Pop Culture Gadabout
Monday, May 26, 2008
      ( 5/26/2008 07:41:00 AM ) Bill S.  

"GUESS I'LL HAVE TO BREAK THE NEWS THAT I'VE GOT NO MIND TO LOSE." Finally got to view Ramones: End of the Century, the documentary charting the career of this seminal rock band. Not a lot of surprising material to this fan, but it was a treat to see the principles tell the stories themselves. (The Phil Spector stories are fascinating, particularly in light of that man's later history.) In two cases (Joey and Dee Dee) the movie was made around their deaths - Joey passing on as the flick was being filmed (and, thus, having his death and aftermath being covered in the movie, most infuriatingly in a sequence where Johnny Ramone explains why he didn't attend Joey's funeral), Dee Dee dying from an overdose when Century was in postproduction - so it's obvious the filmmakers lucked out in terms of timing. If they'd started the documentary any later, it would've been a whole different film.

At heart, it's a sad little movie: for all the music and wit and power of the Ramones' music, the band's three core members (singer Joey, bassist Dee Dee and guitarist Johnny) were at heart damaged human beings. The only one of the original foursome who seemed to have his head screwed on was drummer Tommy - and he had enough sense of self-preservation to quit the road after the first three albums. But as Dee Dee most poignantly notes, it's clear that being a Ramone was these guys' salvation. For all the internecine squabbles (Joey refusing to speak to Johnny for years after the guitarist "stole" his girlfriend), the band's long slogging years of touring ("never boring," as Joey once reminded us) kept them alive.

Still, it's a decent artifact for all you Riff Randalls out there, though the pop geek in me woudld've preferred a little more discussion on the actual music that these guys created in between all the roadshow melodrama. (How do you talk about the Ramones' music without once mentioning surf music or bubblegum?) And I've gotta repeat one of my regular snipes about closed captioning. Having been to Ramones' concerts during their heyday, I can testify to the fact that the band played so fast that it often took you half the song to be able to Name That Tune. But if you've got the concert filmed, you should be able to rewind and get the song right. "Blitzkrieg Bop" is not "Kill that Girl."

And while we're on the subject, the chorus to "Teenage Lobotomy," is not "A part of me" - it's the second frigging word in the song's title. For all the great background material, in the end the Ramones story is still primarily about the songs - the greatest catalog of pop-rock ever crafted by a group of doltish city kids - and if you can't get that right, you're ultimately not doing right by the boys.
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Pop cultural criticism - plus the occasional egocentric socio/political commentary by Bill Sherman (popculturegadabout AT yahoo.com).

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