'I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend' :: Remembering the Ramones
Transiting from elementary school to middle school was probably one of the biggest things you have to handle when you're a young teen. In 2000, when I was 12 going on 13, I entered the seventh grade, leaving behind the only school I had been to, splitting up from some of my closest friends, who were placed in middle schools in their districts. I didn't know many kids in my classes and quickly tried to regain my social footing.
It was also during this time when I was figuring out part of my identity, especially when it came to music. Admittedly, I was a bit all over the map: the first record I bought with my own money was Daft Punk's classic "Discovery," but a two-disc jazz completion I made my parents buy me from a TV ad was on heavy rotation. Add that to my collection of the Mamas & the Papas and A*Teens albums and that's where I started in my music-listening career.
Not far into the first quarter of seventh grade I met a boy named Tony. His hair was dyed and spiked into three prongs, he had a lip piercing and wore cool clothes, including high top Chuck Taylors. He was in a handful of my classes and after getting to know him, he told me he was into punk music / culture, turning me on to a handful of shitty pop-punk bands; the kind you are embarrassed to admit to have ever listened to today. But through my journey and research of trying to impress Tony, I came across the Ramones.
Of course, my friendship with Tony fizzled after the seventh grade ended but out of all the music he recommended the only thing to really stick was the Ramones. During that year, I bought a 40-track completion album that spanned the New York City quartet's career called "Hey! Ho! Let's Go: The Anthology." At the time, the Ramones were dangerous: Besides their messy black mop hair, tight jeans and leather jackets, the notion of punk music was so exciting to me. When my mom saw that I bought the Daft Punk LP she freaked because of the word "punk" and jumped to the conclusion I was becoming one of those troubled-up-to-no-good-pre-teens.
While the notion of being a bad boy appealing, I was really in it for the music. Most of the Ramones' songs clock in under 3-minutes and are lightening-fast and aggressive; often times with pop structures and goofy lyrics about sniffing glue, lobotomies and not wanting succumb to adults and go to school. Their music even inspired me to start my own band with my then best friend when I was 16. I picked up the bass and took lessons for a few years and made a 32-minute album that will never ever see the light of day.
The Ramones' music was incredibly accessible, especially for a teen on the verge of easing into a plethora of yet undiscovered music. They are a gateway band rooted in nostalgia.
Unsurprisingly, I was pretty bummed out when I found out over the weekend that Tommy Ramone, the band's drummer, died July 11 at the age of 65 from bile duct cancer. Tommy Ramone, born Thomas Erdelyi, was the last living original of the Ramones. The other members of the band died in the early 2000s: lead singer and the face of the band Joey Ramone died of lymphoma in 2001, bassist Dee Dee Ramone died in 2002 of a heroine overdose and guitarist Johnny Ramone died two years later from prostate cancer. Learning of the Ramones' death as a teen who was just settling into their music was a bit depressing.
It's wild to think that the Sex Pistols, the Clash, the Buzzcocks, New Order and even the Beatles, the Rolling Stones and the Who still have original surviving members. At the beginning of their career, the Ramones felt like they would be teens forever (they even covered Tom Waits' "I Don't Wanna Grow Up" on their final album "¡Adios Amigos!"). And just like teens full of angst, the Ramones fought behind the scenes and didn't really get a long.
As Evan Minsker details in a recent Pitchfork feature about the band, Tommy felt he wasn't appreciated, even though he penned some of the group's most well known songs, like "Blitzkrieg Bop" and "I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend."
Tommy, who hated touring, ended up writing and producing songs, where he felt more at home. He was an incredible drummer and had to keep pace with Johnny's relentless guitar playing -- even though, as Minsker notes, that Dee Dee and Johnny both felt that anyone could have done what Tommy did and that he wasn't vital to the band. What they didn't mention, however, is that Tommy had the foresight and urged Joey to be the lead and eventually the mascot of the Ramones.
Despite my mother's concerns, the Ramones' music never turned me into a punk rebel. I was quiet, tame and nerdy throughout my four-years in high school (the worst thing I did was get two detentions). Still, I was able to live through the Ramones; just listening to their music felt like I was doing something wrong -- like learning a secret club I was never meant to discover.
Around 10th grade, at the peak of my Ramones fandom, Wikipedia started to become a thing, which allowed me to learn the meanings of any Ramones' song. One of my favorite tracks, off their self-titled debut, is "53rd and 3rd." It was written by Dee Dee and stuck out compared to the other cuts on the LP. I read that the song is about the popular spot for male prostitute in New York City called "The Loop." Realizing that the tough guys like the Ramones may have been gay, or at least had gay tendencies, was eye-opening and brought me closer to accepting myself.