Like many people, my first step into the punk rock world began with the Ramones. And like most musical endeavors, it started with a crush. In my 8th grade Catholic school, I spied my secret crush out of uniform, wearing a Ramones t-shirt. This sparked my hunt for information on this mysterious band. Could I work a song name or album title into conversion? Not that I actually planned to talk to him (I was way too shy at that point to TALK TO A BOY). But maybe he could hear me Gabba Gabba Hey-ing from the other side of the basketball court?
So I went to the tiny music store in Stonestown- what passed for a mall in those days. I think the store was called Portals to Music. In the “R” section there was no Ramones music to be had, but they did have the soundtrack to Rock N Roll High School which had some Ramones tracks. Luckily for me the movie also started with an R. I might never have found the record if they called it High School Sucks.
When I got it home I listened to the live tracks again and again. Not hooked yet, but definitely intrigued. Why did my crush like this band, and what the hey was the Gabba Gabba Hey all about? I’m not sure why I didn’t go to Tower Records on Columbus. That’s where my dad bought me my first record (Bobby Russel’s album Saturday Morning Confusion…I was 6 years old, so don’t judge. Russel also wrote The Nights the Light Went Out In Georgia, so my taste wasn’t that horrible…really).
Bobby Russel for only .49 cents! Damn, my dad paid full price for my copy.
Eventually I made it to Tower and quickly filled in the back catalog.
(For some fun with Tower Records, check out Shoshannah’s post:
I went to a small school; everyone knew everyone and everything about everyone. There were two female bullies in the class that made me, and just about everyone else, pretty miserable. They would spend a lot of time calling the boys and tell them mean, made up things about their current torture target. One day they told me that they called the boy I had a crush on, and pretended to be me. They said he fell for it and had invited “me” to the upcoming Ramones concert. They were so excited that they had scored the invitation, that they forgot to be mean to me! They said he had bought the tickets, and his dad was going to drive us to the concert in Oakland . My first instinct, of course, was that they were lying. But they were SO excited, and SO insistent that I be ready for him to pick me up, that it actually seemed possible.
Now I was in a real bind. If I called him, and he didn’t know what I was talking about, I would die 1000 deaths, and the bullies would have scored a major victory. But if he showed up on my doorstep with Ramones tickets, and I hadn’t asked my folks for permission in advance (totally necessary in my household) and therefore couldn’t go… THEN I WOULD MISS THE RAMONES!!!! So after literally hours of agonizing, I broke down and called him. He didn’t seem to notice the difference between me and the mean girls.
We went to the concert as planned at the Oakland Auditorium Arena. (I hope the mean girls went on to start a dating service because I gotta admit they were good at this.) We watched the Rock and Roll High School movie; then we saw the Members, the Shirts, SVT and then finally the Ramones. Like many emerging musicians, I wanted to be up there on the stage- either playing in the Ramones or playing in a band opening for the Ramones. We had a blast, I thought. We went on one other date that summer and then…he joined a band. The last thing he talked to me about was his plan to spray paint his band’s name all over town. We never talked again.
Flyer from the gig, Oct. 27, 1979
A year or so later, I walked into a record store and saw a huge cardboard cutout of the Ramones Rocket to Russia, just like the one Riff Randal had in the movie. I asked the clerk if it was for sale. He hemmed and hawed and then said yes, he’d sell if for $60, which is the exact amount I had in my pocket (guy must have been cash psychic). That was actually a lot of money in those days, considering that I made $3.35 an hour working at Wendy’s fast food restaurant ( an inflation calculator says $60 in 1980 equals $192 today). I wavered. A random customer digging in the jazz bins yelled an unsolicited opinion, “Just buy it- you’ll totally regret it if you don’t”. I complied.
As I was lugging the large cardboard piece down the street, the same random guy pulled over in his car and offered to give me a ride. I think he was legitimately concerned that I’d damage it (totally jazz thing to think), but having had it pounded in my head not to accept rides from strangers from a tender age, I declined. I managed to get it home unscathed. My parents freaked when I said I’d spent my whole paycheck on it, but random-ride-offering-advice-proffering jazz guy was right. It held a place of honor in my bedroom. My parents hated it. My guitar teacher would talk to it, asking Joey his opinion of my weak playing.
It survived a few moves with me but when it was starting to get thrashed, Jeanie rescued it. She hung it high on one of the walls at the Buchanan St. house where it stayed out of the way of grubby fingers and aggressive cats for a few years while I toured the country. And she brought it back to me. Thanks Jeanie! I still have the Ramones in my bedroom to this day.
The Ramones hang out on top of my dresser today.
Around this same time, the Ramones did an autograph session for End of the Century at Tower Records. I got there early, but there was already a line. When the Ramones walked from their car to the tables I hopped out of line and asked my friend to take a pic of me with Johnny in the background. I was too shy to ask to take a pic with him, but he noticed and stopped while she captured my teen awkwardness for all of eternity.
Me with Johnny Ramone. Yikes, I’m 14 years old, and what’s what that awful wanna-be-Farrah hairdo???!!
I didn’t learn till much later that he was a right wing Republican. But he really appreciated his fans, and was loyal to them. The Ramones signed autographs for everyone who was there.
Johnny and Dee Dee signing autographs at Tower Records.
My autographed cover from that day. You can barely see Joey’s autograph anymore.
My former 8th grade crush was there that day too, he got there even earlier than me. He may have seen me, but we didn’t speak. I was too freaked from the “ghosting” to approach him. Had we been a few year older, we probably could have been friends. Too bad random-ride-offering jazz guy wasn’t there to give advice. I snuck my camera in to the concert that night to complete the day’s photojournalism.
Joey in 1980, at pretty much the start and end of my photography career.
At the end of my freshman year I met a guy at a PiL concert with who I’d go out with for next two years. He introduced me to some more “alternative” music like Gang Of Four and Jad Fair. He had seen the Ramones play on the steps of City Hall the previous year and taken some great photos. (why didn’t I ask him for copies?????)
Ramones play the steps of San Francisco City Hall June 8th, 1979, just before I’d heard of them. This pic was not taken by my high school boyfriend. I stole it from the internet. Please don’t sue me.
I was very sad that I had missed that show, and also missed the time that he loved the Ramones. Because by that time, he had moved onto more out-there stuff, like Suicide, the Residents and Chrome. Chrome happened to be playing the same night as the Ramones in 1981, so we made a deal. We went to see the Ramones play at the Warfield, for me, and after saw Chrome at the On Broadway, for him. The date was August 21st, 1981. I secretly like the Ramones better than Chrome, not surprising for a 15 year old girl. You could walk out of the theater humming The KKK Took My Baby Away. But try humming any Chrome song. Or naming one. I tempered my enthusiasm at the Ramones gig, and tired appear sophisticated at the Chrome gig. In hindsight, I doubt I fooled anyone.
I didn’t give myself permission to really enjoy the Ramones again until probably the late 80s, early 90’s. Gary Indiana told me we were on the guest list at their Warfield show. I think I poo-poohed it, and he flipped it right back at me. IT’S THE RAMONES, AND YOU SHOW SOME RESPECT FOR YOUR PUNK ROCK ELDERS, GIRL. So I did. I thought I would be bored, but the joy of the Ramones came back after just a song or two. I didn’t know all of the songs which surprised me, as if they would stop putting records out after I stopped buying them. They hadn’t frozen in time. I think we saw them with drummer Ritchie. And then we went again and saw them with bassist CJ, when they were playing really fast. They seemed to play the Warfiled every year, so if you missed a show, it was ok, they would be back the next year. And then they announced the Adios Amigos tour and I didn’t go. And then they did Lollapalooza, which I didn’t go to either. I didn’t want to go to a big show, and I didn’t want to be nostalgic..and I didn’t want to see the band. I wanted to be in the band…or at least the opening band.
Gary and I yuck it up in the photo booth (where?) Note my Ramones style leather jacket.
I remember the day Joey died. It was April 15th, 2001. I found out at work; I didn’t know he was sick. It was the strangest feeling, visceral, like a kick in the stomach, but also psychically traumatic, like losing all info on your hard drive. Really, it was like a little piece of me had died, and we could never go back to those innocent-Ramones-concert-times.
I went to New York for work shortly after he died, my last time in NYC before the world changed on 9/11. I went to small club in Manhattan where his friends were doing a tribute- playing Ramones songs, each with a different singer. Handsome Dick Manitoba, Micky Leigh (Joey’s brother), Jane Wayne County- they all sang. Tommy Ramone was the only Ramone there. I went to use the bathroom, and there was a line for two tiny stalls and they didn’t have doors! You kinda had to pee in front of everyone..yikes!! I realized Tommy was ahead of me in line. I tapped him on the shoulder and said “YOU SHOULDN’T BE STANDING IN LINE!” He looked at me and asked, “Why'”? I said BECAUSE YOU’RE TOMMY RAMONE!!!! YOU DESERVE YOUR OWN BATHROOM!!! He just shrugged and said, “This is New York.” Luckily guys turn around when they pee. The waiting girls stood in front of the girls in the stalls, for a modicum of privacy. Needless to say, I didn’t drink much at that show.
Tommy Ramone, consummate New Yorker. RIP Tommy.
I had a resurgence of Ramonesmania around this time, sparked by Joey’s death, and because I got a double CD of the Ramones greatest hits, from one of those CD clubs. It spanned their whole career, so suddenly I was hearing songs like Poison Heart and I Don’t Want To Live This Life, all new to me. I was playing in Hellfire Choir. Shelley was far into her first pregnancy, and month before her due date, we get an offer to open for Dee Dee Ramone. Shelley knew that we were all fans- me, guitarist Michelle, and drummer Eric. She said she would do the show, as long as she wasn’t in labor that day.
Three days before the show, Dee Dee overdosed in his home in Los Angeles (June 5th, 2002.) I was heartbroken on all accounts. Shelley breathed a sigh of relief that she wouldn’t have to play sidesaddle, but the promoter turned the show into a tribute to Dee Dee, and replaced his band with a Ramones cover band. The promoter begged Shelley to do the show, so we found ourselves onstage at our last gig before her daughter Samantha was born. After we finished the set Shelley announced into the mic “Okay everybody, I’m in labor. I want you all to go out into the parking lot now and watch me have my baby.”
The show that didn’t happen as Dee Dee died three days before. RIP Dee Dee.
Then Johnny died on September 15th, 2004. That was tough too, again it felt like the past was slipping away, and there was no control over it. A guy I was dating at the time bought me a signed Ramones book on Ebay to try to cheer me up. At that point I figured opening up for the Ramones or a Ramone was off the books. But never say never right?
The gift to cheer me up. RIP Johnny Ramone. And RIP Joey too.
I finally got my chance in 2013. I was playing with the Meat Sluts and our drummer Scarlett scored an opening slot for Marky Ramones’ Blitzkrieg on Saturday Oct 12th at the Independent. While not exactly the Ramones, singer Andrew W.K. and Marky served up a riotus performance of something like 30 Ramones songs. I didn’t get to talk to Marky at the show, but our guitar player Beth got to say hello and show him her Ramones tatoos. He probably napped through our set, but Hey!! Ho!!! we rocked, and got to pogo like mad teenagers through his set that evening.
The poster the tour’s opening band Figo was selling to make some money for gas.
Two years later Beth and I went to see Marky at his book reading/signing at the Jewish Community Center. We got to say hello while he signed autographs, and “remind” him that we were his opening act at the Independent. I’m sure half of the people he meets have opened for him at some point, but he was gracious and said it was a good night.
I still love the Ramones. Beth, Christa and I covered “I Wanna Be Well” for Three Stoned Women’s last Rotfest gig, with David Nudleman taking the part of Joey. Playing it was second nature- we’d make a great Ramones cover band…but I don’t think the world needs another Ramones cover band.
38 years ago I walked into a tiny music store that set me on the journey that continues to this day. How lucky am I? I got to see the Ramones play, get my first kiss at one of their concerts, meet a few of them, and open for Marky’s band. And as Joey says:
I used to be on an endless run.
Believe in miracles ’cause I’m one.
I have been blessed with the power to survive.
After all these years I’m still alive.
Marky Ramone, author, drummer extraordinaire, and inventor of the Smartphone Swatter.
GABBA GABBA HEY!!!