The rise of punk rock was rarely covered by the American mainstream media during its meteoric rise at the tail end of the 1970s. In Britain, bands like the Sex Pistols and The Clash were making headlines for their anarchic lyrics and antiauthoritarian attitudes, but in America, punk was seen as a scourge that would dissipate almost as quickly as it grew.
When it was covered, punk was mainly held in contempt and discussed in a negative fashion. Most of the nicest portrayals were of morbid curiosity, focusing on the purposefully unglamorous fashions and aggressive style of performance. Most reports were downright scornful, wondering how this loud, fast, unmelodious type of “music” could possibly be seeing a rise in popularity. Little did those media figures know that punk rock was like a cockroach: resistant to any and all attempts to kill it, perhaps it even thrived.
When the Minneapolis PBS station KTCA decided to cover The Ramones upon their arrival at the State Theatre during their tour in support of Rocket to Russia in 1978, they were one of the few with a relatively positive tone. Describing the quartet as “four wholesome American kids”, the report unknowingly caught the band during perhaps the most tumultuous era of their initial incarnation.
The band had just returned from a concert tour in England where they were headliners in theatres and massive clubs. Upon returning to America, the band struggled to find venues of comparable size that would hold them, a trend that would continue for the band throughout their existence. The personal relationships were also strained: Johnny and Joey had always had a combative relationship, while Dee Dee continued to struggle with drug addiction. Tommy would depart not long after the interview, citing the tensions and burnout from touring as his primary reasons for leaving the group.
The interview is a perfect encapsulation of the personalities of each member: Johnny is the authoritarian trying to give diplomatic answers, while Dee Dee is glib and pointed. Tommy attempts to walk the middle ground between the two, while Joey rarely says a word. Interestingly, all the members are in agreement that politics doesn’t belong in punk rock, despite politics being a major sticking point in the fission between Joey and Johnny’s relationship.
The footage also shows Johnny and Dee Dee practising ‘Loudmouth’ backstage interspersed with footage of the band playing ‘California Sun’ on stage. Whether the editing crew knew that these were two different songs or not is up for debate, but the live footage shown proves that The Ramones were one of the most exciting and potent acts of the time. The KTCA report unwittingly captured the classic lineup of the band right before they would combust, acting as a sort of time capsule of the final days of The Ramones original lineup.