The Ramones were a freak force of nature that came along at just the right time to sustain the brilliance of the 1970s and spin it off in a snarling direction like a shot to the arm. Their Promethean appeal was perhaps best summed up by the eponymous punk poet himself, John Cooper Clarke, who wrote in the Ramones fanzine, Sniffin’ Glue, the following pithy piece of punk proclaiming prose: “In late 1975, I read an article on the Ramones, a four-man gang from Queens. Much was made of their snotty asocial stage manner and the speed and brevity of their songs. […] I bought the LP. The Ramones were and are an enthusiasm of mine. They understood that it was better to have clever lyrics about moronic subjects than the other way round.”
There’s was an attitude that defined punk. As Joey Ramone said himself, “For me, punk is about real feelings. It’s not about, ‘Yeah, I am a punk and I’m angry. ‘ That’s a lot of crap. It’s about loving the things that really matter: passion, heart and soul.” And he later guided the way to the path for others, “Hang in there. If you believe what you’re doing is unique. Otherwise give up or sound like Nirvana.”
The fact that they defined punk, however, makes it all the more remarkable that it actually managed to sustain their manic tailspin for so long. After Joey first took up the microphone when Dee Dee’s voice gave out it didn’t take long for them to become the weird dads of the youthful genre.
This rise amid the plashy depths of punk might have spawned influence, but it did not yield commercial success initially. Their now-iconic debut LP only shifted around 5,000 copies in its first year, but since then it’s made one hell of an impact and turned the Ramones into legends.
Their journey, however, was not without its bumps in the road and in the case of Ramones, the bumps were often the sort that would ruin the most stable of vehicles suspension. Addiction, excesses and in-fighting took a toll on the band both mentally and physically, thus by the time 1996 came around it was time to call it a day.
For years the band had an association with the radio presenter Howard Stern, not least because Joey continually accused him of stealing his look. Thus, when Joey and Marky Ramone appeared on the show in February 1996, they decided to take the opportunity to announce their retirement.
“I don’t want to break up,” Marky began, “But John and Joey do.” Part of the reason this was due to Johnny’s conservative political views and the fact that he stole Joey’s girlfriend, which spawned the Joey penned song ‘The KKK Took My Baby Away’.
When Joey later enters the studio having missed the opening part of the conversation because he was “taking a leak”, he was typically playfully evasive, downplaying the motives of the retirement and his mild frustration at having “started punk” but never really seen the munificent rewards or radio plays.
When asked what he’ll do with the rest of his life and whether he has the financial means to retire, he joked: “I’m okay, I’m comfortable, I’ve got a good couch.” And the closest he gets to delineating a sincere reason for the retirement is when he mutters, “It’s kind of a personal satisfaction.”
In the end, it proves that Ramones were the ultimate quintessence of punk, in that even in seemingly poignant moments formalities were met with punk ends and fun and thrills paved over the cracks that they harboured. As Joey said himself, “Everybody is screwed up in their own special way.” The band were true to that mantra to the very end it would seem.