End Of The Century
directed by Michael Gramaglia and Jim Fields
starring The Ramones
About halfway through this excellent documentary on the Ramones, a horrible thought struck me. These guys are Spinal Tap, only for real. The Ramones crawled from a dying New York City, influenced by a glam rock scene dominated by Iggy Pop and the New York Dolls. Their short, in-your-face songs backed by a wall of noise and largely inaudible vocals set the stage for the entire London punk explosion, and breathed life back into the moribund rock industry. While they always had a loyal fan base, they never made the big time, like Blondie or The Clash.
Directors Gramaglia and Fields put a face on this band, which sported a unified look of black leather and bowl haircuts way past the time it was cool. Joey (Jeffery Hyman) was the shy one, a strong vocalist and the icon of the band. Johnny (John Cummings) kept the books, enforced the rules, and made the band as successful as it was financially. Tommy (Tom Erdelyi), the original drummer, often acted as the spokesman, and Dee Dee (Douglas Colvin) went from turning tricks for drugs to the principal songwriter. As time went by, Tommy retired to producing, and several drummers came along, but never fully integrated into the band’s internal structure.
Beset by problems with girlfriends, touring, and bad publicity, the band’s biggest source of money was often T-shirt sales. Drugs and alcohol, iffy press acceptance, and tour problems all added to their story. The only thing missing was the 18-inch Stonehenge. They hung on for 21 years and even hooked up with Phil Spector, but real fame eluded them. Perhaps it was for the best, for none of the true fans ever thought they sold out.
Fans of Punk Music and the Ramones must see this documentary, and anyone who really cares about how and where rock music comes from should tag along. Nothing in this world comes from nowhere — there’s always an influence lurking somewhere, and the Ramones started by following the glam sound but made a crucial turn somewhere, dropping the sexual ambiguity, pushing the speed of the songs over the top, and compressing the lyrics to NYC minimalism. Their story is funny and touching, and they made the world safe for us to crank the volume up past 11. It’s just that their mix board only went up to 10.
End of the Century: www.endofthecentury.com