–COMMANDO: The Autobiography of Johnny Ramone

Commando Johnny Ramone cover

–COMMANDO: The Autobiography of Johnny Ramone (2012)
By Johnny Ramone. Edited by John Cafiero with Steve Miller and Henry Rollins

When one thinks of pure, unadulterated all-American rock & roll, the Ramones are it. They are one of a handful of iconic American rock bands that make me think, “Hey, if you don’t like this band, you’re un-American.” Or, as the late, great, Johnny Ramone very well may have put it, “You’re a Commie.” Not that I want this column to devolve into nationalistic or political discourse, but you know what I mean. I say, if you’re an American rock or metal fan and don’t like Aerosmith, Van Halen, Alice Cooper, KISS, Metallica, Dio, Black Label Society, or yes, the Ramones, then “Hey ho, let’s go” the heck out of here. And leave the Bud Light, bacon-double cheeseburger, potato chips and apple pie on the TV tray, would ya?

Joey Ramone may have been the most famous of the faux brothers from Queens, New York, as well as the uniquely quirky frontman with the inimitable voice. But guitarist Johnny was the U.S. Marine Corps of the group, the ferocious embodiment of the do-it-yourself punk rock ethos that later translated over to the underground heavy rock scene of the late ‘70s/early ‘80s. Without Johnny Ramone’s dogged persistence, incorrigible drive for success, pristine musical vision and insistence on militaristic precision in all things Ramones, the iconic and oh-so-melodious punks would likely be little more than a small footnote in a rock anthology. That’s why Commando: The Autobiography of Johnny Ramone, even with some flaws, is an essential read for Ramones fans.

In many ways, the book mirrors the life of Johnny and the music of the Ramones themselves: it’s short, quick, direct and uncompromising. It took me two, maybe two-and a-half hours over two days to finish this book. The good thing about that is it left me wanting more. The bad thing is it left me wanting a lot more. Ramone’s prose is terse and to-the-point, his syntax simplistic and writing style lacking in flow and transitions. Not surprisingly, Ramone is no overly-sensitive, introspective nancy boy here (my tongue firmly in cheek, of course). He glances over each phase of his life and career by including only the most cursory of analyses of the various events and personalities he encountered and impacted. And you know what? Who cares?

What matters most about Commando is that it is a perfectly fun and educational memoir of the Ramones’ leader. Sure, Johnny does not exactly dispel his reputation of being a disagreeable, humorless, angry, vengeful hard-ass throughout his life. No, he is distinctly forthright about his violent and downright ornery past, admitting to throwing bricks through people’s windows as a youth, beating guys up for looking at his girlfriend wrong and even giving a young Jeffrey Hymen (aka Joey Ramone) a good pounding for being late to a trip to the movies one day. Johnny pulls no punches and makes no bones about his mistakes and his faults, though he also doesn’t concede many regrets. We are affirmed in his machismo attitude, his lack of empathy for Joey’s struggles with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and his bandmates’ substance-abuse issues. Johnny complains sincerely about how bad the food and lodging sucked in France and how the weather in Scandinavia was so dreary he could hardly stand it. I’m sure I’m not the only person who read passages like these and rolled my eyes thinking, “Really dude, seriously? Look at all you had going for you.”

That’s just the thing, though. Johnny Ramone really had a lot going for him, and in Commando he lets all his positive qualities shine through as well. He loved baseball, classic horror movies and lived a healthy, drug-free lifestyle. This only child from Queens took his faultless blue-collar work ethic as a construction worker and fed it into one of the most respectable 20-year careers in rock history. He designed the band’s relentless and groundbreaking sound, its iconic look (long hair, blue jeans, white t-shirts and leather jackets), and steered its career into the profitable and enduring business venture it eventually became. His stubborn refusal to compromise the Ramones’ music earned them multiple generations of fans, and his frugality with the band’s finances ensured substantial savings for himself and decent salaries for his band and crew. In a mainstream music industry that refused to cut the band a break, Johnny never relented, and one can only respect a man like that. He took care of his friends and family the best he could while always staying true to his no-frills, blue-collar roots. If Johnny Ramone weren’t so incorrigible or hard-headed, or “grouchy,” as close friend Lisa Marie Presley termed it, the Ramones likely never would be.

And that would be a shame. A damn shame. R.I.P. Johnny Ramone, and long live the Ramones.–Jonathan Kollnot

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~ by jonnyboyrocker on March 31, 2013.

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