Here's my favorite Ramones story: It was the First US Festival, 1982, in Devore, Calif.--a hundred bands, a thousand degrees, a million people. It was so hot, everything but the dirt was sweating. Even British guitar god Dave Edmunds--whose legs are so white he should have passed out sunglasses to the crowd to protect himself from potential lawsuits--wore shorts, probably for the first time in his life. Next, the Ramones came on wearing black leather pants and black leather jackets--just like it was November in New York. Why didn't they croak?
Croak? They didn't even sweat. And it had no long-lasting effects. The band has just released its zillionth album, "Mondo Bizarro." They've been on tour for 18 years. They'll be in Santa Barbara--again--on Monday night.
The Ramones began their three-chords-and-a-cloud-of-dust style of rock back in 1974, and have been credited (or blamed) for inspiring the punk rock scene in England.
It can also be argued that the band has been making the same album for 18 years. Every song has the same beat, sounds pretty much the same--only the titles change. Who can forget "I Wanna Be Sedated?" "Beat on the Brat?" "Bonzo Goes To Bitburg?" "Blitzkreig Bop?" "Rockaway Beach?" "Rock 'n' Roll High School?"
One thing about those tunes and all the others--they're over before you can get tired of them. The average Ramones song is under three minutes, harking back to the good old days of rock 'n' roll when brevity was king. Unlike the good old days, the Ramones are hilarious.
Keeping in the spirit of musical mayhem, the new album contains such tunes as "Cabbies on Crack," "The Job That Ate My Brain" and one dedicated to Tipper Gore--the name of which sounds like "Censorship," (but with a subtle change in the pronunciation of the final syllable that renders it unsuitable for a family newspaper.)
The current quartet includes Joey Ramone on vocals and dark glasses, Johnny Ramone on guitar, C.J. Ramone on bass and Marky Ramone on drums. They're all as New York as Howard Stern and the Kramdens, but they're no more related than Murphy Brown, James Brown, brown rice and Buster Brown.
Joey Ramone, in a recent phone conversation, stood up better than the reporter to the following grilling:
How's "Mondo Bizarro" doing?
How's the tour?
How many times have you played Santa Barbara?
A couple of times.
I remember seeing you guys at the first US Festival in 1982. It was ten thousand degrees and even the very white British guys wore shorts. You guys came out wearing your usual black leather. Why didn't you croak?
Ya gotta suffer for your art. We just got back from Brazil--it's hot there, too. We take the coats off after a bit.
What's in your closet, a million black leather jackets?
Not that many.
How has your music changed over 18 years?
It's evolved. Each album and each performance evolves. We spend most of the year on the road. That's what rock 'n' roll is all about: live performances, playing for your fans, not sitting on your (rear) making videos.
The Ramones have been credited with igniting the punk scene in England during your 1976 tour. What happened?
When we went over there, the big musical fad was pub rock with people like Dr. Feelgood and Brinsley Schwartz. The kids had heard of us through the music press before we got there. Our first gig was for 3,000 people and everyone who was anyone was there. Johnny Rotten, Joe Strummer and people like that--they were our audience. These guys started their bands because of us.
Can music change the world?
Oh yeah, it can definitely change the world. People are more concerned now than ever before. Everyone is directly affected by things. It's reality, man; everyone's broke, everyone's out of work. I hope Clinton wins.
What was it like playing for the East Europeans?
It was a real high playing when the Berlin Wall came down. The kids had heard of us through the underground. The Ramones are more popular now than ever before. People need to get rid of their aggressions and all those pent-up frustrations. They want their music to be real. That's why the Ramones are so popular today.
What's the coolest thing about being in the band?
You know, it's pure satisfaction. It's gratification to go out and do what you love to do. Most people don't like their jobs. It's just the ideal situation, a constant adventure. You get to see the world.
What's the most misunderstood thing about the Ramones?
That we're all brothers.
A six-week tour of America and Canada, most it with Social Distortion.
* WHERE AND WHEN
Ramones, Overwhelming Colorfast at the Anaconda Theater, 935 Embarcadero del Norte, Isla Vista. Monday, 8 p.m. Nineteen big ones get you through the door. Black leather optional. For more information, call 685-3112.