Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Waiting for something that will never arrive

In the mid-80s I listened almost exclusively to the Ramones. I still very much like the band, but probably listen to the songs every other month or so. Still I was eager to see the documentary End of the Century, a 2003 movie that covers the entire career of the band. The movie includes all the band members, although Joey and Dee Dee died before the release. It also has a number of interviews, the most interesting of which is Joe Strummer. Fans of the Ramones or the Clash will probably have read his opinions by this point, but it is fun to see his enthusiasm on film.

The band members themselves are a bit more shocking. Dee Dee is a wreck in all his interviews. In an early one, he comes off like Nigel from Spinal Tap. Others portray Johnny as a martinet, and he comes off as callous in his interviews, coolly disparaging almost everyone else. Joey and the various drummers seem more or less normal.

Due to the length of the career, 21 years, the movie doesn't delve too deeply into any one subject area. The closest attention, rightly so, is given to the formation and initial launch of the band. The first reaction was largely negative, but the buzz continued to build. Another major plot thread is the internal war between band members. Johnny vs. Joey, Dee Dee vs. everyone else and so on. The very best scene of the movie shows an onstage battle about which song to play next.

The big question with the Ramones is why they never achieved chart success. Like the Pixies, they inspired other bands to great success and maintain a cult to this day. The documentary points to the backlash against punk as one reason for the failure, but the conflict over what to make also seemed to be a problem.

All in all, this one is probably for people who like the Ramones or want to learn more about the band. For some reference points, here is Johnny Thunder and the Heartbreakers doing Dee Dee's heroin song, Chinese Rocks. Here we have Dee Dee's hustling song 53rd and 3rd. Here we have the Chili Peppers covering Havana Affair.

Actual Ramones videos: Psychotherapy, Rock and Roll Radio, and Teenage Lobotomy, live.

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