Saturday, July 12, 2014

RIP- Tommy Ramone-- Thank God For The Ramones… Or We Could Still Be Listening To Journey


Alan Grayson: "None of the Ramones started as a Ramone. But now we are all Ramones."

Yesterday Thomas Erdelyi-- Tommy Ramone-- passed away, age 62, after a struggle with bile duct cancer. He was the band's original manager but by the time they were ready to record their eponymous first album, he was also the drummer. He stayed with the band for their first 3 studio albums, Ramones, Leave Home and Rocket to Russia, as well as their first live album It's Alive and co-produced the latter three. (He also produced Road to Ruin and Too Tough to Die and the Replacements' classic Tim.) He wrote two of their earliest hits, "Blitzkreig Bop" and "I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend."

Tommy's family, Hungarian Jews, was nearly exterminated by the Nazis. He was born in Budapest but the family moved to NYC when he was a child-- another immigrant who made America a richer and more wonderful place because we, as a nation, ignored the haters and nativist right-wing bigots and welcomed him.

As someone pointed out on Twitter this morning, every original member of the Ramones is now dead and every member of the Jefferson Airplane is still alive. That especially struck me because both bands were very important to me. When I was in college I was the chairman of the Student Activities Board and one of the first bands I ever booked was a little-known West Coast group with a revolutionary new sound that was helping change popular culture profoundly, the Jefferson Airplane. They slept on the floor of my house and the only music that meant anything to me was the kind of psychedelic music they and their peers were playing. I booked them all: The Dead, Big Brother, The Doors, Jimi Hendrix, Country Joe and the Fish, The Youngbloods, The Byrds…

As that scene was burning out and morphing into corporate rock-- think of an idealistic progressive political vision perverted by personal greed by fifth rate scavengers helping to morph it into the kind of corporate politics of your Steny Hoyers, Debbie Wasserman Schultzes, Steve Israels, Joe Crowleys-- I left America and lived in India, Afghanistan, Nepal and Amsterdam for nearly 7 years. By the time I came back even the fascists had long hair, smoked dope and liked "rock'n'roll" (if that's what you call formularistic commercial garbage by Journey, Kiss, Kansas and REO). I was only listening to the Ali Brothers at the time.

One day, soon after I returned to the U.S., I ran into an old friend in the street, Danny Fields who I knew from our mutual friendship with Jim Morrison. He immediately insisted I come see a band he was working with. I told him I wasn't interested in bands and that I had outgrown it. He was persistent and schlepped me down to some hole in the wall on the Bowery. He had taken over management of the Ramones after Tommy started devoting himself strictly to the music. My life changed that night-- completely changed, not just my taste in music-- everything… every single thing short of my core being. The hole in the wall was CBGB's and the band was The Ramones. The music was the next step forward for popular culture: punk rock. And Danny introduced me to Seymour Stein, president of Sire, who signed The Ramones and, eventually, hired me to run his company.

Tommy wasn't just the business-minded Ramone, he was the Ramone who always seemed the most level-headed and most forthright. He spoke his mind without the supercilious niceties that pervaded the music business at the time-- always. I'll always be proud that he was a friend of mine and that, as general manager of Sire Records, I got to work on bringing his music to a wider audience. Experience an early live Ramones show (1977) in the video up top, filmed in London. 

Dee Dee, Tommy, Joey, Johnny-- thank you



At 10:29 AM, Anonymous Bil said...

Great post Howie. Alan Grayson on point as usual.


At 1:06 PM, Blogger Unknown said...


I think the label "corporate rock" slights the intentions of the musicians you're tarring with it.

Unless you know for a fact that groups such as Kansas, Journey, and REO were playing the music they played in the 1970s not to express themselves but in a calculated attempt to get and stay rich, you shouldn't state that they were. (Kiss, of course, was doing what it was doing to get and stay rich, but even that doesn't mean its music wasn't an expression of feelings besides cynicism on the part of the musicians who made it.)

I don't doubt that the people who ran the music industry when those groups were popular were not particularly likable, but my guess is that the music industry, or at least the big-money part of it, has always been run by people who aren't particularly likable, with exceptions here and there, such as you.

As for punk rock, I found it unpleasant to listen to, and, to the extent that it was a movement, it was one I disagreed with.

One reason was that many of the people who played and promoted it were happy to proclaim that they were saving rock and roll from the pretentiousness of such bands as Emerson, Lake and Palmer and Yes. Of course, proclaiming to save an entire art form is in and of itself pretentious, an irony that somehow escaped many of the people who were doing the proclaiming.

Additionally, I always found the zeal with which many critics praised punk for its simplicity while attacking progressive rock for its complexity to be another manifestation of the anti-intellectualism that has plagued the United States since the country's inception (and hasn't done the world any favors wherever it's popped up).

The claim that punk saved rock by bringing it back to its roots is very similar to the conservative movement's claim that it's saving America by bringing the country back to its roots. I don't think the latter is a claim that you agree with.

I'm not saying this because I was a big fan of Journey, Kansas, etc. I was and am not. And I did and do like such "New Wave" bands as Blondie, The Cars and Talking Heads, as well as such roots rockers as Dave Edmunds that emerged around the time of punk.

I also don't mean to diminish the life of Tommy Ramone or the pain that his friends, such as you, and family are feeling at his death.

But despite my admiration for Alan Grayson and for what you do at DownWithTyranny!, I am not, and never will be a Ramone.

My feelings about punk and its ascension were aptly described by British keyboard player Dave Stewart in the notes to "National Health Complete," a two-CD, 1990 compilation of the three albums made by National Health, a Canterbury-style progressive rock band he co-founded with the late keyboard player Alan Gowen in 1975.

"1975 was a difficult year to be a thinking rock musician — the halcyon years of 'progressive' rock, when musicians were actually encouraged to be creative and original, were over and the music industry had gone into a horrid kind of 2 year gestation period which was to end with the birth of 'punk.' In other words, at the exact point when the British rock business and media were beginning to turn their backs on decent music and gearing themselves up to promote instead some of the most crass, simplistic, brutal, ugly and stupid music imaginable, in an atmosphere where an admitted inability to play one's instrument was hailed as a sign of genius, my friend/fellow keyboardist Alan Gowen and I decided to form a large scale rock ensemble playing intricate, mainly instrumental music. You can be sure we weren't doing it to be fashionable."

At 5:20 PM, Anonymous Anado McLauchlin said...

You are wrong about the Airplane members all being alive...Spencer Dryden the original drummer for the Airplane has been dead for awhile now...his replacement Joey Covington has also passed away....

At 5:40 PM, Blogger Cirze said...

Great essay, Alan.

Are you single yet?


I'll never forget when teaching a class of juniors and seniors at a local university a decade ago I mentioned that I was a Ramones fan . . . and a few of them hit the roof.

Not me. I just couldn't be. As I endeavored to explain myself and my love of those who questioned everything mundane to kids who were born at the Ramones' apex and now lived among the most pampered and sequestered from reality, I wish I had had Alan along (at least as a guest lecturer) to elucidate:

As that scene was burning out and morphing into corporate rock - think of an idealistic progressive political vision perverted by personal greed by fifth rate scavengers helping to morph it into the kind of corporate politics of your Steny Hoyers, Debbie Wasserman Schultzes, Steve Israels, Joe Crowleys . . . He spoke his mind without the supercilious niceties that pervaded the music business at the time - always.

And . . . I hate to interject but Joey Covington just passed away (Spencer Dryden too previously I believe). I loved his energy, his angelic voice - and his groups.

It's tough to see my icons die so young, but it was a hard-living scene and those of us who made it this far think of the others with some reverence.

They changed our world.


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