Commando – The Autobiography of Johnny Ramone

The Ramones turned me from a little nerd into a knife-wielding psycho.

Not really, but they were a factor. My friend Peter Dell’Orto introduced me to them, I think. I may have heard “Blitzkrieg Bop” on a random mixtape, but the first I remember is borrowing RamonesMania in the mid-80s and really getting into it, playing the twin discs so much that the track listing became how I expected the songs to follow. I bought the albums later, and their first four are classics. Johnny himself gives everything after that middling grades, but I liked Subterranean Jungle a lot. That album gets flak for being a little too soft, ’50s rock’n roll style, but we liked it. He was right about End of the Century, the Phil Spector disaster which practically ruined their career. I hate that album.

Johnny Ramone’s Guitar

The book is great, and a must read for any fan. For one, the design is original. A slab cardboard notebook, because he obsessively recorded life events in little binders, including every concert and baseball game he ever attended, and every gig they played. At first, the book reads like many rock bios- a bit egotistical, and not all that interesting, but as Johnny’s voice comes through, it almost reads like a novel with a narrator who unwittingly bares his secrets. He knew the end was coming, the book was written after he was diagnosed with terminal cancer, so he puts his heart into it and doesn’t shy from telling how he feels about anything. And yet there is little bitterness.

It’s well known that Johnny was a staunch conservative, but what comes through is hard-nose patriot, not a hatemonger like Ted Nugent. In fact, he admits that he did a lot of it to get a rise out of people. Sort of a meta-punk, offending the rebels themselves. I can see that. He reminded me of my father in a way, someone who went out of his way to get a rise out of people and make them uncomfortable. Not defending the guy, just understanding him.

Johnny of course tells the story from his own perspective, and how the image of the Ramones was very calculated. They wanted a look, but one that any fan could emulate. They played songs that didn’t reveal their musical limitations, and they grew into it. What they had was passion and a desire to win, and they did not betray themselves. They sang about horror movies, World War 2, crazy people they knew, drugs and comic books. Politics crept through as the end came- the infamous “Bonzo Goes to Bitburg” was Joey & DeeDee, which I wrote about here, and Johnny and CJ sang “Let the Punishment Fit the Crime” and some later songs, but they weren’t very memorable.

I was pleasantly surprised by this book. He is brutally honest and revealing. They were not as successful as we thought, they influenced rock to a great degree by dragging it back to its roots, but their first gold record was RamonesMania, many years after release. They were prolific, they were original, their songs have an infectious energy that is unmatched, in my opinion, even today. And if you want to know what it was like to be a Ramone… let Johnny tell you.

I actually got choked up at the end of the book. Johnny, Joey and DeeDee are all dead. Joey is buried in the same cemetery as my grandmother. I visit them both sometimes. My grandmother means more to me, of course, but Joey and Johnny Ramone taught me it was okay to be weird, and to let that freak flag fly.

Commando: The Autobiography of Johnny Ramone

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