RAMONES GET READY FOR A GABBA GOODBYE

JIM SULLIVAN The Boston Globe
Section: PREVIEW,  Page: P8

Date: Thursday, April 25, 1996

``I think we're leaving an historical legacy,'' says Joey Ramone. ``We really changed rock 'n' roll. When we came out in '74, rock 'n' roll was pretty much dead. It was just totally disco and corporate rock. It was totally synthetic. All the fun was totally gone. We rocked the boat, you know what I mean?


``It's simple, but effective,'' he continues. ``The greatest art or music was always simple, but effective. I mean Andy Warhol's soup cans were simple, but effective. ``The best rock 'n' roll appears simple, whether it be Buddy Holly or Little Richard or the Beatles or the Stones or the Who or the Stooges.''


It began at a club called CBGB, in the heart of New York's Bowery, where four leather-jacketed guys who termed themselves brothers and called themselves the Ramones took the stage and played 20 minutes of hyperfast noise-rock churned out in front of a handful of gawking disbelievers. No leads. No solos. Songs like ``Blitzkrieg Bop,'' ``I Don't Wanna Walk Around With You'' and ``Beat on the Brat.''


It ends later this year with one final farewell tour as part of the Lollapalooza extravaganza.


After that, the Ramones -- who have a massive cult audience but never made it big in America -- call it a career.


You might call 'em the Grateful Dead of punk -- if only because both bands played out a much longer career than anyone expected, they both did their time in drug hell, and both called it a day around the same time with a certain degree of honor. And because equating the Dead and the Ramones might irritate the punks. Punks thrive on irritation. And if there was any movement punk was antithetical too, it was hippie. Q: Without the Ramones, would there have been punk rock?


A: Sure. You can't keep a wild horse tied down forever. But consider: The rock landscape of 1974 was every bit as bland as Joey Ramone recalls. The New York Dolls and Iggy & the Stooges were on the fringes, but the mainstream was inert -- a wasteland of REO Speedwagon and Journey, Yes and ELO.


The Ramones' idea wasn't to spearhead a movement called punk. They were, as Joey says, ``an isolated band, doing it.'' As to the punk rock movement: ``It just kinda happened, the chemistry.''


The Ramones toured England in 1976, and a drastically different audience heard their bursts of two-minute songs punctuated only by Dee Dee's count-offs -- ``One-two-three-four!'' Just like that, they jump-started that country's punk movement while musicians who formed the Damned, the Sex Pistols and the Clash caught their shows. Suddenly, rock had an angry, agitated underground sound on both sides of the Atlantic.


Remember, these were the days before there was a so-called ``alternative nation.'' Mainstream artists laughed at or scorned the punks. The underground rock press barely existed. Radio? Except for blips on college radio, forget it. MTV wasn't even a gleam in anyone's eye.


The Ramones have headlined rock festivals for stadiums full of fans, but here in the Capital Region, they've played at relatively small venues like the original J.B. Scott's, the University at Albany's Campus Center Ballroom and even the Union College cafeteria.


On Sunday afternoon, they'll headline University at Albany's annual Party in the Park at Lincoln Park.


That day, Joey, his three bandmates and the audience will all chant ``Gabba gabba hey!'' -- the salutation of their geek-bonding anthem, ``Pinhead'' -- one last time.


``Each city is the last time,'' says Joey, on the phone from Germany. ``I mean, last year it was too, but I didn't really feel it, but now I know it's definitely coming to an end. I guess when fans, the real die-hards, tell me they're sad about us stopping, when I'm surrounded by them, I feel sad, too.


``Myself, I probably went through every emotion. I went through a lot of heavy depression and just about every other kind of emotion you could feel. Now, I feel like I'm OK with it. There are things that I want to do.''


Who loves the Ramones? Stephen King loves the Ramones -- he enlisted them to perform ``Pet Sematary.'' Green Day loves 'em -- two dads in Green Day, Billie Joe Armstrong and Tre Cool, have kids named Joey and Ramona, respectively.


Spin magazine named the Ramones one of the seven greatest rock bands of all time. The Who's Pete Townshend joined them on a Ramonization of ``Substitute.'' Pearl Jam asked Joey to join them onstage in New Orleans last year to rip through the Dead Boys' ``Sonic Reducer,'' a 1976-era punk classic. There are at least two tribute songs dedicated to the band: ``RAMONES,'' by Motorhead, and ``The Things That Dreams Are Made Of,'' by the Human League. Kirsty MacColl sings ``I Wanna Be Sedated'' in concert. The Riverdales, California punks, are almost a carbon copy of the Ramones. You could argue that virtually every three-chord band in the land owes something to these guys from Forest Hills


The original and remaining Ramones are singer Joey (Jeff Hyman) and guitarist Johnny (John Cummings), both 44. Bassist-songwriter Dee Dee (Doug Colvin), 43, stopped playing onstage in 1989, but has continued to write with the band. C.J. (Christopher Joseph Ward), 30, a former Marine and longtime fan, replaced him. Tommy (Tommy Erdelyi), 44, was the original drummer; he was supplanted by Marky (Marc Bell), 39, then Richie (Richard Reinhardt), then Marky again.


When the Ramones began, what they did was radical -- under-two-minute songs, no solos, limited chops.


The Ramones' early world was one of TV, junk food, boredom, love and hate, horror movies, shock treatment. They did get more serious, over time, and occasionally new musical wrinkles would surface -- a country lick, a short lead guitar line, Beach Boys harmonies, faster tempos a la hard-core punk. But the Ramones would never be confused with a progressive band; they carved out a territory and worked it.


``The sound and style is like a trademark,'' says Joey. ``That is something that bands want to achieve. Think of the bands that have their own signature sound -- the Beatles, the Stones, the Grateful Dead, Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, Jimi Hendrix.


``I feel like we were the last band that did something major and didn't say, like, consciously, `We're gonna do it like this.' It was just the chemistry.''


The Ramones have been essentially a conservative band since, well, the early 1980s. The blueprint had been drawn, and from then on it was followed with minor deviations from form.


Sets remained pretty constant over the years -- a handful of new songs bracketed by classics from the first two albums.


On record, the Ramones have taken some chances: hard-core songs penned by Dee Dee, a wonderful (if panned at the time) punk/pop wall-of-sound collaboration with Phil Spector -- but the concerts remain the same 70-minute, 30-plus-song experience of yesteryear.


``I know we still play the songs the same,'' Johnny says. ``You watch tapes of us, 10, 15 years ago -- it sounds the same. We play what they wanna hear.


``I've played `Blitzkrieg Bop' for more than 2,100 straight shows. I'm not tired of it.''