Advertisement
  1. Archive

Ramone: loud, fast, beloved

I don't wanna be a Beatle

I don't wanna be a Stone

I just wanna be a Ramone

_ I Just Wanna Be a Ramone, Car Bomb Driver

Shea Moxon is a lawyer who lives with his wife, Kathy, and their 8-year-old son, Raven, in St. Petersburg. Moxon, 35, has short, dark hair and looks like an ordinary guy in his jeans and T-shirt, walking around the Emerald, the downtown St. Petersburg bar where local bands perform.

The Harvard-educated professional isn't the chattiest guy at the bar. But strap a guitar around his shoulder and Moxon manages to say plenty, thanks to his hero, Johnny Ramone.

Ramone died Sept. 15 after a five-year battle with prostate cancer. His passing got only a brief mention in the mainstream media and was deemed noteworthy mostly because he was the third original member of the legendary punk-rock quartet to die in three years.

Johnny Ramone was 55.

To Moxon, guitar player for punk band Car Bomb Driver, however, and to legions of music lovers worldwide, his death marked the end of an era.

The first of the Ramones to go was the band's beloved leader, Joey Ramone, who succumbed to lymphatic cancer in 2001. Joey was just 49.

The next year, the year the band was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, bassist Dee Dee Ramone died of a drug overdose. He also was 49.

Moxon knew even when he was a teenager that punk wasn't like the rest of rock 'n' roll. Punk rock had no stars.

"(Punk)'s not about worshiping idols," Moxon said from the Tampa law firm where he works. "It was always okay to take potshots at punk rockers.

"But when Joey died, I realized how important he was," Moxon said. "I realized how important his personality was. That's when it really hit me, "Gosh, now it's really over. It's never going to be the same again.' "

+ + +

The Ramones, along with the Detroit garage rock bands Iggy and the Stooges and the MC5, are credited with inventing punk. The Ramones, who referred to themselves as bruddas, formed in 1974 in Queens.

The mop-topped misfits donned leather jackets and shaggy haircuts from Day 1, adopting the same fictitious surname and playing revved up rock 'n' roll.

Once accused of playing songs that were too short, Johnny Ramone, not known for being a big talker, famously quipped, "They're not too short, we just play 'em real fast." Indeed, most Ramones songs clock in at under 2{ minutes.

They're love songs, many of them, or songs about high school, dances, girls. Sure, Joey gives the lyrics his special comical twist _ hence, Teenage Lobotomy and I Wanna Be Sedated and Sheena Is a Punk Rocker _ but the formula is tried-and-true early 1960s pop.

Sentimentality? Tons of it. The notoriously shy Joey let his feelings pour out on sappy numbers such as I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend. The band covered the 1960s pop chestnuts Needles And Pins and Do You Wanna Dance? without a shred of irony.

The Ramones were, William McKeen says, "Rock 'n' roll babies." McKeen, editor of Rock and Roll Is Here to Stay: An Anthology, says the Ramones have had such a lasting impact because of the glee in the band's music.

McKeen teaches a rock history class at the University of Florida. He describes playing early rock and roots records for students and noticing, during a segment about legendary 1960s producer Phil Spector, that they perk up when he sneaks on the Ramones' End of the Century (1980).

"There is a minimalist joy in the Ramones music," McKeen says by phone from his office on the UF campus. "I'm not sure I hear that in a lot of music today. You just feel good listening to it. That record still sounds fresh and spirited. And fun!"

McKeen also thinks fans could relate to the band.

"Everybody knew somebody like Joey Ramone," McKeen says. "He was just a voracious music freak, going around with records saying, "You gotta listen to this!' He was a perfect music dork. And he wanted to share that with everyone he knew."

Unlike rock stars from the generation before them, McKeen says, punk musicians such as the Ramones never sold out.

"It's like the Dylan Thomas quote, "Do not go gentle into that good night . . . rage, rage, rage against the dying of the light,' " McKeen says.

"The Ramones remained consistent in their cause. Unlike, say, the Rolling Stones and Rod Stewart, who's like a caricature of a rock star. You never saw them (the Ramones) rallying against and then becoming part of the ruling class. You never saw that with this (punk) generation."

Could it be that the lack of elitism in punk has made the Ramone deaths difficult for fans to accept? Perhaps followers of the Ramones feel a stronger intimacy with Joey, Johnny and Dee Dee because the band never professed to be "more popular than Jesus Christ," as John Lennon did in 1966. (Though poor Lennon's comment was taken out of context).

McKeen says maybe.

"With John Lennon's death, you had all the candles and flowers and vigils," McKeen says. "And, it was all so strange and sad and tragic. And, yeah, some a___ killed him.

"But, with the Ramones, they really were just so human, such lovers of rock 'n' roll, just like their fans. And to die of cancer? It was like, geez, they're dead? That's it?' "

+ + +

Evan Harrison is the vice president and general manager of AOL Music and the AOL Radio Network. AOL recently launched a 24-hour online station that plays nothing but Ramones (available at AOL Keyword: Radio and RadioNetscape). The company has several other stations dedicated to artists, but Harrison, 34, is particularly excited about this one because he's a diehard Ramones freak.

"The Ramones are an institution," says Harrison by phone from New York. He attended more than 50 concerts before the band called it quits in 1996.

"For me, it was all about the live shows," Harrison says. "The energy was so intense. The floor would move. If you fell down, though, people would help you and pick you up. There was no tough-guy mentality. The sense of community was a big part of it."

Harrison says he realized after all those years of live shows that the Ramones' appeal spanned the ages. "The Ramones fans from the first wave, the 1970s, would bring their kids."

Harrison also mentions bands, including Green Day and Pearl Jam, who cite the Ramones as an influence. (Pearl Jam lead singer Eddie Vedder and his wife, Jill, were reportedly at Johnny Ramone's bedside when he died.)

Bruce Springsteen was so taken with an early Ramones gig in Asbury Park in the 1970s, the story goes, that he wrote the song Hungry Heart for the band. Springsteen's manager encouraged him to record the song himself, and it earned him a hit.

The Ramones, for all the band's influence, never once scored a top 40 hit.

+ + +

Johnny Ramone's spirit lives on in the playing of Shea Moxon and countless other punk guitarists.

All punks owe a debt to Johnny, Moxon says.

"Johnny is an influence on anything that has been recorded since the Ramones began," Moxon says. "He is to punk rock what (Black Sabbath's Tony Iommi is to heavy metal. He defines punk-rock guitar. The style had been developing before the Ramones came along, but Johnny's the one who pulled it all together.

What is it about the Ramones' music he likes so much?

Moxon stumbles on some words. "It's a perfect balance of pop. . . . It's danceable. . . . I don't know. . . . It mixes 1960s pop with edge and danger. I'm not really finding the words, I'm sorry."

(Again, he's not the chattiest guy.)

What does he do musically that Johnny did?

"Just that nonstop barrage of eighth notes," he says.

Moxon also plays the same model guitar Johnny played, a 1960s Mosrite. He even had his guitar signed by Johnny.

Moxon met the late Ramone and the rest of the band in 1989 at an Atlanta meet-and-greet while Moxon was doing his undergraduate work at Emory University.

"He didn't talk much," Moxon says, and pauses. "None of them ever did."

Another pause.

"But," Moxon says, "you know, that's okay."

RAMONES DVD: Be on the lookout next week for Raw ($19.99, Image Entertainment), a DVD visual scrapbook of the band's history. It features five hours of material, including live performances, footage of television interviews with Howard Stern and others, and scenes from drummer Marky Ramone's Super 8 films on tour. Celebrity guests include Robby Krieger (The Doors), Pearl Jam's Eddie Vedder, Carly Simon (!), Bono, Debbie Harry even Al Lewis, the guy who played Grandpa on The Munsters.

RAMONES BABY CLOTHES: Show your family's punk-rock colors and order baby's first Ramones one-piece for just $22 from www.babywit.com.

Gina Vivinetto can be reached at (727) 893-8565 or ginasptimes.com.

YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE

Advertisement
Advertisement