Being surrounded by a “Hey! Ho! Let’s Go!” chant slowly filling a quiet concert hall sounds, for lack of a better phrase, damn cool. When you add an echo of the hard biting bassist to your right screaming “D-U-M-B everyone’s accusing me” in front of a Marky Ramone beat, well, you almost get chills.
That “almost” is the key to a night of Marky Ramone’s Blitzkrieg. If you close your eyes in between verses of songs like “Pinhead,” “Do You Remember Rock ‘n’ Roll Radio?,” and “Now I Wanna Sniff Some Glue,” you almost think you’re back in time. It could be Joey, Johnny, and Dee Dee up there with Marky. That’s how plugged in Marky remains sixteen years after the Ramones disbanded. He hasn’t lost their beat.
In the years since their 1996 retirement, we’ve lost Joey, Johnny, and Dee Dee. And like original drummer Tommy Ramone said at Friday’s book signing event for Johnny’s autobiography Commando, no other people in any other time or place could have been the Ramones. They were of a moment, the rise of punk in New York in the mid-’70s, and they rode the momentum that created for twenty years. These scions of Queens may be our home borough’s most famous export, and they helped change rock music forever. Yet, they may also have been the biggest niche band of all time.
For all the hits, tours, t-shirts, and bands influenced by them, the Ramones never became Rolling Stones big. Or even Soundgarden big. Hell, The Offspring may have been “bigger” at their peak in terms of radio hits and MTV play. Still, the Ramones toured on, all crammed together inside their van.
In Ramones We’re Outta Here!, the VHS movie inside the (hard to find) box set of their final show on August 6, 1996, I believe it is Rob Zombie who makes that point that the Ramones were always “there.” As Zombie got older and went through high school and then college, the Ramones were always playing, always in their leather jackets, seemingly never aging. Tommy gave way to Marky, who himself left and came back again, and Dee Dee was in and out of the lineup for awhile until he was replaced by C.J., but still the Ramones kept on. Until they stopped, retired. They went out before they got old or slow, on their own terms.
Joey died, then Dee Dee, and Johnny too. But the music never stopped. They are still barely on the radio, but go to the clubs and you’ll hear them. It may not be one of their songs, but someone in one of the acts will be wearing a leather jacket, or playing three chords, or shouting out a “1-2-3-4” before playing a song stripped raw of any excess or girth. Their music lives on.
Which brings us back to tonight. Before a crowd of maybe 350 people, Marky led his Blitzkrieg through 30-odd Ramones songs at The Bell House in Brooklyn. His bassist and guitarist played the Dee Dee and Johnny parts well, and each captured the posture of their respective Ramone. Playing over the two of them though, was Marky’s beat, reigning supreme. More than your typical drummer, Marky controlled the night, and if you go back and listen to the albums you can’t not hear him. When he rejoined the band in 1987 he sped them up, bringing the average song length to shorter than a track-meet race time. The three of them played well together.
Michale Graves (of the Misfits) has been given the role of being the Blitzkreig’s lead singer. This is no easy task. Joey was a 6′ 6″ mass of tangled hair with a voice that could be guttural or rapid-paced, depending on the song and era. Graves’ voice is in a higher register, and is more nasal. Was he a good frontman? Yes – he sung, strutted, jumped, and hammed to the crowd. Did he sound like Joey Ramone? No, which is no fault of his own. However, by not sounding like Joey, Graves helped bridge the recreation/continuation divide.
The Ramones cannot be recreated. Johnny’s drive, Joey’s presence, and Dee Dee’s Dee-Dee-ness (worthy of a post on it’s own)… Marky wasn’t going to find three others like that. So instead, he found three people who can carry on the Ramones’ legacy, keep the songs alive, the music fluid and moving.
Was much of the crowd on the older side? Yes (and there was at least one granny who was there, wearing a Sunday Best hat and in the front row no less). But the concert was 18+ and there were plenty of people there who would have been in grade school when the Ramones broke up. This new generation of fans made up much of the front rows of the crowd, screaming along.
Where they screaming along to the same band that had written these songs and brought them around the world (such as in this awesome clip of “Pinhead” before a massive crowd in Argentina)? No. But the songs were the same, as was the backing beat. What Marky Ramone is doing with his Blitzkrieg is not taking a legacy and milking it, but keeping it alive and passing it on to a new generation. The Blitzkrieg is spending the next four months in Europe and Asia spreading warnings about KKK kidnappings, teaching people the best ways to beat on a brat, and perpetuating the lie that it’s easy to get to Rockaway Beach to a host of new people.
The Ramones are dead. Long live the Ramones.
Essay & photos by Dan Meade
Date of show: 4/01/2012