Houston Calling

REVIEW: End Of The Century: The Story Of The Ramones

March 29th, 2005 · No Comments

Anyone who has read Houston Calling since its inception two years ago is probably a bit familiar with my musical history. Click here, here, here, here, or here for a few choice pieces for more of a reference.

When I was maybe 15 years old, I purchased my first album by The Ramones, Too Tough To Die, at a Sound Warehouse in suburban Fort Worth. I owe my introduction to the band to a rerun of the Rock & Roll High School movie I caught one afternoon on what would be the equivalnent to today’s local UPN or WB affiliate. I didn’t have an older brother, and my older cousin turned me on to the Eagles, REO Speedwagon, and Styx, not punk bands.

I don’t remember the cost of the album, but it was probably my wisest music investment at the time, and I immediately latched onto the band and have never really let my interest in the band wane. While the band’s best work was undoubtedly their earlier albums (their debut is more or less a “greatest hits”), songs like “Pet Cemetary” and “I Wanna Live” still stand out as pretty decent songs (not to mention the songs that everyone probably knows by now).

Late last year, I saw a trailer for a movie about The Ramones. I never saw it playing here but anticipated the release of the DVD. Thankfully, Rhino just released the DVD of End Of The Century: The Story of The Ramones, a great film/documentary that gives a true account of the history of the band, its ups and downs over the years, and shows how influential The Ramones really were to modern music.

The film pulls no punches when it comes to the band’s whoring, horrid drug abuse (and what might or might have not been done to score drugs — you’ll have to watch the movie), and mediocre musicianship. But when you see people like The Clash’s Joe Strummer gushing about seeing The Ramones at their first show in the UK in the late Seventies, it’s a true testament of the band’s influence in music and proves that their induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2002 was very well deserved.

The film, created over a six year period by New York filmmakers/punk fans Michael Gramaglia and Jim Fields, covers the band’s struggles while starting in the U.S. — gaining a handful of fans in each city they played but mainly being shunned nationwide — while being hailed as rock gods in England. Bands like The Clash and Sex Pistols co-opted The Ramones’ sound yet became much more well-known here. Sad but true. Also discussed is U.S. radio’s blatant disregard of the band’s singles (despite decent promotion and out-and-out balls by Sire’s Seymour Stein) solely due to rumor and the backlash against punk rock because of a report on “60 Minutes.” Good to know the same thing would probably happen today, no?

Interviews with musicians, various former band members, family and friends, and The Ramones themselves make End Of The Century stand out as a great documentary film. Everyone seems honest in their recollection, some brutally so, and even Johnny Ramone is quoted as saying the film left him disturbed. With good reason — Johnny is portrayed as a cunning, controlling businessman that stole (and married) his bandmate’s woman, and kept other rotating band members isolated from the financial gains of the band. It is a bit disturbing to learn that Joey and Johnny rarely spoke for more than half of the band’s existence, all because of a woman. Pretty odd. Then again, The Ramones were famous for being oddballs. Dee Dee’s heroin abuse is delved into, and his interviews do not make you surprised that he died as a result of the drug, only that he survived as long as he did.

Overall, the film paints a painfully accurate picture of a band that, despite its insecurities and dysfunction, created some of the most brilliant music of the past 30 years, and spawned countless carbon copies — none of which did it just like The Ramones. Much like my experience with The Ramones as a teenager, a music producer says in the movie that The Ramones “instantly made half of our record collection obsolete.” Enough said.

You can order your very own copy of the DVD at amazon.com by clicking here. It is a must for any fan of the band, or of punk rock music for that matter.

Now Playing in My iPod: The Sights — self-titled

Tags: Music