Thursday evening, our city’s most massive music festival welcomed a former Ramone to the stage.
Blondie drummer Clem Burke was a member of that competing NYC institution for a mere two gigs, in 1987. And as he once told me, “I thought Blondie was a dysfunctional family until I joined The Ramones.”
A number of musicians, most of them drummers, can claim to have thumped the snare for The Ramones. But Tommy Erdelyi did it first. As Tommy Ramone, he was there in 1974 when the quartet first delivered a fast and furious antidote to the Eagles-isation of rock and roll. He had intended to be the band’s manager and producer, having already worked on studio sessions for the likes of Jimi Hendrix. But for four years, when Dee Dee counted-off, it was Tommy who answered the call.
He left the band following three landmark studio albums and a pummeling live record, to produce the likes of The Replacements, Redd Kross and of course The Ramones, the band that arguably towers over all his other illustrious credits. And not in a bad way: The Ramones’ first three records tower over nearly everything recorded since 1976.
Today, we received word that Tommy is gone, far too soon at age 65. It’s news that hits especially hard, given that Erdelyi was the last man standing from that original quartet. Can it truly be that The Ramones, a band that by rock and roll standards barely qualifies as an oldie, is no more? Multiple (if too few) original Beach Boys, Beatles, Monkees, Stones, Kinks and other veterans from a decade earlier are still among us. Yet The Ramones, the band whose sonic attack provided a blueprint — musically and thematically — for countless lesser punk rockers, are no more.
A dysfunctional family? Posthumous portraits of Dee Dee, Joey and especially Johnny have been less than flattering, offering glimpses of a foursome whose internal relationships ranged from mild dislike to intense hatred. (Actually, Joey tends to come off rather well, which is appreciated.) Tommy got out, and alone among The Ramones thrived subsequent to his departure. An influential figure behind the board, as he was behind the drums, he maintained a busy schedule and abetted his rock and roll legacy by producing a number of seminal works.
As Dee Dee, Joey and Johnny left us, there was at least some small comfort in knowing we still had one living and breathing link to that original band. One wonders whether Blondie spared a thought for those days of Max’s Kansas City, CBGB and a great and glorious music scene that seems like the recent past. After all, Chris Stein and Deborah Harry can boast of playing each night with a real live Ramone.
Not an original Ramone. But then, sadly, that’s no longer an option.
Bye bye, Tommy. Sad to see you go.
But hey, we’ll always have the music. So let’s turn it up.
Take it, Dee Dee!