30 Years Ago: the Ramones at the Commodore, Johnny on the phone
Whether you remember or not, May of 1983 was a great month for historic rock concerts in Vancouver.
On May 9 Roxy Music played the Pacific Coliseum, performing tunes from its final studio album, Avalon. Then on the 25th a little band from Ireland named U2 played the Queen E., blasting out political diatribes like "Sunday Bloody Sunday" and "New Year's Day" from its new album War. Lucky locals still talk about that gig in revered tones.
I missed those shows for one reason or another, but the one I did make it to that month was the Ramones at the Commodore, which went down 30 years ago tomorrow (May 6). The band was touring behind its new album, Subterranean Jungle, which included the video-single "Psycho Therapy".
What I remember most about the show was beanpole of a singer Joey Ramone hollering "One-two-three-faw!" really fast before a wall of deafening guitar chords kicked in--with some bass and drums thrown in for good measure.
The guy creating the six-string racket was Johnny Ramone, who I'd talked to over the phone from San Francisco a week before the show. I wouldn't say it was my finest moment as an interviewer--some of my questions sound just plain dumb--but hey, it was 30 years ago. And besides, it's punk, so who cares?
How would you describe the sound of the Ramones?
We try to play wild, entertaining, aggressive music.
Would you say that you're a punk band?
I guess so. It depends on what you mean by punk. To me, Elvis Presley was a punk, and the Rolling Stones in the beginning were punks. But if you're talking about some sort of fashion, I don't know.
Are the Ramones brothers?
No. It's just a name. Like the Osmonds.
How did you come together?
We're friends. We live on the same block. It's just something we always wanted to do.
Who were your influences when you first started out?
I've always liked George Harrison and things like that, but I never sat down and tried to figure out his playing. I like current guitar players like Steve Jones of the Sex Pistols and Johnny Thunders. And I like the guy in the B-52s--he's good.
You don't do any extended lead solos with the Ramones.
No no, that's really a thing of the past. That was already done in the late sixties when everybody was on drugs or acid. That's not how rock and roll's supposed to be.
How is rock and roll supposed to be?
It's song oriented. I mean, jazz is supposed to be long, drawn-out solos. Not rock and roll. Rock and roll is two, three-minute songs.
What do you think of today's dance-oriented music, the modern synthesizer movement?
I don't like it at all. It's just like disco music. It's too blatantly commercial, nothing real. It's not rock and roll or anything, just a corporate new wave.
Is it the same kind of thing the Ramones were rebelling against when they first started out?
Yeah, more or less. They've just come around and are playing the same thing again, but with a new wave look.
Why did MTV ban the video of your new song "Psycho Therapy"?
I don't know. They thought it was too violent. They wanted some things cut, so they put out a new edited version. They were supposed to show it, but I haven't heard anything about it yet.
Did you enjoy working on the  Roger Corman film, Rock and Roll High School?
It's good looking back at it: it's a good fun film. But it's work, you know, same as anything else. You had to get there early in the morning and sit around all day waiting to say something.
How did you come to record "Time Has Come Today"? It's an old Chambers Brothers tune isn't it?
Yes. We heard it on the radio and it just seemed like it would be good. It's the type of song that everyone really liked.
On Subterranean Jungle you also do the old Carter/Lewis song "Little Bit O' Soul". Did you come by it the same way?
No, that was one we always wanted to do if we ever got around to it. The Music Explosion did it.
How do you like being in the Ramones?
It beats working, huh? You know, it's just something I always wanted to do. It's fun.
How do you like Vancouver?
It's a great place Vancouver. I like Canada. There's a good rock and roll/punk type following there.