely right though their '70s sets always were, the film establishes that they kept the faith live till the end, lifted by Joey's goofy dedication and powered by the chords Johnny thrashed out like they were why he was alive. As unyielding in his aesthetic principles as he was in everything else, this reactionary was an avant-gardist in spite of himself. - Robert Christgau
posted by Trurl (17 comments total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
Not only did Johnny not even mention Joey at the band's Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction, he didn't even speak to Joey while the latter was dying. So he felt bad afterward? Fuck you, Johnny. You should have been the one to die first.
posted by Halloween Jack at 3:09 PM on November 9, 2011

Yeah, Johnny doesn't come off so well. Nobody does, really, except Joey. But he was always the punk rock martyr for our rock and roll sins. Great, great doc.
posted by waraw at 3:12 PM on November 9, 2011

I have long worshipped at the altar of the Ramones. They're a great example of what's magical about rock music -- so much more than the sum of their parts, they made ephemeral music that will last forever, stupid music for smart people, heartfelt music that sneered at itself. The central irony of the Ramones, I think, is that they really did think they were writing radio-friendly pop songs. They really were trying to write a hit. And when the #1 song never materialized, they got angrier and angrier and the songs got faster and faster and before they knew what was happening they had sparked a musical revolution that they had very little in common with. Listen to the Ramones live in 1978. They're a loud, speedy rock band. Now listen to them live in 1993. They're practically a hardcore band, all spit and fury and hammering chords played as fast as Johnny could play downstrokes. Did he feel trapped? Frustrated? Marginalized? Probably. But surprised, too. They became iconic, maybe uncomfortably so. There's no doubt Johnny was a Class A asshole. There's also no doubt that without Johnny the Ramones would never have been anything but a blip on the screen.

Their story is ultimately tragic, as are all good myths (because all good myths are true to true believers). But here at the ass end of 2011 I can still listen to Rocket To Russia and feel washed in the blood and purified. I can still hear the opening chords of Blitzkrieg Bop (song one, side one, album one. Back when music had sides.) and it makes me smile and puts a spring in my step. I guess that's enough.

Gabba gabba hey.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 3:50 PM on November 9, 2011 [18 favorites]

Gabba gabba hey, indeed.

I still count myself lucky I got in on their last tour, despite the time it took the bruises to heal afterwards. I just had the vibe it was a one time opportunity. And it was.

And they will be missed.

By at least some of us.
posted by Samizdata at 4:07 PM on November 9, 2011 [1 favorite]

Did he feel trapped? Frustrated? Marginalized? Probably.

For me, the saddest scene in this documentary with no shortage of sad scenes is the one where Johnny describes painfully reconciling himself to the knowledge that if the band hadn't become huge - always his goal - after as big a promotional push as Rock 'N' Roll High School, it was never going to be.
posted by Trurl at 4:08 PM on November 9, 2011

There's no doubt Johnny was a Class A asshole. There's also no doubt that without Johnny the Ramones would never have been anything but a blip on the screen.

Sing it, brother.

When Joey and Dee Dee died, I felt really bad personally. For some reason, when Johnny died, I felt bad culturally. To put it in those terms comes off as more intellectual than I experienced it at the time; all I know is that I always knew what a prick Johnny was, and yet when the news came on the radio -- I was in the car driving to UCLA for a night class I was taking at the time to learn German -- I pulled the car over on Olympic Blvd. in the middle of rush hour, and I put my head down on the steering wheel and I wept like a fucking baby.
posted by scody at 4:12 PM on November 9, 2011 [9 favorites]

I can still hear the opening chords of Blitzkrieg Bop (song one, side one, album one. Back when music had sides.) and it makes me smile and puts a spring in my step.

I remember reading somewhere that in their first two albums, the songs are in the order they wrote them.
posted by roll truck roll at 4:48 PM on November 9, 2011

Thanks for posting this. Just lost a bunch of time watching it straight through (deadlines? whoosh). I saw them at "that dusty/shitty little club in Providence" and they surpassed all expectations, I think I'd been expecting them to be a cover band version of themselves but they performed with conviction and intensity and as though it was their last show ever. A friend of mine was close to Joey Ramone for many years (and shared some songwriting credits with him on his solo work) so I am aware of how well-loved he was by many so many people in his life, but this documentary was great at exploring how all of the band members were complex people and even gave me some grudging respect for Johnny despite his being sort of a hateful control freak.
posted by stagewhisper at 5:13 PM on November 9, 2011

What sticks out in my mind most about Johnny was his right hand. After playing fast-as-possible power chords for decades, it had turned into a friggin' claw, and seemed locked into that position in a way I've never seen another guitar player before or since. Impressive.
posted by stinkycheese at 5:16 PM on November 9, 2011 [1 favorite]

Also: Every band needs what I've always heard called a 'pope' - it's a little hard to define, not the same as a manager exactly, but it refers to someone who pushes the band forward, keeps its fire lit, keeps it moving forward (as well as taking care of all the little things that no one else wants to take care of). Being the pope in a band can suck: you tend to get blamed for all the mistakes, but you don't reap much reward when things go right.

I very much get the sense that Johnny was the Ramones' pope, and that the responsibility made him angry and resentful, which is understandable (especially in the rather unique case of the Ramones) - but, of course, without him you'd have had a rather disorganized, rag tag bunch of guys who probably never would have had a tenth of the success they did.
posted by stinkycheese at 5:23 PM on November 9, 2011 [3 favorites]

If Joey and Dee Dee were the heart and soul of the band, Johnny would have to be the brains. And Tommy is the last original member standing
posted by Renoroc at 5:24 PM on November 9, 2011

Oh, End of the Century is online. Excellent, excellent.

I confess, I tried to avoid letting any knowledge about who The Ramones were offstage from entering into my brain because I didn't want anything to spoil the music. Well, information got in and it did spoil it a little, but not as much as I feared.

Still, "My Brain Is Hanging Upside Down" will always be "Bonzo Goes To Bitburg" as far as I'm concerned.
posted by Joey Michaels at 6:36 PM on November 9, 2011 [1 favorite]

This is good, thanks for posting.
If you like Joey, ya gotta watch this clip from the Geraldo show.
The episode features heavy metal rock stars and their moms. At about the 2:20 mark, you will find the bit with Joey Ramone and his mom Charlotte Lesher.
She loves her son and is very proud of him.
She is a great mom.
I love this clip.
posted by dougzilla at 6:51 PM on November 9, 2011 [1 favorite]

A classical music reviewer, in praising Karajan's first Beethoven symphony cycle from 1963, spoke of the Berlin Philharmonic as "playing like gods".

The phrase came to mind as I was listening to It's Alive just now. What an incredible performance.
posted by Trurl at 7:00 PM on November 9, 2011

Their debut album remains the single most important thing I've ever bought in my life. It created a spark in me that's never gone out. This band really did change my life.
posted by davebush at 9:07 PM on November 9, 2011 [2 favorites]

Thank you for posting this.
posted by qinn at 2:13 AM on November 10, 2011

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