Monday, September 24, 2012

BACKSTAGE BRIEFS (Pt II): THE RAMONES


This is Part II of a new week-long
series in which I will share various behind-the-scenes short stories from
my dubious rock and roll past. Some
of these tales will be excerpts from
my books or previous magazine
articles, while others will be never-
before-published accounts. Over
the years, many of my backstage-
type experiences have been crazy,
funny or unexpected. And some
even have been heartbreaking. But
I hope that you will find them all compelling. Today's installment chronicles my discovery oflove
for and ultimate personal
encounter with The Ramones.


___________________________________________________________
 
 
As a teen growing up in Florida during the late 1970s, I was obsessed with such platinum-selling corporate hard rockin' 8-Track acts of the day as Kiss, Van Halen, Aerosmith and Ted Nugent. However, my high school surfer buddy Dave Fife, rarely settled (long) for rock's status quo and he was always looking ahead to what was coming next. And he was an amazing scholar when it came to educating me about a “New Wave” movement  that was on the musical horizon. Frequently, Dave would come over to my house after school and bring (vinyl) records by what I perceived as odd and unknown bands – including, The Clash, Joe Jackson, The B-52s, and Gary Numan. One day in early 1980, Dave played an album for me by an underground group from New York. The band’s songs were fast, short, and sounded like buzz saws. The lyrics were minimal and often rather tongue-in-cheek. But the strangest thing of all was that there were NO guitar solos! The album was End of the Century, the group was The Ramones, and my life was changed forever.
 
Containing such classic tracks as "Rock and Roll High School," Do You Remember Rock and Roll Radio?," "Chinese Rock" and "I’m Affected," the End of the Century record grabbed my senses like aural cocaine. From that moment I sought to buy every Ramones record – even their hard-to-find import releases.
 
This was still a couple of years before the arrival of MTV, so when The Ramones starred in the full-length, feature motion picture, Rock and Roll High School, it was a big deal. Hence, Dave and I religiously attended the weekend midnight showings of the movie at our hometown theater/draft house in early 1980. With its quirky storyline, less than award-winning acting, and amazing soundtrack, the film has since gone on to become a cult classic.
 
July 29, 1981 was not only the day that Prince Charles wed Princess Diana, but it was also the day when I finally got to see The Ramones live in concert for the first time.
 

I had just graduated from high school a few weeks earlier and a couple of my pals, Scott Amendolare and Pat Maier, wanted to “paint the town” at least once more before heading off to college the following month. So we piled into Pat’s late '60s, black Ford Mustang and made the ninety-minute journey from our beachside hood to a nightclub called SPIT which was located just outside of Orlando. At the time, we had only ever been to a handful of arena and stadium concerts so we were completely surprised to discover an empty parking lot when we arrived at the club around 6:30pm. Had this been a typical “enormo-dome” concert, fans would have already been lined up around the building. We quickly learned that club shows were different from regular concert events. However, this little rock and roll faux pas worked to our advantage.
 
It was a hot summer day so we parked under a shade tree on the side of the club, pulled out a couple of lawn chairs from the trunk of Pat’s car and tried to make the best of what was to be a long wait before we could enter the club. Clearly naive regarding the rock concert scene, we actually didn’t pay much attention to the monstrous tour bus that just happened to be parked next to us.
 
Before long, we heard a commotion coming from inside the club's rear exit. The next thing we witnessed was the sight of bassist Dee Dee Ramone and drummer Marky Ramone carrying a visibly “impaired” lead singer Joey Ramone from the club to the tour bus. The band had apparently just finished their pre-show sound check and were headed back to their hotel for a little R&R before their performance. It truly mirrored a scene out of their movie. While Dee Dee and Marky struggled to load Joey’s limp, semiconscious body onto the bus, guitarist Johnny Ramone actually approached me and my two buddies.
 
“Hi, I’m Johnny. I play guitar,” he announced as he shook my hand.

Little did he know that such introductions were completely unnecessary. This guy was THE Johnny Ramone and I was one of his biggest fans. I knew darn well who he was.

But before further pleasantries could be exchanged, a guy with a briefcase who I now assume was the band’s road manager singled me out. He had spotted the Ramones T-shirt that I was wearing and with considerable gusto, he articulated his disapproval.

“That shirt is a bootleg! It’s no good!” he scowled as he poked me in the chest. “You need a real one.”

I informed him that I’d happily take a “real one” if he happened to be giving them away but he seemingly was more concerned with getting the band members on the bus than listening to my smart alec comments.

Although the evening’s opening act Holly and the Italians were lame at best, The Ramones were, to say the least, intense. They played loud, fast and delivered a blistering set packed with one amazing, break-neck, two-minute song after another. I witnessed the show from what the kids today call “the pit.” It had to have been well over one hundred degrees up front where I was. In fact, I actually had difficulty breathing during most of the band’s set and my body was literally lifted off the ground more than once by the ocean-like movement of the almost riotous crowd. But I didn’t care. I figured that if I was gonna die at eighteen, being crushed to death at a Ramones concert would be a pretty cool way to go!
 
Despite the departure of Dee Dee and Marky in subsequent years, The Ramones remained a respected and prominent force in rock and roll until officially disbanding in the late '90s. In 2001 Joey Ramone lost his battle with cancer. In 2002 Dee Dee Ramone died under somewhat questionable circumstances and in 2004 Johnny Ramone also fell victim to cancer.
 
They were one of the most influential bands in the history of rock and roll and their music continues to touch fans worldwide. I sure miss The Ramones. Gabba Gabba Hey!
 
-Christopher Long
 
 
Author Christopher Long's latest book,
is available NOW on Amazon.
 

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