“The music business is a cruel and shallow money trench, a long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free, and good men die like dogs.” Hunter Thompson
I do love the Ramones, Joey, Johnny, Dee Dee, Tommy and Marky. There is no doubt about that.
It all started with the movie Rock ‘n’ Roll High School, which was the most best most fun most horrible movie you ever saw. It’s a cult classic. If you haven’t seen it, or if you say you can take it or leave it, all I can say is, what is wrong with you?
I never saw it in the winter of 1980, a couple of months after it came out, as soon as it came to Cleveland. A few years later, when it was in the stores on VHS, I bought it and watched it one hundred, two hundred, maybe more, times. I loved that stupid movie.
“Rock, rock, rock ‘n’ roll high school, Well I don’t care about history, Rock, rock, rock ‘n’ roll high school, Cause that’s not where I want to be.”
I loved that movie so much, about spirit and fun and punk music.
“Julie, that’s the worst movie I’ve ever seen,” said my sister Betsy.
“Maybe you need to watch it with me,” I said, “so you can see how great all the parts are.”
“How can you say that?” she asked.
“Maybe it’s a stupid movie,” I said, “but it’s awesome.”
It’s awesome because the Ramones are actually in it, with all their punk and all their attitude, blowing everybody away. You have to hear them to understand, even though the first time they came to Ohio, to Youngstown, three years before the movie, only ten people went to the show.
Johhny Ramone, the lead guitar player, was the ugliest creature you will ever see in your life. He was even uglier than Howard Stern, if that could possibly be. He had long black hair and wore red glasses.
The story is all about a high school girl, Riff Randell, who’s in love with Joey Ramone. Joey was the beanpole lead singer of the Ramones. Riff is his #1 fan. She’s written a song for them. She has to meet them so they will play her music.
“Rock, rock, rock ‘n’ roll high school, I just want to have some kicks, I just want to get some chicks, Rock, rock, rock, rock, rock ‘n’ roll high school.”
Riff spends three days in line to be the first person to buy Ramone’s concert tickets. The first day she cuts school she writes a note, “Please excuse Riff because her mother has died.” The second day she writes, “Please excuse Riff because her father has died.” The third day, “Please excuse Riff because her goldfish has died.”
Those things always happen in 3s.
She buys one thousand tickets and starts handing them out at school.
The school principal, Principal Togar, is a no fun, intolerant, buttoned-up stiff bully. She has hired goons who are her hall monitors. They’re always writing love letters to Principal Togar and one of them is always rolling a joint and getting high.
Riff is forever on Togar’s shit list, and when the hall monitors body search her, they confiscate her Ramone’s tickets. Now neither she nor anybody else from her school can go to the show. She and her friends are sad. “Everyone’s going to be there, but not us.”
But, then she wins a radio station’s ‘Name This Song’ contest. It’s a Ramone’s song, of course. She knows it right away.
Before the concert Principal Togar does a science experiment with white mice. They have to listen to rock-n-roll with headphones on, to the Who, the Clash, and Led Zeppelin. “Watch what happens when they have to listen to the Ramones,” says Principal Togar. The mouse’s head explodes! If you’re not into stupid humor you won’t like it. I am definitely into stupid humor. Monty Python and the Holy Grail is one of my all-time favorites.
The Ramones come to Riff’s school. A mouse wearing headphones is there, like at all their shows. The music in the movie is full blast the Ramones, except for a few songs here and there. It’s where I got my first taste of them.
I went to a Ramone’s concert in 1989, at the Phantasy Night Club in Lakewood. I thought I could handle it, the mosh pit, but I ended up on the floor.
“Well the girls out there knock me out you know, Rock, rock, rock ‘n’ roll high school, Cruisin’ around in my GTO.”
A nice guy dragged me out. “Don’t come in to the pit anymore,“ he said. There were bodies everywhere. After the concert we went upstairs to drink at the bar. The Ramones came up, too. I was star-struck, even though Johnny Ramone was uglier in person than he was in the movie. I couldn’t go up to them. I was frozen and just looked at them all from a distance.
There was a tribute to the band a few years ago at the Happy Dog Saloon. I was all excited. Then they announced at the Happy Dog that they were going to show Rock ‘n’ Roll High School on the big screen at the Capital Theater.
“Oh, my God,” I turned to Brian. “I’ve never seen it on the big screen, only on VHS. Can we go? We’ve got to go!”
I watched Rock ‘n’ Roll High School from the word go through high school. I would just put it on the VCR whenever I wanted to and crack up.
“Rock, rock, rock ‘n’ roll high school, I hate the teachers and the principal, Don’t want to be taught to be no fool, Rock, rock, rock, rock, rock ‘n’ roll high school.”
The Ramones are all dead now, except for Marky.
“I’m really lucky I’m still around,” said Dee Dee Ramone, just before he died. “Everybody expected me to die next. But it was always someone else instead of me.” He was the troublemaker in the band.
I watched Rock ‘n’ Roll High School every week for years. In 1999, the year my dad died, he started listening and singing along to music.
“Hey ho, let’s go, Hey ho, let’s go, They’re forming in a straight line, They’re going through a tight wind.”
“Who sings this song?” he asked me.
“That would be the Ramones, dad.”
Click here to see more writing between fiction and non-fiction by Ed Staskus.