Before the Ramones were the iconic punk rock band we all know and love, they were just four ugly weirdoes from Forest Hills, New York. In the early 1970s, the music industry was in a state of flux. The Beatles were long gone, Elvis Presley was well on his way to his inevitable bloated demise and the synthesized pop music of the 1980s was still a few years away. Disco ruled the commercial airwaves and for some reason, people thought it was here to stay. For a little while, it seemed like rock and roll’s glory days were coming to an end. But not every American was content doing The Hustle.
Joey, Johnny, Dee Dee and Tommy were a wild bunch of young, pissed off New Yorkers who not only rejected the mainstream music scene but also set out to do something about it. Tired of what they were hearing on the radio, these four misfits strapped on their leather jackets and started playing music as loud, fast and angry as they could. People didn’t know what to think at first. Nobody had ever seen anything like this before. These guys were true originals. The band members all quickly adopted the Ramone pseudonym and began playing shows at a then relatively unknown bar called CBGB.
The Ramones looked more a biker gang than musicians. They weren’t good looking by any means but that didn’t seem to matter to them or the people who liked them. Their songs were catchy and they knew how to play their instruments…but just barely. The band played their first show in front of a live audience at Performance Studios in 1974. After that, they would go on to play 2,262 more shows over the next 22 years. The Ramones never really had a hit record and overall they achieved very little commercial success. In spite of all this, somehow the band would still become a major influence on the punk rock movement in both the United States and the United Kingdom. A little later down the road, the Ramones would often be referred to as the first American punk rock band.
End of the Century is the complete story of the Ramones legacy-from the band’s inception to their struggle for success to their eventual breakup in 1996. This documentary contains interviews with the band’s friends, family members and of course, the Ramones themselves. It’s raw, honest, and really gives you an interesting perspective of the band’s dynamic. From the outside, being a musician looks like the best job in the world. But once you hear about some of things the Ramones actually went through, you really begin to question how they managed to put up with it for so long.
As much as the Ramones looked like they were birthed out of the same alien space pod, the group’s individual members couldn’t have possibly been more different from each other. Johnny was very conservative and a strict self-disciplinarian. Joey, a hopeless romantic, was very liberal and had some obsessive-compulsive issues. Dee Dee was a junkie. Add these personality traits to a string of drummers who either quit the band or got kicked out for drinking too much and it seems like the Ramones never even stood a chance to be functional let alone successful.
Their songs rarely had more than 3 chords and were almost never more than 2 minutes long. The music may have been loud and fast but it was also melodic, romantic, and had real energy behind it. When MTV showed up in the early 1980s, everyone thought the Ramones were a shoe-in to be the next big thing, but it just never happened. They somehow managed to teeter on the edge of success for almost their entire time together. However, there was always some sort of audience for their type of music and as long as they had an audience the Ramones would continue to play. Over the span of their career, the band recorded 14 studio albums, starred in their own movie, and even worked with the legendary Phil Spector.
End of the Century is a true underdog story. It’s amazing these guys could even be in the same room as each other, let alone share a stage and this documentary doesn’t shy away from that at all. The producers ask difficult questions and the interviewees give honest answers. Somehow, something kept the Ramones going. You could say the world needed the Ramones. They were the kick in the crotch that the music industry was asking for. The band remains to be one of the most influential bands of all time. The Ramones came from nothing and had so many obstacles in their way, yet even with all of their differences, the group still managed to stay together for over two decades. Why? Because they were the Ramones. Check out End of the Century. It’s well worth your time.
Matt Kelley is a writer who lives in Chicago, Illinois. Matt has been writing and producing short films since he was 14 fourteen years old and he will continue to do so until he is dead. Matt has won several awards for the short films Naked, Action City Bathroom and FutureCop 2010. He currently writes for the new web series, Hank Frisco: Galaxy Defender. Check out more of his work at www.hankfrisco.com or follow his angry rants on Twitter@_MattKelley_