My friend Ben Liemer, longtime record guy and magazine editor (and still somehow a music fan) writes:
For a band that was virtually indestructible during a 20+ year career on the road, the Ramones have not fared very well in retirement. Dee Dee was expected, Joey not. And Johnny?
Johnny was the heart and soul of the Ramones and to this day remains my favorite rhythm guitar player of all time along with Keith Richards (Pete Townshend, Malcolm Young, & Tony Iommi have to be up there too).
Quick flashback: Summer, 1976, Bowery & Bleecker, on a humid summer night in The Big Apple a 19 year-old Ben Liemer visits CBGB for the first time for their Underground Rock festival. On the bill: Ramones (w/ Tommy on drums for sure) & the Cramps (w/ Bryan Gregory looking like an escaped psych ward patient on gtr.). Alcoholic bums are staggering on the sidewalk outside their cheap flophouse hotel rooms--there's garbage in the streets and junker cars parked nearby. The Bowery Bar isn't even a dream yet and neither are the other restaurants & upscale lounges. All over the radio at this time are the slickly singles of the Eagles, Fleetwood Mac, Steely Dan, and the precursors to disco, etc. I pay my money and step into the shithole alternate universe of CBGB hours early. No one has safety pins, spiked hair, torn clothes yet. Except Richard Hell, who was inventing the look due to a severe lack of funds...but I have no idea if he was in the house that night. Few people were wearing all black yet, long hair and bell bottoms were abundant. Some black leather motorcycle jackets could be seen, but it was hardly the live in, on-the-road essential article of punk clothing it would become. My friend and I find a corner against the wall by the left side of the stage and watch as the crowd fills in. Someone says Lou Reed is in the house and it's a bfd because "Rock & Roll Animal" is a classic just a few years old and besides I had the original album cover poster on my wall in college. It's fucking hot and hard to breathe. The rest you know about if you've heard the first album--"Blitzkrieg Bop", "Beat On The Brat" "I Don't Wanna Walk Around With You" just about rip our heads off with perfect minimalism and maximum Marshall stack n Mosrite distortion. The entire set of what?.... 12-14 songs took like 25 minutes. To quote Emeril: BAM!
In the next two months, I saw Talking Heads, Television, and a lot more, bought Patti Smith's "Horses" which was the first major punk release along with "Ramones," and a whole new set of alternatives outside of the mainstream media that I had never imagined existed opened up to me. And remember, there was no MTV, there was no internet, no file sharing, no daily download or watch the video, there was no alternative club touring circuit before the Ramones, Blondie, etc. established it, New York Rocker, Boston Rock and Punk Magazine hadn't been created yet, there were no commercial stations playing this kind of music--hell none of these bands were even signed, except for Patti. To quote "Road Runner" by Jonathan Richman & The Modern Lovers: "I'm in love with rock & roll and I'll be up all night...." that's exactly how juiced I felt. And that's why I am in the music business to this day.
The Ramones were the saviours of rock & roll--when they played London on July 4, 1976 future members of the Clash, Sex Pistols, Siouxsie & The Banshees and Billy Idol were in the crowd. They all looked at each other and said, "hell, we can do that." Almost overnight a 100 bands formed in the UK. Many were good, some were great, but there will always only be one Ramones. "There's no stoppin' the cretins from rockin" Johnny!