|Wouldn’t you just know the drummer would survive ‘em all? They were still a very loose club band when I first saw the Ramones in 1976 and original beat master Tommy was certainly the guy that kept the world’s first punk rockers from falling apart on stage. Joey may have been their voice and Dee Dee their resident crazy artiste, but it was Johnny’s image of seething rage that seemed to define the band at that early stage. Legs spread impossibly wide in an unmoving stance of defiance, bargain basement Mosrite slung lower than one would think it could be played, the scowling Ramone seemed to be challenging one and all to dare question his band’s validity in an era when Disco and super-indulgent, slick pop ruled the clubs, arenas and airwaves.
When the Ramones officially came to an end some twenty years later, Johnny (who claimed he never picked up a guitar on his own - either to practice or for the simple joy of playing) sold his instruments, devoting his time to his hobbies of collecting baseball and film memorabilia. Once in a NEON interview, Joey told us that Johnny was the one who had sparked his own interest in collecting vintage posters – both as an investment and just because they were really cool. But the two feuded famously throughout most of the Ramones time as a band.
By many accounts Johnny wasn’t the world’s most thoughtful guy. And he was probably one of the instigators of the band’s inner struggles. His publicized political beliefs didn’t help his image either. I dunno, can't say, I never really knew the guy. In the late 70s early 80s both he and Joey lived in nearby apartments just down the block from me in the East Village and I often saw Johnny’s sullen visage in passing as we each went about our business on the street. But unlike Joey (who was a supporter of both my own and many other endeavors by NYC artists), Johnny always seemed unapproachable. Never more than a nod of acknowledgement passed between us. After he was brutally beaten up on East 9th Street resulting from an affair gone wrong (the lurid details received wide coverage in this city’s tabloids at the time) he moved out of my neighborhood. Regardless of what he was or wasn’t as a person, he remains an icon of the punk guitarist. How many budding rockers – from punk to metal - have based their playing and look on the prototype of Johnny Ramone? You just gotta listen or take a look around. The guy certainly left his mark.