…a love letter to a group that helped to define a most beloved genre of music…
On July 11 the world said goodbye to the last original member of punk pioneer group, The Ramones. Tommy Erdelyi was the original drummer for The Ramones and with his passing, we can at least say that if there is a heaven, then the boys are back together again to do what they were known for: making sweet, sweet punk rock. This isn’t an obituary in the traditional sense. I didn’t personally know Tommy Ramone or any of the Brothers Ramone for that matter. This is more of a love letter to a group that helped to define a most beloved genre of music that, unless you were in the Know, was viewed as slacker rock by outside forces who were donning their platform boots with coke vials not too conspicuously concealed somewhere on their person while they disco danced their night away at 254 W 54th street. In a broader sense, this is a love letter to New York before the city became Disney-fied.
The Ramones played out the living horror of New York through their music.
The Ramones started three years before that other genre of white-collar/white powder processed music forced punk back to the underground, of which Tommy more so than any other member of The Ramones (Johnny being the exception) helped to make the Ramones what they are. The Ramones were a product of their surroundings. New York was dirty, grime/crime ridden, with whores galore, and beautiful in every way possible. In the 1970’s New York and its inhabitants were left to rot by the cronies running the state. Unemployment was at an all time high, New York was in a state of emergency of gargantuan proportions, and no one else in the country gave a fuck. The Ramones were born out of that. You can almost say that The Ramones played out the living horror of New York through their music. They were reporters on what was and they went out every night playing across the country and brought what was real to their fellow New Yorkers; but also, to Everywhere Else, USA; and in their 22 years together, they did it a total of 2,263 times.
Another punk bites the dust
Even after The Ramones called it quits back in 1996, there was never a shortage of people keeping their flame alive. They were/are the most imitated band in history, yet in their lifetime, they never received the recognition that was due to them. Sure, you can make the statement that they were eventually inducted into the Rock N’ Roll Hall of Fame, but give me a fucking break, right? That’s no real form of recognizing one for how they’ve enriched a musical culture. Where were these people when The Ramones were busting their assses playing show after show after show? It took the Ramones dying one by one before people finally came around to acknowledge their importance to music. That’s alright. Fuck the Johnny-Come-Lately’s. The Ramones figured it out pretty early on that their music wasn’t going to make the national waves that they craved so they instead kept it up for those that really mattered: the fans.
Tommy Ramone set a precedent in the band. His drumming was incomparable to what came before and when he decided to step down after The Ramones 1977 album, Rocket To Russia to focus his energies behind the music as the band’s producer, he left some pretty big shoes to fill. Tommy’s replacement, Marky Ramone drummed just a little faster than his predecessor. Hell, he had to. Tommy was a beast behind the skins. Marky had to bring it. The band’s live sets became a little shorter because Marky worked his ass off trying to out-Tommy Tommy.
I wasn’t inspired by any of it. It didn’t speak to me.
So there you have it. Another punk bites the dust as Tommy joins Joey, Dee Dee, and Johnny in the afterlife. When the Ramones were churning out their three-minute masterpieces, do you think that any one of them had the feeling that they were helping save rock n’ roll from the clutches of the absolute shite it had become? Before the Ramones came along, rock was fucking boooooring. Who was around worth mentioning before the Ramones released their debut album? Todd Rundgren? Ted Nugent? ELO? Are you kidding me? There was nothing honest or accessible to these artists music. It all just sounded like bloated bullshit. I might not have been around when these big stadium rockers were doing their thing, but I discovered their music and you know what? I never got the sense that I could do what ELO and Rundgren could do. I wasn’t inspired by any of it. It didn’t speak to me. Just listening to “Stranglehold” blaring through my speakers made feel intimidated. I could never do that. What was the point of any of it anyway? The Ramones broke down that barrier between themselves and their audience. This was the music for me. Let me take you back for a moment…
“Twenty-twenty-twenty four hours to go I wanna be sedated…”
It’s 1997 and I’m sitting in my junior math class bored out of my mind. My math teacher, Mr. Jeff Bossert comes up to me at the end of class and he hands me two albums. The first album had a yellow cover with a concert poster promoting a show with a spattering of albums by a band I had never heard of before. The album was Ramones Mania, the second album was The Clash‘s London Calling Now Mr. Bossert knew that I was getting pretty heavy into the punk rock game having discovered Bad Religion just two years prior. I won’t pretend to remember exactly what Mr. Bossert said to me before he lent me those albums, but I imagine it was something like “You profess to love punk, then you might like to know just where punk came from.” As soon as school let out, I stuck the Ramones CD right in my discman and upon pressing play, away I went! “Twenty-twenty-twenty four hours to go I wanna be sedated…” It’s now 2014 and I can honestly say that with the exception of one other teacher, I will forever remember Mr. Bossert for enrichening my life by introducing me to The Ramones. His math lessons surely didn’t stick, but in The Ramones are still very much a part of my existence.
In the week since Tommy Erdelyi’s passing there have been countless tribute pieces written in his memory and this is just another one amongst the myriad of others. The Ramones meant so much to so many people and his death is by far one of the most sad of all because it forces friends and fans of the band alike to face the fact that the final piece of what made up the original Ramones line-up has left this world. While typing out this final goodbye to Tommy, my headphones are blaring out Tommy’s last as the Ramones drummer, Rocket To Russia and I’ve caught myself several times not typing but finger drumming along with the album. It’s that driving beat, man!
Rest In Peace Joey, Dee Dee, Johnny, and Tommy! HEY! HO! LET’S GO!
Tommy, Joey, Dee Dee, and Johnny may be gone, and, although a poor substitute, we Ramones fans will always have the music. I bet if I took a poll right now of which we would rather have, the band’s classic albums or the band in the here and now, which we would all ultimately choose, but alas, that’s not how life goes, so we work with what we have. Days will pass and Tommy Erdelyi’s name will disappear from all the various blog posts out there and we’ll just go on about our lives. For punk fans, we’ll throw on the occasional Ramones disc until we hear that Marky, Elvis, CJ, or Richie Ramone have also met their demise and only then will be listening to the Ramones with such non-stop fervor like we’ve all been doing these last few days but it wont be the same as it was with Tommy, Joey, Dee, or Johnny. They perfected the formula that makes us move. It’ll never be the way it was ever again, but maybe that’s the point. No other band can lay claim to what the Ramones built and in that respect the four boys from Queens will never cease to exist. Every time a kid picks up a guitar, a bass, a mic, and whenever a pair of sticks meet the drum to produce hard driving, fast and ferocious music, The Ramones live once again. Rest In Peace Joey, Dee Dee, Johnny, and Tommy! HEY! HO! LET’S GO!