"I hear all these people saying the Ramones are breaking up," snorts Ben Weasel, the notoriously outspoken Chicago punk musician (cur- rently one-third of the extremely Ramones-ish Riverdales and formerly one-quarter of Screeching Weasel) and Maximum Rock `N' Roll columnist renowned for his Ramones fixation. "I say, `Bullshit!' The Ramones aren't breaking up! The Ramones are saying, `Show us you love us! Buy a million records, and then we'll stick around!'"
That's a tough call to make. No one, save for maybe Weasel, wants to accuse the Ramones of pulling an Oral Roberts on their fans. Nevertheless, although chainsaw guitar king Johnny Ramone was speaking as far back as 1991 of an imminent coda to the punk legends' now 21-year-old career, fellow Ramones Joey (vocals), Marky (drums), and CJ (bass) all insist that: 1) the Ramones have at least one more record in 'em; and 2) a hit record would rapidly change Johnny's mind. ("I think the smell of green would arouse Johnny, actually!" Joey remarks sardonically.) Not bloody likely. Johnny, although reluctant, is firm in his insistence that the excellent new Adios, Amigos! is "most likely our last album." A source close to the band also states that a Ramones farewell tour is being booked for next year and that Johnny's determination is getting stronger. ("Johnny's saying, `I wanna stop now. I wanna move to Florida and play baseball.'")
'Course, every died-in-the-leather Ramones-a-holic can only slouch lower, pick at the rips in his jeans and wonder why? Chew on this: you damn near single-handedly invent punk rock, literally every single band that dares don the leather jacket and downstroke 1-4-5 chord progressions to a mixmaster beat owes you. A number of 'em go on to fame and fortune you deserve (although you make a comfortable enough living), but not a one will repay their spiritual debts with a tour slot or anything. (The Pearl Jam tour is actually a first for the Ramones.) After over two decades of pounding out this 1-2-3-4 pop noise, the world knows you did everything Green Day has on your first three or four LPs - yet you don't get even one-tenth of Green Day's radioplay, and the only gold record you've seen was awarded for your greatest hits album.
The only proper, human reaction to these circumstances? "Where's the cyanide?"
Johnny sees it as a matter of getting out while the Ramones are still at the top of their game. "It's like if you just let everyone go on playing and you would never release anybody," says Johnny, who sees everything relative to his passion, baseball. "And you don't keep track of anyone's batting average so no one knows that Pete Rose is still playing baseball now and is hitting .100, and he just gets up there and just gets by. That's what it's like in music: nobody gets out, because no one releases you. You can't, because you're still popular. But you're just a poor shadow of your former self. At some point, you have to stop. I mean, you see these bands... The Rolling Stones, they don't play the old songs! They don't even sound the same!
"I don't wanna be like that, I don't wanna be like the Rolling Stones. If a mandatory retirement age of 40 were placed on rock & roll tomorrow, I guarantee you'd see a lotta rock & roll suicides over the next two years!"
Then again, there's always the chance you're less Mick Jagger and more Nolan Ryan. Adios, Amigos! is the first Ramones LP in what seems like centuries that doesn't sound like the band phoned in their performances. Rather than have nimrods like Bill Laswell come in, lock Johnny in the closet as session guys ramalam in his stead, and grasp at speedmetal and hard-core and every other derivative speedrock trend about, they went in with Daniel Rey and a clutch of tunes written or co-written by estranged founding Ramone Dee Dee, and recorded them as if they were cutting "Blitzkrieg Bop" all over again. The results, especially the surprise Ramonization of Tom Waits' "I Don't Wanna Grow Up," prove the Ramones never lost it. They had merely lost their way.
An entire generation's aesthetic was built upon the Ramones. That emptiness we're gonna feel when Johnny Ramone takes off his Mosrite for good will probably equal what another generation will feel the day Keith Richards finally realizes the Stones' day has come and gone. Nevertheless, like Nolan Ryan, Johnny understands it's better to turn in your catcher's mitt before the true deterioration sets in. The best thing we can do is catch the Ramones now, pay our respects, get in our last shot at shouting "Hey! Ho! Let's Go!" In the least, it's reason enough to endure a Pearl Jam audience. n
[The Ramones open for Pearl Jam at South Park Meadows Saturday 16]