OK. Yes, I can brag that I saw the original Ramones at CBGB, their birthplace in the Bowery of Lower Manhattan. I only wish that I could remember more about it.
My Ramones story starts the same way it did with New York City’s other seminal Punk band, The New York Dolls. At first, I didn’t like them one bit. Given that I eventually grew to love both bands, let’s just chalk it up to simply being too young to appreciate what either of them were doing. The pretentiousness of the music on the radio seemed to have moved to one of attitude. But, back in the days of listening to the musical excess of some of the crap being played on the radio, it took me a while to realize that void of its tough and gritty façade, Punk was more about a return to the basics of good old Rock ‘n Roll.
A college friend of mine named Dennis was the first person I knew to really start digging The Ramones. Although we were Jersey guys who shared a common love of Springsteen and Southside Johnny, he had a harder edge to his taste, favoring some bands that I didn’t such as Blue Oyster Cult. I found that Dennis often like to be a rebellious contrarian taking pride in such things like thinking that it was foolish to keep his LPs in alphabetical order. I was more of a conventionalist and maybe that’s why I first just didn’t get what was behind songs with silly titles like “Beat on the Brat” and “Now I Want to Sniff Some Glue.”
Somehow, I gave in and in late 1976, he and I make our first trip to CBGB’s on a night when the Ramones were headlining. We went to the closing Saturday night show of a three-night stand and the opener was The Fast. I know that CBGBs didn’t sell advance tickets back then but looking at the ad for the show that I saved, I was surprised to find out that there was a phone number for reservations. It’s odd when you think about it since we really didn’t use our phones much back then. On the other hand, with their rising popularity at the time, could we really have just walked up and paid the $4 at the door?
It was still a few months before their second LP and a good five since their first. By now, the band was touring regularly outside of the City but always seemed to find their way back to the club. After spending most of August gigging in California, they last played in Norfolk, VA before returning home for a short stint.
What I do remember about the show is my usual discomfort being around the CBGBs crowd. I was still young trying to find an identity and this was a scene that I found a challenging one for a newcomer to find comfort. It’s not that we were afraid or anything, it’s just that I felt out of place and was probably worried more about how I was dressed and if I fit in—typical teen stuff.
Oddly enough, I seem to recall that the stage was in the front of the room off to the left, not too far from the door. And get this, I actually think there were rows of seats where we sat down! Not the wild crowd-surfing and stage-diving experience you might expect at a Ramones show. I wish I could remember more about what or how they played but I had yet to really explore their record which likely has made my recollection deficient. In all, I would say I left neither a Ramones hater nor lover with the show apparently not having much lasting effect on me. There is however a memory etched in the back of my mind of seeing a rather intimidating hunched-over leather-jacketed Dee Dee Ramone out in front of the club after the show.
So, you are probably asking why in the world am I writing this. It’s because I’ve been on a Ramones binge for the last month and seriously regretting not having seen them live again after this. I did have one miss some two-years later when a friend and I drove to see the Patti Smith Group in Asbury Park. The Ramones were opening that night and some how we got there late and missed their set. Much more in tune with them at this point, who knows what seeing them might have done to me. My years living in Texas from 1980-1998 unfortunately didn’t present many opportunities to see them play.
Well, I have recently read and enjoyed Dee Dee’s and Johnny’s bios as well as the books by Joey’s brother, Mickey Leigh and legendary Ramones roadie, Monty Melnick. (The bios by Marky and Richie are next up). I’m also working my way through a listen to the entire Ramones catalog in preparation for a Ranking Records video.
It’s been a blast “Ramonesing” it, and the joy I now feel for this great band and their music has surely surpassed any regret I feel about not having seen them play live umpteen times. What more to say than “Hey Ho, Let’s Go” or “Gabba Gabba Hey?” Better yet, as fellow Nashvillian, Jason Ringenberg recently sang, “God bless the Ramones.”
Joey Ramone – vocals
Dee Dee Ramone—bass