The Ramones alive again tonight on Knowledge
God, there are so many good lines in this film, but the best one probably goes to roadie Mickey Leigh. He knew the band was onto something when girls started paying attention to his epically strange brother, Jeff, aka Joey Ramone. “And not just girls who were on medication,” he says.
Getting a close up view of Joey is one good reason to catch End of the Century: The Story of the Ramones when it screens on the Knowledge Network tonight. As Legs McNeil puts it in this highly entertaining doc, the ungainly and terminally “different” vocalist made something beautiful out of all his deficits. It was either that—become a rock star, if a weird, freakish, antithetical one—or… who knows what?
Joey’s mother meanwhile bitterly remembers how school authorities dismissed her child as a lost cause, while ignoring his “real intelligence.” The metaphor extends to the entire band. Originally comprised of four serious misfits from the same neighbourhood, their act looked utterly authentic to the CBGB crowd, who gazed in complete awe at Joey tripping over himself while the other dummies argued with each other right on stage. When they weren’t doing that, they were merely revolutionizing music and saving rock ‘n’ roll, seemingly by accident.
Witnesses like Christ Stein, Debbie Harry, Joe Strummer, and Legs McNeil all say the same thing. Seeing the Ramones was life-changing, but above all, it was funny. “It was almost like conceptual art,” says Roberta Bayley, who worked the door at CBGB. “You couldn’t believe it was so good. It made you smile.”
It was also highly calculated, and very serious. Johnny Ramone had the vision locked down tight and ran the Ramones like a military academy. He is, of course, the other great, unfathomable mystery of the band, and his candid interview sequences are mesmerizing. It’s no secret that he was a major asshole, but the man clearly had a code—mutated right-wing ideology and all—and he was endlessly faithful to it.
And he wasn’t entirely unemotional; something that comes out in a series of increasingly revealing statements when he’s asked about Joey’s death from lymphoma in 2001. But there is still and will always be something impossible to capture about the Ramones, no matter how honestly they spoke, or how well a movie like this is assembled. The entire story is a salute to the irrational and to the magic of chemistry.
End of the Century: The Story of the Ramones screens tonight (August 16) and again on Sunday, on the Knowledge Network
You can follow Adrian Mack's contribution to the lobotomizing techno-nightmare known as Twitter at @AdrianMacked.