05.23.2012 08:50 AM

Johnny Ramone’s autobiography: I don’t wanna read that book

I bought Johnny Ramone’s posthumous biography a few days ago, in Belleville, on the way up to the cabin. I liked the cover, above, and the design. I’m a sucker for great design, which is why I loitered at the National Post longer than I should have.

I bought Commando because the Ramones made the greatest album in the history of the world, and because – for the first four LPs, at least – they were the greatest band on the planet.  They were perfect.

I read it in a couple of nights.  The book is a first-person account of the life of the Ramone’s one and only guitarist.  The project was overseen by Ramone’s widow and one of his closest friends, which is one of the main reasons why it is such an eminently dislikable book.

Being an Irish Catholic, all of you know how much I fear speaking ill of the dead.  It’s a really bad idea; it’s dangerous.  The subject of the criticism never hears about it, and the author of the criticism usually ends up looking like a creep.  So I don’t do it.

Commando, however, will persuade you to speak ill of the dead – in this case, the former John Cummins, who has been dead for nearly a decade.  In this slender tome, Johnny comes across as a bigot (people he doesn’t like are “faggots”), a Right-wing loon (he lionizes Ronald Reagan and John Wayne, and he calls anyone to the Left of George W. Bush a “commie”), and an asshole (he repeatedly smears Joey, Dee Dee and Marky Ramone, but never once apparently considered breaking up their profitable partnership, or even getting their side of the story).  He comes across as an unmitigated jerk.

Any of us who are into punk rock always knew that Johnny Ramone was a grouch, and a conservative.  But what I didn’t know – what a lot of punks didn’t know, I suspect – was what a crummy person he was.  And that he himself would provide the evidence of said crumminess.

If you love the Ramones, don’t read this book.  It always sucks to discover one of your heroes is a jerk, and that’s all you’ll discover in Commando.

15 Comments

  1. Philippe says:

    Hard to believe someone who played in that legendary band could be an intolerant Conservative. It’s almost weird…

    • Roger says:

      I don’t see why. When the Ramones started, punk (it wasn’t even really called ‘punk’ back then) had nothing to do with politics. The British wave took care of that, for better or for worse.

  2. patchouli says:

    My thesis advisor, who writes authorized literary biographies, once told me that “all biography is autobiography,” meaning that the authors of the life stories of others never get very far from their own lives and tend to impose their own views onto the subject. Perhaps that’s what is happening here: perhaps the passage of time and the fact that other voices are purportedly telling his story make the other voices stronger than his own. That, or he was a dick and yes, it’s always disheartening to see a celebrity or author or someone I admire interviewed and realize they aren’t fully human enough to deserve my admiration.

  3. Jane says:

    One of my best friends spent 15 of her formative years touring with The Ramones. While she loves their music, she never comments on them as people. As a VP at Sony Music now, she clearly learned the value of selective memory….

  4. David Bailey says:

    It’s sad to hear that the rumbles we’ve so often heard about Johnny are true.

  5. Michael S says:

    I met Johnny (as Johnny Cummings, his real name) in of all places, Acapulco, at a poolside bar at a craptacularly tacky but rather expensive resort where he was doing some sort of private gig, I believe for Mexican billionaire Carlos Slim. Not sure if the rest of the band was there, as he didn’t talk about that, but it was the early 1990’s. His thoughts were elsewhere, as there were loads of young women running around topless.

    He was everything that the book said. He wasn’t rude to me, but he was a lout to almost everyone else. For some very strange reason he was convinced I was from New Jersey and would shout out to me “YO JERSEY BOY” like I was his BFF, every time he saw me, and make a hand to mouth gesture like we’re going to go out and get drunk. No, I’m not kidding.

      • Michael S says:

        Remember, WK, that musicians, much like politicians, wear a mask. They’re performers, characters, and behind the mask they are just people, some people being remarkably smaller in real life than they are on stage. Such is life. Whatever you think of him, it’s not his fault that his reality doesn’t meet up to our expectations. It’s ours. Reality was just some guy at a bar, totally unremarkable, REALLY unremarkable, not the worst lout of the lot by far. Just some guy on a business trip, like me. We were both there for the money. Maybe that’s why he wasn’t an ass to me, we were there for the same sincere reason, and it clicked, however bizarrely. I was selling stuff to Mexican telecoms executives. He had a gig.

        I got to see a boyhood hero without the mask wearing some hideous Ocean Pacific orange shorts and no shirt hitting on girls half his age. Orange OP shorts. It was the bartender who told me who it was after I was yapping with him about something I forget about for over fifteen minutes. I was as stunned as you. “You Johnny Ramone? Really?” “That’s me, Jersey Boy” as he smiled, winked, and polished off the rest of his drink before pursuing some 20-something female quarry.

  6. Dude Love says:

    Maybe this is the way his wife remembers him?

    I met him and Dee Dee when I was 13. I sneaked out my grandparents house to see them at a theatre down the street. Johnny was grouchy but they were touring in a crappy bus. He gave me a guitar pick that I still have to this day.

  7. John says:

    I’m a huge Ramones fan and never in a million years would have suspected that any of them would be such a dick.

    Thanks for the heads up Warren… cuz that book was on my list.

  8. Rick says:

    I think that the film “End of the Century” presents a much more nuanced view of the Ramones than either Warren’s opinions or some of the ill-informed coments here. Johnny kept the band going, for good or bad, for many years between Joey’s severe compulsive disorder and Dee Dee’s addiction problems. Quite a bit like Robbie Robertson with the Band. Nobody likes the boss.
    And then Johnny’s wife was Joey’s former girlfriend. How the pair worked together for 15 years after that happened is hard to fathom.
    The Ramones were a sad story, like a lot of rock bands. Terribly unappreciated at the time, over appreciated after they were gone(literally). And only Tommy a definite mensch, is left. RIP

  9. Jeff says:

    I still plan on reading it. It sucks that Johnny was such a toolbag, but I can’t say it’s surprising. I got that vibe all through the “End of the Century” documentary and in Joey Ramone’s EXCELLENT biography, “I Slept with Joey Ramone.”

    As much as I’d like to write off his bad attitude as an inconvenient fact incidental to the Ramones music, I think more accurately the Ramones were great largely because of who he was. I don’t think I like the guy, but it was because such an intolerant bastard that the band attacked songs and tours relentlessly as a desperate attempt to save rock from hippy bulshit. Similarily, it was his intolerant, no nonsense attitude that kept this band honest, hard working and always touring.

    The Ramones blend of his no nonsense personality, with Joey’s more relatable sensitive ideals, and Dee Dee’s disturbed and aggressive songwriting are what blended to make them such a great band. I’m not a fan of Johnny Ramone as a guy, but I honesltly have a hard time believing they’d be as good of a band if he was a sensible, reasonable progressive.

  10. T.W says:

    A few years ago I saw a great documentary on PBS called “End of The Century – The Story of the Ramones” which made it clear that Johnny Ramone was a difficult person at best and a complete dictator at worst.
    I always liked his KISS principle, cheapo Mosrite Guitar, barre chords, lack of solos etc, but he had serious flaws.
    He had great business acumen but ran the band into the ground years past their prime.
    He stole Joey’s girlfriend – The KKK Took My Baby Away was Joey’s response to that.
    He’s an arch conservative Nixon, Reagen fanboy, while Joey was a Jewish Liberal, he never touched drugs but all the other members struggled with addictions.
    IIRC he said god bless America and Dubya at the RHOF but no mention of the departed Joey
    A complex character.
    How they stayed together so long is testament on his will to control but I don’t think of that when listening to the Ramones who I appreciate more and more as I get older.

  11. gram says:

    i agree johhny was a asshole actually i think if there was two people to part the blame of the ramones breakup it was none other than johnny and marky, everybody blames dee dee cause he was a addict but the ramone who got under everybodys skin was johnny he complained about everyone and everything, and marky was always bringing up bad memories and rehashing old arguments , just imagine having cancer and having to deal with marky and johnny ugh no wonder joey had enough rest his soul

  12. Bratster says:

    Seen them in 1973 at a shit club in toronto. Canada. Was wowed to the bone. Always will be a fan,yet saddened at the loss of all members at very young ages,still wear my ramones shirt proudly.never worry about the person just the music,im sure elvis was a prickly at times too,just saying folks.

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