The following interview was conducted with Joey Ramone, lead singer of The Ramones. The Ramones are scheduled to appear in Park City in concert with Debbie Harry, Tom Tom Club and Jerry Harrison, Wednesday, August 1. The tour is called “The Escape from New York Tour” and features all ex-CBGB acts. The Ramones are frequently called the fathers of punk and claim to be influential in the speedmetal scene. This is how the interview went. It was July 11, 1990. Joey was at Backstage Production in New York…
SLUG: We’d like to welcome you guys to Salt Lake City. There’s a lot of Ramones fans here who are waiting to see you perform.
Ramones: We’re looking forward to it.
SLUG: How did you guys get started?
Ramones: We started, well, we had rehearsal and we realized that we had something very unique and basically had created an entirely new style of music unconsciously. We started playing at CBGB’s whenever we could. It started out basically by word of mouth, then we started getting really good write-ups in the [Village] Voice and Rolling Stone and stuff like that. What happened was the owner of CBGBs had a festival of the best 40 unsigned bands, and we headed it. There were papers from all over, Rolling Stone… Village Voice, and after doing that show, people knew about us all over the world at that point. Our album came out six months earlier in England than in America, and we went over there. We sold out three shows at this club called the Roadhouse and did three thousand a night. Then we played a club called Dingwalls—these kids who were there told us we were responsible for them forming their bands; those kids were Johnny Rotten and Joe Strummer. And after that, the first generation punk movement kicked off, and the world changed ever since ‘76 with us being responsible for the whole thing.
SLUG: What do you think is the reason for your popularity 14 years after your debut?
Ramones: Well… That we are genuine, honest, sincere, we care, we really give a shit. Our music’s fun and exciting. It’s got substance. I mean, when we started working, rock and roll was sort of no longer. Everything was disco or corporate music—we sort of skinned it down to the bone and re-assembled it… fun, raw energy—we tried to put the fun back into it, ya know what I mean?
SLUG: Did you guys like doing the stuff with Stephen King on the movie “Pet Sematary”?
Ramones: It was very exciting, and it was a real honor because we are mutual fans of each other. He called us up and asked us to write the title track. We have the only two songs in the film.
SLUG: Have you guys been enjoying the tour with Debbie Harry and Tom Tom Club?
Ramones: Well, they used to open up for us a long time ago. Talking Heads were our support band. In the early days, they came after us, and they would open up for us. We’ve always been friends, and we respect each other. The tour’s a lot of fun.
SLUG: Why do you think the group is still being labeled “underground”?
Ramones: We’re not underground, maybe only in the U.S. Just this past year, in Germany, we’re doing 60,000 a night sold in advance, and 10,000 in Australia. Our album “Brain Drain” has been top 5 and top 40; we do really great over there.
SLUG: So, do you get tired of the “underground” label?
Ramones: Nobody calls us that; we do really well in America, but over there is where, I guess, we do the best. There’s a different attitude over there.
SLUG: About the music, there’s a real sense of forbidden energy to it. Lots of the songs are about things that go counter to what society sees as accepted behavior (beat on the brat with a baseball bat, etc.). Is it intended that way?
Ramones: Yeah… it’s our reactions to all the bullshit and all the pretentiousness and all the mediocrity that goes on. We don’t compromise, we don’t kiss ass, we don’t give a shit what people think about us, we do what we believe.
SLUG: What do you label your music?
Ramones: We call it punk—it’s hard rock, it’s exciting rock and roll music.
SLUG: Is punk still alive?
Ramones: It’s alive enough, and there’s nobody like us.
SLUG: What do you guys have to say about freedom of speech?
Ramones: Well, that’s the only way there is to go, and it’s sickening what’s happening with these religious fanatics and fucking moralists and moral majority types. There are a lot of problems in this country that should be getting the attention that censorship is getting, like education and homelessness, and the S&L situation, the deficit… those are the issues of today, no fuckin’ censorship; there are people starving out there, the AIDS situation desrves attention, not fucking lyrics on an album cover.
SLUG: Have you guys caught any flack about your work?
Ramones: The way I see it, these days, it’s a cut and dried issue, everybody’s concerned. What concerns one artist concerns everybody. It’s the musical community and nobody’s “omitted.” You know, it’s fucked up, what happening with that. Censorship, the abortion rights issue, it’s like people have taken away our fuckin’ rights and you gotta realize that nothing should be taken for granted, especially nowadays. What you have today, you might not have tomorrowWe’re looking forward to coming to Salt Lake City, the whole tour is.
Check out these other music interviews:
The Complexity of Care, Community and Comfort in Sharmi Basu’s Music
Interview: The Mighty Lemon Drops
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