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Interview and commentary by Lorry Doll
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Joey Ramone

(Ed. note - this article originally appeared in NEON in 1990)
Joey Ramone is lead man for the band that put Punk Rock on the map. The Ramones blasted white hot noise into a very tired medium and started what was to become the changing force in rock music. From their early ramblings on the Lower East Side sixteen years ago they are still an international phenomenon. It was late one Friday afternoon that we got to speak with Joey.
(interview & commentary by Lorry Doll)

“ When we started there was nothing. It was disco and Journey and Boston. We shook things up and turned the world around.”
Lorry Doll: You did Geraldo Rivera's show "Heavy Metal Moms." There's a lot of concern over censorship in music.
Joey Ramone: It was great. It was really constructive and positive. It was cool, no hype and no sensationalism.
Lately freedom of speech has been loosing ground.
Well, they're trying to take it away, slowly. That's why it's really important that people know what's going on.
And once it's gone you'll never get it back.
The idea is that it'll never be taken away. Everybody should wake up and see what's happening. You take things for granted and then all of a sudden it's under question. It's important that the kids know what's going on.
Music censorship would effect you first and foremost.
It effects us but it effects everybody. It's your freedom of speech, freedom of thought and freedom of choice. It's easy to lose your rights if you're not paying attention.
At least you're getting to escape from New York.
Yeah, I'm escaping with a good bunch! We're hittin' the United States and Canada. A seven week tour, forty shows. It's going to be good times. It's a really great package and it's a really inspiring bunch we're hanging out with. It's going to be really cool 'cause we respect each other’s work. It's going to be rotating slots, the headlining.
There's a CD out of your first two records. Oedipus (WBCN, Boston) wrote some cool stuff about the band in the liner notes. He told me that he was really excited when producer Howie Klein asked him to do it.
It's called
Ramones, All the Stuff and More Volume I. Yeah, Oedipus is really cool. It contains some tracks that have never been released. They pre-date our first Sire albums. The two songs were from a demo that we did in '74, when we were shopping for a record deal.
Were you involved with Danny Fields at that point?
I think it was before Danny came in. The two songs are "I Don't Want to be Tamed" and "I Can't Be." I thought it'd be cool to put it on. Kids that are real fans like that. They want to get hold of everything.
In 1977 Oedipus had a contest on his show and I won "Sheena Is A Punk Rocker." It's really cool, it's a double sided single. It's cool too that you've been with the same label for fifteen years.
We've always had a really good working rapport with Sire. They like having us around.
The Ramones get more fans as time goes on.
I think basically it's that we love what we do. We enjoy doing it and it's fun. A lot of people call this a business and it is a business. We separate the two. When you're performing or we're writing it's not a business, it's pure fun, it excites us. Especially now that we have a new bass player.


     


How is CJ working out?
The band has never been better. The band is a lot closer. We're friends with each other. CJ is, aside from the new blood, he's got a lot of enthusiasm. He's really a strong bass player. Dee Dee was pretty cool and all but this guy is great. He's got the best attitude. It's a pleasure to have him. With Dee Dee it was getting a bit boring, to tell ya the truth. I don't know how much longer it would have gone on with him. His quitting was the best thing for everybody.
You must have had a real crowd at the auditions.
We auditioned seventy-five people. Chris - CJ - he came down first. We liked him right away. He heard from a friend that we were looking for a bass player. He came down and we liked him. Things couldn't be better. I've never been happier in the band then I am right now.
After all this time, is it still fun to do the early songs like "53rd and 3rd"?
There was a lot of hostility in the band, at the end with Dee Dee. It was getting to be a bore. Now that he's gone, it's so much better. Chris has brought us all a lot closer together. There were years when me and John didn't talk to each other, for like three years. If you want something to work bad enough it will. The Ramones were real precious to me.
As the "new guy" in the band, has Chris gained your respect?
Well, he had to earn his way in. He had to really prove himself. And he's done that a million times over. The cool thing about him is that he can't believe that he's really in the band. He says that when he's onstage he's thinking, "I look down at the pit and think that I should be down there." I think that's great. He had the right personality. During the auditions it was like a circus. People would walk through the door and think they were already in the band. They'd cop these fuckin' attitudes. But with Chris it's like a new band. We've been on tour all year, mostly in Europe. We're the biggest we've ever been over there. Germany was 6,000 sold out in advance. We were in Germany when the wall came down. We did a special ticket price so that all the East German kids could come to the show. In Australia, it was 10,000 sold out, a night, in the arenas.
When you guys first came out, the British Punk scene seemed to get more press and laid claim to starting the Punk thing. That pisses me off, you went over there and all of a sudden it's this big British thing.
Well, there's this thing about English people in America. Like they got some sort of exotic charm or something. It's the accent. Everybody knows the truth. Johnny Lydon or Joe Strummer, they'll come right out and tell ya.
How would you compare the scene back then to how it is now?
When we started there was nothing. It was disco and Journey and Boston. We shook things up and turned the world around. We brought a whole new sound, style and attitude to rock 'n' roll. Rock is in its strongest period right now. There's some people that are doing some great credible things like Aerosmith, Metallica, Guns 'n Roses and Faith No More. Circus of Power are cool. I like bands that are really unique, inventive and totally original. Manitoba's Wild Kingdom are great.
Have you heard his new album?
Yeah, the album's fuckin' amazing. That's a great album. Ross the Boss is back. They're a band that was always an 'honest' band. Like Dick has a totally distinct ... he's a character. Yeah, there's some good stuff out there.
The shoot for your video was cool.
Have you seen it? It's been out for a couple weeks, "I Believe In Miracles." It's great. It's past, present and future. Politically, socially and musically. It's really strong and it's fresh. It's a triple screen type of effect.
The producer, George Seminara, seemed like a nice guy. Kind of relaxed, tense, but friendly. It wasn't all what I figured 'directors' would be like.
George was great. He's worked with all the new hardcore bands and he's got a good sensibility about it. He's imaginative. It's fun workin' with him. We just finished a home video that's coming soon. It's part documentary, when we started making videos there wasn't any MTV. Everything is from 1980-1990. There's videos that have never been released. There’s interviews with Vernon Reid, Debbie Harry, Talking Heads, Anthrax and a whole bunch of people. It also has interviews of ourselves, new footage. It's really cool. It's a good piece. There's a version of "Psycho Therapy" that's never been released 'cause MTV and Europe banned it. It's the uncensored version that's on the home video.
How did you get involved with Pet Semetery?
Steve King is a big Ramones fan. He called us up and personally asked us to write the title track for the film. It was really cool 'cause we're really big fans of his as well. Totally exciting. Especially when it went number one in the box office! The song did really well. It was great working with Steven King 'cause he's the best. He's a big music fan. His two favorite bands are us and AC/DC. I heard that when he's writing books he has us playing in the background for inspiration. That's nice.


The Ramones on the video set with director Allen Goldman (left) and producer George Seminara (front)
Photo- Lorry Doll
Joey Ramone in his apartment talking with Lorry Doll on NEON TV
Still from video by Jeff Rey
About six years ago, your gig at the Ritz with Dick Manitoba's band was cancelled the day of the show. What happened?
That's when our drummer quit, Richie. It was the day before the show. He tried to fuck us, which he did, but he fucked himself because he got black-balled in the industry. Clem (Burke) sat in for a while. He helped us out in our time of need. We always liked Clem. He was great. Then Mark came back. He left 'cause he had to get sober. He came back and things couldn't be better with him. Right, he's a role model, ya know? Everybody knows what they have to do. That's how we lasted this long. It's not just lasting, you make it happen.
There's probably been some times that you've hit some low points.
We've had a lot of ups and downs. It's always been a roller coaster ride but you've got to be responsible and hold up your end. It's a real unity in this band, we really care. I've spent a good portion of my life in this band. I'm happy.
A couple years ago in a news article, Hilly Crystal was complaining that some of the bands that made it big out of CBGBs, not you guys, never come down and hang out, people like Debbie Harry.
Maybe if he treated them a little better. Like when Johnny Blitz (drummer for the Dead Boys) got stabbed, we did a benefit to help cover his hospital bills. Hilly charged us for Cokes!
If you played CBGBs tonight would Hilly screw you out of some money from the door?
No, he never screwed us out of the money. Sometimes we couldn't wake him up 'cause he was passed out in the back. Drunk from days gone by, so we'd have to wait 'til the next day. We only got screwed once when he started his "Hilly Tax," which was like 8% then it became 12%. We get along decently with him. Actually I get along better with him now then I did before. I was never particularly thrilled by him in the early days. I thought he lucked out, which he definitely did. He happened to be in the right place at the right time. Everybody in the world passed through his doors and he slept through it.
Joey Ramone appeared in the pages of NEON several times and was the first real “name” to appear on NEON TV – giving the show instant credibility and showing other artists and record companies that, though NEON didn’t have the national exposure of MTV, it was still a very cool show to do. Joey was always hyping deserving New York artists – his support, friendship, vision and cultural innovation are sorely missed by all.

- Jeff Rey, 2003