JOHNNY RAMONE -INTERVIEW ON CLEVESCENE.COM (JUNE 21st, 2001)
INTERVIEW BY: JEFF NIESEL, CHECK ORIGINAL
Pinhead No More
Johnny Ramone put in his 22 years. Now he's content to bask in early
Johnny Ramone (John Cummings) was a punk rocker. But not anymore. Unlike
many of his never-gonna-give-it-up peers, he knew when it was time to hang
up the leather jacket and trade in the faded blue jeans. He did after the
Ramones' final tour in 1996. By that time, he had reached the two goals
(play together for at least 20 years and perform at least 2,000 concerts)
he set for the group, which formed in Queens, New York, in 1974.
"I probably enjoyed my last year more than any other year," Ramone admits
via phone from his home in L.A. "But I didn't want to get up there as an
aging rock and roller. Twenty-two years is a long run. I wanted to get on
with the rest of my life and have people think fondly of the band and see
the band while we were still performing relatively well. I'm not that
crazy to think that we were at our peak 22 years into it. I know you reach
your peak somewhere in your first five years. But I could get up onstage
and still feel that we were the best at what we were doing, and I wanted
to keep it that way."
Now, the retired punk rocker spends his days relaxing. He says he's seen
four concerts this year -- AC/DC, Marilyn Manson, U2, and Tom Jones. That,
he says, is a high number for him, but "they were all enjoyable." "Tom
Jones was a little bizarre," he says. "At 60 years old, he still gets up
there and bumps and grinds and grabs his crotch. I found that a little
While other members of the Ramones have pursued solo projects, Ramone says
he has no interest in continuing to make music.
"I'm perfectly content with retirement," he says. "In the summer, I'll
watch the Yankees game every day. I'll watch a movie or two. I go out to
dinner just about every night with my wife. I either have friends over and
watch a movie or go over to a friend's house and watch a movie. I do a lot
of movie watching. I'll sit by the pool. Friends will ask me, 'Why don't
you come and play here or there?' I got so spoiled with the reaction the
Ramones got, and anything less than that would not be as good."
Even Ramone's involvement with the new reissues of the band's first four
albums (Ramones, Leave Home, Rocket to Russia, and Road to Ruin) was
minimal. Ramone says he essentially fielded occasional questions and let
the record label do the rest of the work. But when he heard from the label
that My Generation, an independent Westlake record store, was hosting a
five-day celebration to coincide with the release of the reissues (and
giving away T-shirts, flasks, and posters), he decided to do some phone
interviews to promote the event. To his knowledge, the event is "unique."
The reissues, which come with new liner notes and demo versions of songs
and live material as bonus tracks, are getting more attention than normal
because of the April death of singer Joey Ramone (Jeffrey Hyman). Johnny
wasn't on good terms with Joey when he died, but says he initially agreed
to get together with former members to play at what would have been Joey's
50th birthday party in May. Then he changed his mind.
"I didn't wanna play," he admits. "But I thought it would be nice, and the
fans would like it. We got pressure from family members to do things the
Ramones wouldn't be doing, and we just said forget it. I didn't talk with
Joey, but the other two guys have always talked to him. It's difficult
being in a band for 22 years with people. You have disagreements and
different egos. We just couldn't see eye to eye on anything."
Given that the Ramones formed a couple of years before the Sex Pistols and
the Clash, they're often considered to have invented punk. But Ramone
won't take credit for launching the punk revolution.
"Nah," he says in his still-strong New York accent. "Punk rock was there
since rock and roll started. Rebellious rock and roll was punk rock. Gene
Vincent, Elvis Presley. That was punk rock. The Beatles in Hamburg, before
they put on their suits and were wearing their leather jackets. But by
1974, progressive rock had diluted rock and roll. Everyone had gotten so
overindulgent. All of a sudden, we started playing, and other bands saw us
play and were inspired. Our main influences would have been the early and
mid-'60s British movement, the Beach Boys, and surf music -- pure rock and
Perhaps it's the result of too many hours spent basking in the poolside
sun, but Ramone doesn't even get worked up about the corporate nature of
punk rock these days.
"I'm just happy to see kids out there playing rock and roll and trying to
write songs that are songs," he says. "I'm happy to see bands like Green
Day and Offspring and things like that. I'm not happy when I see everyone
up there playing to tapes. That's the only thing that bothers me -- too
many bands don't know what a song is anymore."
(Thanks Jeff Niesel)