I am sitting backstage before the evening’s Cribs show (Liverpool, July 11), hanging out, drinking, listening to records, talking nonsense. The usual backstage routine. As it is our first UK show of 2014, I am catching up with our sound guy who I haven’t seen since last year sometime. He has recently had a baby daughter and tells me that there is only one band she will listen to. The Ramones. I tell him I think that’s fucking rad. The next morning, I am having breakfast at the hotel when I see on the news that Tommy Ramone, the last remaining member of the original line-up, has died.
Growing up, I first discovered punk rock in the early 90s in the form of grunge and Nirvana. I soon progressed to old-skool British punk and The Sex Pistols and Buzzcocks. It was around this time that I kept hearing this name – The Ramones. So many of my favourite bands referenced them as big influences, but I had never heard any of their music. It seems so old-timey to say this, but back in those days there was no YouTube or iTunes – you couldn’t just go and quickly look someone up at the click of a button. So me and Ryan made a pact – we would save all of our £1-a-day dinner money until we had accumulated enough to buy our first Ramones record and gain access into what seemed like this exclusive club of acolytes (it seemed that everyone that had ever heard them was in love with them). After some brief reconnaissance at the local HMV, we determined to buy ‘It’s Alive’, as it had so many songs on it, and was therefore the best value for money at £16. Unfortunately this meant a week and a half at school with no dinner.
We were immediately in love and never before, or since, have I been so instantly sucked in by a band. It may have something to do with the effort and sacrifice put into obtaining the record, but I suspect it has way more to do with the purity and immediacy of the songs. The fact that it was a live record just made it all the better; no gloss or trickery to distract from the sheer energy and relentless power coming out of the speakers.
The Ramones were like The Beatles to us, not just because it was four guys who played high energy pop songs and wore leather jackets, but because every member of the band was just as important as the others. And everyone had a favourite. Johnny was a big influence on Ryan’s guitar playing (not to mention personal style), teaching us that playing all downstrokes sounds WAY better than doing it the ‘normal’ way. Tommy had his trademark “1-2-3-4!” catchphrase which was a huge part of nearly all Ramones songs, and Joey…well everyone loved Joey.
But Dee Dee became my hero. Bass players were always the coolest members of punk bands, a far cry from the traditional image of the quiet guy at the back that no-one takes any notice of. Dee Dee was the heart of the group without being the frontman. When I applied for music college years later, they asked me who my favourite bass player was as part of the entrance exam. “Dee Dee,” I replied, (while most of my peers were saying Flea, or sucking up and saying Jaco Pastorius). “Well, that’s not really something to aspire to now, is it?” came the reply. And so began two years of relentless conflict. See, in my opinion, they absolutely WERE something to aspire to. The simplicity of The Ramones was a big part of the appeal. The music didn’t need to be elaborate, it was a vehicle for the melodies, the songs, and the sentiments. Anything too fiddly in the backing track would distract from the important stuff, a fact many traditional musicians forget. The Ramones played for the song not the individual. They were the ultimate band as a gang and that simple ideal is what made them so influential to so many kids who didn’t wanna study music, they just wanted to do it, and have a good time with their friends.
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I remember my first interview with NME back in 2004. I spent some of this precious time ranting about the mass proliferation of Ramones T-shirts in TopShop. I was really angry that the band that I had held so dear throughout my teens was being commodified in that most shallow and transient of ways. I got some flak for my comments at the time if I remember correctly. Now, after having become used to seeing their crest adorning the unknowing chests of many, it no longer bothers me. It has become as iconic as the classic black leather jackets, drainpipe jeans, and Converse trainers that made up their unofficial uniform. It is a part of pop culture now, just a cool-looking logo to some, but an emblem of rebellion, unity, and – most of all – spirit, to the enlightened.