Monday, March 28, 2016

Review: 'Ramones at 40'

So much about the Ramones Story was flat-out, bug-eyed, pinhead crazy. The inter-band animosity. The mental problems. The drugs. The violence. Dee Dee. However, I contend that the craziest thing about the band that broke through the wall of the punk era like the Kool-Aid guy busting through a wall was the fact that they never considered themselves successful. The thing is The Ramones didn’t want to be a punk band. They wanted to be The Bay City Rollers, with all the hits and record sales that group enjoyed. But what is The Bay City Rollers’ legacy? Sure, “Saturday Night” was a terrific pop song, but the Rollers did not pioneer one of pop’s key genres. They are not instantly recognizable by their faces, their clothing, or the symbols associated with them. The Bay City Rollers are not icons. The Ramones are.

Sadly, none of the four original Ramones are with us anymore. If they were, they might take a great deal of pleasure in knowing that their legacy is still mighty and enduring…so much so that there is a new coffee table book devoted to them. Ramones at 40 is basically what you’d expect from a book of this sort. It tells its subject’s essential biography in a mere 200 pages busting with a multitude of big, color photos that also require especially tight storytelling. Martin Popoff’s book does not replace previous Ramones bios, although the writer’s new interviews with the likes of band members Marky Ramone, the boastful Richie Ramone, and the particularly insightful CJ Ramone (who also handles the foreword), photographer Roberta Bayley, and producers Graham Gouldman and Andy Shernoff add some new colors and details to a story told enough times to dispel the misconception that The Ramones weren’t successful.

Popoff also supplements the main story, which deals with the band’s records more than anything personal, with side-road inserts on topics essential (CBGBs, Ramones house artist and beloved cohort Arturo Vega, Rock ‘n’ Roll High School), interestingly off-the-main-road (a Ramones museum in Berlin, Ramones schwag, the political clashes between Joey and Johnny…with a funny summation of the situation by Marky), and frankly, inessential (I’m not sure what a feature on what a bunch of musicians from metal bands think of The Ramones adds to the story). Certain topics barely get a mention. For example, Ramones roadie Monte Melnick, who also wrote one of the best books on the band, gets little more than a fleeting mention. Dee Dee’s infamously toxic relationship with Connie Gripp doesn’t even get that. But the complete story is not what we expect from a coffee table book. We expect the basic story briskly told, a shitload of great pictures, and a lot of commemorative reverence. The Ramones at 40 delivers all of that. I like to think Joey would have dug it.

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