END OF THE CENTURY: THE STORY OF THE RAMONES (2004)
Starring Johnny Ramone, Joey Ramone, Dee Dee Ramone, Tommy Ramone, Marky Ramone, C.J. Ramone, Richie Ramone, Danny Fields, Lars Fredericksen, Kirk Hammett, Debbie Harry, Chris Stein, Legs McNeil, Rick Rubin, Joe Strummer, Clem Burke, Ritchie Adler, Ed Stasium, Thurston Moore, Rob Zombie, John Frusciante and Eddie Vedder.
Directed by Michael Gramaglia and Jim Fields.
Distributed by Magnolia Pictures/Rhino Home Video. 108 minutes. Not Rated.
With arguably the three most important members of the band dying in the past few years (Joey in 2001 of cancer, Dee Dee in 2002 of a heroin overdose and Johnny in 2004, also of cancer) it is probably long overdue to look at the historical importance of the Ramones.
After all, for a band that never had a hit record or made much money, they were extraordinarily influential. In fact, not to put too fine a point on it, the Ramones invented punk rock. Sure, there were bands that led up to it; Iggy & the Stooges, the MC5, the New York Dolls, The Standells and others may have showed the way, but it was the Ramones who blew open the door.
The bands that came in their wake, the Clash (whose late lead singer Joe Strummer is interviewed extensively here) and the Sex Pistols may have tweaked the fashions and the attitude. However, their sound is pure Ramones.
The Ramones were a bunch of funny-looking losers (none of them related and none actually named Ramone) who couldn’t really play that well. But, they knew three chords and they played them hard and fast (almost none of their songs clocked in at as much as three minutes long); creating oddly raw, tough pop songs about drugs, Nazis, pinheads and murder. Their lyrics were purposely a little dumb, however, as the old saying goes, it takes a pretty smart band to look so stupid.
End of the Century takes you on a guided tour of the highs and the lows of the band. The most interesting stuff looks at the early days of the band’s influence, the legendary shows at CBGBs, the first London tour, the early almost-hits (“Blitzkrieg Bop,” “Sheena Was A Punk Rocker” and “I Wanna Be Sedated.”)
By the late 70s, they were already drifting a bit, with the B-movie Rock ‘N’ Roll High School and the “sell-out” album with Phil Spector (during the recording of which, in a famous rock and roll anecdote that turned out to be prophetic, the tiny producer pulled a gun on the band). As more releases got ignored by the world at large, the band became somewhat frustrated and tense. Johnny and Joey reached an eternal impasse when Johnny stole Joey’s girlfriend. They worked together for fourteen years afterwards, but the rift was never completely healed.
Through the years, members came and went, but the three members stayed pat. The beginning of the end was when Dee Dee decided to leave the band to make a hip-hop album (under the name Dee Dee King). They tried soldiering on, but it was time to see the writing on the wall.
By the end of their career, the Ramones were as big as the Beatles around the world, but playing tiny clubs like the Stone Pony in Asbury Park, NJ in their homeland. Then-huge bands like Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Green Day and others were singing their praises, but the guys couldn’t give away their albums. Finally, after a wild and crazy touring career, the band fizzled out. Their last album, ¡Adios Amigos! was their best in years, but it did not sell well, so the band took an easy paycheck to perform in the 1996 Lollapalooza tour and then just broke up.
The story of the band is fascinating. It has all the music biz touchstones, sex, drugs, rock, puking, in-fighting and shitty vans. However, what makes the band most fascinating is the difference in the personalities that created this potent mix.
Obviously, because the film was made after his death, lead singer Joey Ramone is the member that we get the least chance to get a handle on. Even the archival footage is a bit inscrutable; with his shy, awkward speaking tone, his inevitable dark glasses and his bangs almost always covering most of his face, you almost never know what is going on in there.
Dee Dee did some extensive interviews for the film (his overdose came two months after the talks) and is very open about his talents and his vices. Dee Dee comes off as a likable and just slightly goofy junkie; a man whose demons are so immense, but who seems so good-natured, that he is hard to find objectionable.
Johnny’s death came after the film came out, so, obviously, his passing is not mentioned. He did a lot of interviews and tells his story in great detail, and you quickly learn listening to him talking that he is sort of an odd combination of den leader and pariah for the band. He was everything the rest of the band wasn’t; adult, completely sober, controlling, rather unlikable, a very savvy businessman, a harsh task master, unemotional and a registered Republican.
Johnny put the band ahead of everything else in the world and would not allow any other band member not to do the same. Honestly, he comes off as a bit of an asshole. However, it is this very quality that probably was able to keep this volatile group together for so many years. (8/04)
Jay S. Jacobs
Copyright ©2005 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved. Posted: March 20, 2005.