Since punk mystically wove itself into existence, the holy grail of its origins have been fought over like, well, the holy grail. Johnny Rotten and the Sex Pistols may claim to have snarled it into a fully realised state but detractors, like Marky Ramone, have said that they were merely Richard Hell with hair dye. And further still, others claim there would be no Richard Hell without the New York Dolls and no New York Dolls with Iggy Pop and so it goes.
What remains from punk, however, is a legacy that Patti Smith pinned down from the start. As she once explained to the proto-punk beat writer William S. Burroughs: “I think what it was, was a hunger that we didn’t know that a lot of us had. We all felt loneliness as a hunger for something to happen. As we thought we were lonely, a group like Television thinks they’re alone. The boys that later became the Sex Pistols thought they were alone. All of us people that should have been perpetuating, or helping to build on, the sixties, we were dormant. And we thought we were alone”.
It was this same hunger that Burroughs had felt when he became a progenitor of the beat revolution. The youth felt disenfranchised, and suddenly they were willing to forgo things in their own fashion. “Our credo was, ‘Wake up!’ I’ve said this before, but just to tell you, in case you haven’t read or anything: I wanted to be like Paul Revere,” Smith mused.
Like them or loathe them, there is no way you can argue that Rotten and Marky Ramone didn’t exhibit the credo of waking people up. With the Blank Generation album with Richard Hell and his work with the Ramones, Marky practically grabbed the lapels of the New York music scene and rattled it about like a Skoda driving over a cattle grid. The same can be said for Johnny Rotten in the UK, as the Sex Pistols woke up the youth to such an extent that many of their shows had to be played under secret monikers like A Mystery Band of International Repute.
There is no doubting, however, that the Ramones came first and the Rotten and co would’ve been inspired by them on the John Peel show whether they care to admit it or not, and apparently based on the clip below, Rotten most certainly does not care to admit it. And this animosity goes way back, as half Afghan Hound, half-human drainpipe, frontman Joey Ramone recalled on Conan: “When we first met [The Sex Pistols], it was our first tour over there [the UK] and yeah they wanted to come one like they wanted to start something.” Apparently, it would seem that the Ramones were able to diffuse the brattish behaviour of the Pistols and eventually they were seemingly able to shake hands.
However, the Ramones were not going to forget the incident in a hurry and they had a few tricks up their leather sleeves when they next returned. As Joey Ramone explained with a beaming smile: “We came back in ’77 and we did a tour and Johnny Rotten wanted to come backstage, and a little prank that we pulled on Johnny is that we all kind of pissed in the beer and then Johnny Ramone gave Johnny Rotten as our little way of saying hello, our little greeting,” he said, adding: “Although that British beer is pretty bad, he probably didn’t know the difference.”
British beer isn’t bad (you bloody heathens) but isn’t exactly a glowing indictment that Johnny Rotten didn’t seem to notice after all. No riot ensued or uproar broke out, just a few backstage winks and no doubt a bemused Rotten in the middle of it all. Whether or not he subsequently heard about this and thought it was about time that Marky Ramone got a lashing is anyone’s guess, but the pair certainly clashed on a punk rock panel in Los Angeles back in 2019.
Aside from slurs like, “this daft c*nt is into drugs,” and, “Look at you, you look like a heavy-metal fucking reject,” one element that certainly sweetens the near-fight is just how quickly Henry Rollins reaches for his phone to film it—and in landscape too! The bottom line, however, was that punk was all about bringing the fun back into music and no matter how juvenile this behaviour may seem from two rock geriatrics, it’s certainly a barrel of laughs to watch.