In 1974, the Ramones reinvented the musical wheel with some weird new medium called punk. As the old man once said, “Now, punk, that’s a name that no one would self-apply where I come from, but then there was a lot about punk that didn’t make a whole lot of sense to me.” Although the foundations had been laid in place long before them, it was with the Ramones the crooked tower of punk rock began to break the ground. Long before (or at least long before in punk terms) The Sex Pistols and the British punk explosion ever came to be.
The timeless appeal of the Ramones was best summed up by one such British punk, the poet, John Cooper Clarke, who wrote in the Ramones fanzine, Sniffin’ Glue, the following pithy piece of punk proclaiming prose: “I love Bob Dylan but I hold him responsible for two bad ideas: a) the extended running time of the popular song and b) the lyric sheet,” he began.
Adding: “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.”
Whilst asocial is not necessarily the same thing as violent, that didn’t stop it from being an unfortunate side effect. Joey Ramone might have vouched, “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,” but that didn’t stop The Sex Pistols from wanting a scrap when the New Yorkers first arrived on UK soil.
As the Afghan Hound frontman 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 Ramone 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. Pranks were part of the fabric of punk as youth’s seized a clutch of culture from themselves, and in the process, the world was changed.
As Patti Smith said, this carefree attitude created the space needed for “freedom to create, freedom to be successful, freedom to not be successful, freedom to be who you are.”