R.I.P. JOHNNY 9/15/04

In the early ‘70s, Rock Music was bloated and nearly dead. Session musicians and arthritic, over-produced spectacles replaced teenagers and fun. In the midst of this, the Ramones set out to restore what was great about rock-n-roll and ended up, for better, inventing punk rock. Their critics accused them of simple three-chord inanities, but they created a unique musical sound and wrote witty, cynical lyrics only masquerading as cheers for dummies. Their fans, part degenerates/ part cartoons, went on to be amused and thrilled for more than twenty years.

It’s not every day that the Scramlettes get to meet a true American hero, but thanks to the kind folks at Rhino, KIM and I were able to interrogate JOHNNY Ramone, Patriot, at their offices in Los Angeles. The occasion: the release of the double CD Ramones Anthology. With as many interviews as JOHNNY has given over the years, and his tough image, it was surprising to discover how genuinely nice and talkative he was. Anybody who ever bopped to punk rock, slammed to hardcore, shoegazed to indie rock or whatever other permutation was left in punk rock’s wake owes this man their thanks. And awayyyy we goooo…..-*MARGARET* Griffis

[the tape begins a few moments into a discussion of Edd “Kookie” Byrnes, whose name JOHNNY noticed on the front of the Scram Rave Up issue]
KIM: It sounds like he has some good stories.
JOHNNY: That’s why I bought his book. He does an autograph show occasionally at the Holiday Inn on Vineland. He was just sitting there signing copies of his book. I go to it every three months, whenever the show is. I always enjoy it.
KIM: So how many celebs will be in the room?
JOHNNY: About sixty. I’m trying to think of big names. The last time Jonathan Winters was there.
KIM: He’s a terrible bargain hunter. He’s super-super rich, but he’ll try to knock down the prices on things.
JOHNNY: I think he’s a little nuts. I think he always was a little nuts. I mean back in the fifties—
KIM: They put him away for a while! Back then a performer could go in the mental hospital then come out again, and people knew about it.
JOHNNY: They would definitely hide that stuff in the thirties and forties in Hollywood.
MARGARET: It was harder to keep it quiet in the fifties.
JOHNNY: Yeah, there were nuts. I’m sure Mickey Rooney was a nut too.
MARGARET: Or they’ve become nuts, since they had to—
JOHNNY: It’s a tough business. And the women, they get wacky! The stress of trying to be competitive in the movie world; it’s rough.
KIM: And to start getting older—
JOHNNY: They start giving parts to younger women. Then you start getting paranoid about everything. From being out here, I’m starting to see. I thought the music business was ugly. That was nothing! (Giggles all around) I had no interference at all. Movie people have nothing but interference. I would think the slightest thing — if the record company said “Oh, we wanna hear what songs you recorded” — “I can’t take this interference! You’re gonna interfere with everything I do?” I thought that was interference. Anything at all, any suggestion they would make. Now I see real interference when I see movies, and you can’t get anything done.
MARGARET: Have you been working on movies?
JOHNNY: Oh no, no no. These are friends who do this stuff.
MARGARET: You hear about it all day long.
JOHNNY: It’s crazy. People we’re friends with who have been working for twenty years and have made forty, fifty movies, they’ll have to go audition for a part. They have to audition for a part?!? I mean obviously, everybody knows who you are and how you act in film at this point. If I’m making a film, I’m gonna know exactly who I have in mind for the particular part, you know?
KIM: I think that’s all just a psychological power play.
JOHNNY: I’m sure they try to destroy you psychologically.
MARGARET: “We can only pay you this much.”
JOHNNY: “Well, you know, we were looking for someone younger on this.”
KIM: “So why’d ya call me?”
MARGARET: Do you think they call them just to meet them?
KIM: Wouldn’t you?
JOHNNY: I don’t know. I know they have agents who set them up. Maybe people are telling the agents “we don’t really want them.” “Can’t you just give them the audition?” “We don’t really want them, but fine, if you insist.” I don’t know what goes on. Then the agent looks like he’s doing his job. “I got you the audition, and you just didn’t get it.”
MARGARET: Do you like living in LA? Is it fun?
JOHNNY: Yeah, it’s fine, it’s fun. It’s good for retirement. For what I was doing before, it was better I was living in New York. Now that I don’t have to work and deal with these people, it’s good. If I had to go look for a job this would be a bad place. It’s too sick and too crazy and too competitive and everybody’s nervous for their jobs.
MARGARET: It seems that New Yorkers move to LA and are full of complaints.
JOHNNY: I’m really not complaining. I’m really liking it here. I wanted to find a place where the weather was gonna be mild or nice. I would’ve liked it a little bit warmer here, but it’s okay. I wanted to get a house. We considered Florida, Orlando, but my wife did not want to move there. If she ain’t in New York she belongs here.
MARGARET: How are you taking retirement?
JOHNNY: Fine, fine. Of course, you’re gonna miss playing.
MARGARET: Would you consider it again? Not a heavy tour schedule but…?
JOHNNY: Probably not. I mean, if I play again, it will be a one-shot thing for a month, overseas. An offer where it was going to be enough that it’s going to have an effect on my life, I would go do it. I miss it, but I can’t go back just because I miss it.
MARGARET: Do you play at home still?
JOHNNY: No. One time I played with Pearl Jam. They did a Ramones’ song at the LA Forum and— (chortles from the Scram girls) They did a Ramones song. (more chortling, JOHNNY notices) That’s right. (laughing) You’re not Pearl Jam fans?
KIM: I bet you hear this all the time?
MARGARET: Uhhhh, just no.
JOHNNY: It’s okay, you can say what you feel.
KIM: What’s going on with that? Why is there this Pearl Jam/ Ramones connection?
JOHNNY: My closest friend is Eddie. He just became my friend. I talk to him every other day. Everybody has this image of him as this depressed guy and, you know, stardom and everything. And he’s just this sweet nice guy and has been a very good friend to me.
MARGARET: Maybe because I don’t follow them, but he—
KIM: I’m not too hip on the personality, but it just seems like it’s two different kinds of music.
JOHNNY: Oh yeah, I understand that. At our final show, we had some guests there. He was the most popular and least popular guest. I’ve asked kids in the street who were at the show, “Who was your favorite guest and who was your least favorite guest?” I always quiz them on everything. “What songs did we do that you love? What songs did you hate? What was your favorite song on the album? What was your least favorite song?” I wanna hear their input so that I know what we’re doing.
MARGARET: It’s always Eddie? They always bring him up?
JOHNNY: They either hated him or they loved him.
MARGARET: [seeking to dispel a wide-spread rumor] Does he have the Mosrite?
JOHNNY: No, he doesn’t have the Mosrite. Daniel Rey’s got the Mosrite. He co-wrote about ten, twenty songs. Eddie had interest in it. Eddie’s got the Pinhead, the backdrop.
MARGARET: Eddie’s got a lot!
KIM: Does he have a huge room that it’s all laid out in?
MARGARET: He’s hoarding!
JOHNNY: He’s got his little area, but I think the backdrop is in some sort of practice space. It’s totally different music and all, but he’s just become my friend. I think I’ve been good for him to see things differently. I think he takes things less seriously. He’s come to grips with his fame a little. Y’know, people can start to resent you because you become too big. I would’ve loved to have become that big. I didn’t want to become small, I wanted to become big.
MARGARET: But you’ve got faithful fans!
JOHNNY: Yeah, and I love it, but we were a cult band. And I’m fine with being a cult band. But when I started off, we did not wanna set goals of selling a hundred thousand records. That’s how they started off. I said we want to be the biggest band in the world! When the Sex Pistols and the Clash came out, I said “Great, it’s gonna be a movement. The Ramones and the Sex Pistols will become the biggest bands in the world. I’m all for that.” Bands can’t change music by themselves. You need a whole bunch of bands coming out, because I kept relating it to ’64 in England. The better ones will be the bigger ones, and it would’ve been a good thing for music if “Anarchy” and “Rockaway Beach” would’ve been #1 hits. It would’ve been a better world. (laughter)
MARGARET: I agree!
KIM: You were ahead of your impact. It just took a long time for it to really explode.
JOHNNY: This period where we really peaked was 1977. When did the impact come? 1990? With Nirvana becoming big?
MARGARET: They’re not quite punk rock.
KIM: It’s not the same.
JOHNNY: These bands, yeah, got influenced, but it’s hard to see the influences. A more direct influence was when the Ramones went to England and you see the Damned start and the Clash start and the influences are more direct.
MARGARET: The same could be said about your band. If you played a Ramones record for Elvis, he might say “This sounds nothing like my music.”
JOHNNY: Yeah, “Where’s the influence? There nothing here” But maybe Brian Wilson would hear something, on “Sheena” or things like that. He wanted to produce at some point, I heard. After working with Phil, I wasn’t going to start with that!
MARGARET: Another kooky person?
JOHNNY: Another wacko from the sixties. Phil’d be nice to me, but so mean to everybody. He’s a little man. He’s got his wig on. He’s got his lifts in his shoes. He carrying his four guns. This guy’s full of insecurities. I didn’t want to work with him. I mean, I thought, “Phil did great stuff in the early sixties, but what has he done lately? So what?” He approached us on our Rocket to Russia album. He thought it was a great record. “Oh yeah Phil, thanks for coming down.” I didn’t want to work with him. I wanted to retain as much control as possible over what we were doing. By End of the Century, we thought we needed something. We had four albums. It was a compromise.
KIM: Certainly got a lot of media play.
JOHNNY: Yeah, but it was a big album. “Baby, I Love You” is a black mark that will never go away. When we started I said, “Oh Phil, we should do one of your songs.” I was all for doing one of his songs. I thought we’d just play one of his songs! Then I had to leave. My father died. I didn’t play on it. Mark and Joey were huge Phil Spector fans and what he was doing that was rotten, they didn’t care. Dee Dee hated him. Dee Dee stayed a punk throughout.
SCRAM: Yayyy!
JOHNNY: If you’ve seen Dee Dee, he’s like a Charles Manson character at this point. You know he’s nuts.
MARGARET: Where’s he living these days?
JOHNNY: I don’t know. He was out here playing with Marky. The Remains at some club.
KIM: Jack’s Sugar Shack.
MARGARET: Did you go?
JOHNNY: No, no. They kept trying to call me and get me to go.
KIM: What did they offer?
JOHNNY: They didn’t go into it. The promoter called me too, and he’s up and up. But I have no interest at all. I’m only playing if it’s gonna make a difference in my life.
MARGARET: One million dollars for one song at the Sugar Shack!
JOHNNY: Obviously they can’t be offering me that. They can offer me a thousand dollars to come down and play a couple of songs.
MARGARET: A new pair of shoes.
JOHNNY: Spend the money the next day.
MARGARET: You don’t need that in your life now.
JOHNNY: That’s not how I wanna do it. I have to be as good. It has to be the same reaction that you were getting in the Ramones, knowing that you’re up there and the fans — you’re their favorite band. You can’t top this. You get there with the confidence knowing that you’re the king of the hill.
MARGARET: Is that why you ended it? Did you feel it was leaving you?
JOHNNY: Our popularity remained pretty much the same throughout. We made more money each year. And there was no question of slipping in popularity. You start off, and I know from watching other bands, you’re gonna do what you do in a five year period. That’s it. You go on more than five years, you’re just treading water. You’re very dumb if you don’t see that. The Beatles were there from ‘64 to ‘69. Where’ve the Rolling Stones gone since Brian Jones has left the band? They’ve gotten bigger. David Bowie might’ve gotten bigger, but what has he done good since say Aladdin Sane? Say Diamond Dogs. Maybe it’s his last decent album.
JOHNNY: What? Are you a David Bowie fan?
MARGARET: Don’t let him know!
JOHNNY: Yeah, that he hasn’t written a good song since ‘77 and he’s gotten rich.
MARGARET: (nods in agreement)
JOHNNY: So I knew after five years. Ideally I would’ve liked to have gotten really big and stopped after five years. And gone out somewhere around End of the Century, where we would’ve been big enough where people were interested in me, and then I would’ve gotten into some aspect of film.
MARGARET: This is the place to fiddle.
JOHNNY: I know.
KIM: It’s not too late.
JOHNNY: Nah. The other thing I would consider is to be some sort of consultant.
KIM: I don’t know if there are Ramones consultants.
MARGARET: There are a lot of kids that need help.
JOHNNY: So you had to keep playing, because there was nothing else you knew how to do and that was your career. All you could hope to was make a good album. Some will be good, some won’t be good, but we’ve already did what were gonna do. At the fifteen year mark, I thought it would be really great to reach twenty years and stop. Reach two thousand shows in twenty years. I figured it would come out somewhere around the twenty year mark. So as we reached the twenty year mark, we were doing Acid Eaters. I said, “All right, we’ll do a Ramones album, stopping after another album. I’ve had enough.” Y’know, there were times when me and Joey would disagree and if we disagreed on something he’d go “I’m quitting!”
KIM: How many times did you hear that?
JOHNNY: A lot. One day I go to our manager, Gary Kurfirst, I told him that Joey says he says he’s gonna quit. Joey says “I never said that!” I go “Okay.” And I’m sitting there going “Gary, I’m really sick of our publicist. I want to change publicists.” And Joey goes “I quit!” “See, see Gary, that’s exactly what I’m talking about!” He’s quit, y’know. To fire the publicist. Where’s his loyalty? Is his loyalty to the band or a publicist? So, it would be, y’know… “If you wanna quit, fine. Were doing the next album, we’re gonna tour off the album. That’s it. I say it, I mean it.”
MARGARET: You kept your word.
JOHNNY: That was it. We were gonna stop in South America and there was the offer for Lollapalooza. The asshole who runs Lollapalooza comes over and says “I’m the one who got you on Lollapalooza.” I go “Whadda you want me… like I give a shit. Our career is over. I’m done. I’m retiring in two more weeks. This makes a difference to me now? Where were you the last six years?”
MARGARET: The last sixteen years! Why was the last show here?
JOHNNY: That’s where Lollapolooza was ending. I don’t know. The tour ended here. Did you go to the Palace?
JOHNNY: So were you disappointed when Eddie came up there or what?
MARGARET: Well, shocked.
KIM: [gleeful] Tell him what you were doing. She was in the front row.
JOHNNY: Were you giving him the finger?
MARGARET: [abashed] Yeah.
JOHNNY: I saw about six people doing that. I thought, “Oh God, I hope there’s no more. I hope this doesn’t start escalating.” So, you’re a true punk, that’s all right, y’know.
MARGARET: That’s the problem
KIM: Especially if you love the Ramones.
JOHNNY: Hey! I might’ve been mad too if I was a fan. I don’t know. He’s my friend. I wanted to play with him. I really love him
MARGARET: Fans. It’s okay, he’s cool. You’ve done your consulting with Eddie. He’s your first client.
JOHNNY: Who’d you like? Did you like Lemmy? That was good, right?
MARGARET: Yeah, that was fun.
JOHNNY: How ‘bout Rancid?
MARGARET: Y’know, I didn’t know who they were.
JOHNNY: Okay, I like them personally. They’re real nice guys. They’re sort of Clashmania. Instead of Beatlemania they do the Clash routine.
MARGARET: I thought “They look all right, but who are they?”
JOHNNY: Chris Cornell was supposed to sing a song. Do you like Chris Cornell?
JOHNNY: Oh, you don’t like him either. He’s so good looking, right?
MARGARET: [incensed] No, he’s not! He’s not good looking…
JOHNNY: I hear it from every girl. I see girls, I’m walking around with Chris, and I’ll see girls that don’t even know who he is and they’ll like stop.
MARGARET: Really? (incredulous)
JOHNNY: And look at him.
MARGARET: I went to see them in a club years ago, and all I remember is him having bad skin. That’s all I can remember.
JOHNNY: I never noticed that.
MARGARET: He was a young kid, I guess.
JOHNNY: But Chris was supposed to sing a song and our management tried to change the song that day and that took care of that. They messed that up. Who else was a guest? Dee Dee.
MARGARET: Dee Dee, that was fun!
JOHNNY: Funny. Dee Dee was gone. He’s totally lost in the song.
MARGARET: It’s too loud to hear anyway.
KIM: Tell us what you thought of the Dee Dee King album.
JOHNNY: I never listened to it. We were about to do Adios Amigos. He plays me “The Crusher.” I don’t think the arrangement was right. What the chorus is. Rearrange the song and do the song. You gotta have CJ sing this because he’s able to sing the rhythm.
KIM: Have you read his book?
JOHNNY: No. Dee Dee doesn’t tell the truth about anything. And I really like Dee Dee. He was my friend before I was in the band and my friend throughout the band. I felt let down when he left.
MARGARET: We all have friends like that… that we still love.
KIM: But if you know they lie, it’s different than—
JOHNNY: You know people like that?
KIM: Sure. They have to mythologize their lives. They have to, it’s the only way they can function.
JOHNNY: I met him one day while he wasn’t in the band anymore. Went by the Chelsea Hotel. About four kids stop us along the way and ask him what he’s doing now. Each person he talks to he gives a totally different story. He had an appendix scar on his stomach. While he was in the band if anybody would ask him he’d tell a story. A knife fight… Every time a different story, y’know.
MARGARET: Never an appendix.
JOHNNY: Never his appendix. He’ll do it to me, but what he would do is we’d get to a hotel at night and he’d go “Man, I can’t wait to get to my room and just go to sleep.” And I’d go “That’s what were gonna do.” And you’d stay in the lobby for a little while and you’d see him go upstairs and he’d be down in one minute running out the door.
MARGARET: Did you ever follow him?
JOHNNY: Nah, no. So in his book there ain’t gonna be nothing that was really gonna be true except his warped, crazy view of things.
MARGARET: That maybe would be more interesting?
JOHNNY: Maybe right.
KIM: So you gonna do a book?
MARGARET: How have you seen punk rock change over the years?
JOHNNY: I saw three concerts in the last two weeks, which is a lot. I usually go to one about every five months. I saw X at the House of Blues. They’re great. At first, that was rough going. As a kid you stand on these lines and deal with your stuff you don’t care. Here, no matter how easy it was being made for me, it was such a chore. To get my car, park, y’know?
MARGARET: Driving. Do you like driving everywhere?
JOHNNY: It’s okay. I don’t mind it. I don’t go very far. Everything’s a half hour from my house.
MARGARET: I wanted to ask you about your politics.
MARGARET: Well, the reason I’m asking is a lot of my friends who are punk rock are right-wing…
JOHNNY: They are? Okay.
MARGARET: It seemed like punk rock is a right wing phenomena, and I’ve heard you’ve caught slack for some of your opinions.
JOHNNY: Right-wing opinions?
JOHNNY: Oh, okay. I found it very strange, because here you have the hippie movement which is left-wing. Punks, you identify them if you go back to the fifties and sixties as a bunch of greasers who are more right-wing and anti-peace demonstrations and that kinda stuff. Then suddenly in the punk rock movement you start having these left-wing kids who are really hippies who have become punks but are still really hippies.
MARGARET: P.C. people. McLaren was a lefty.
JOHNNY: He was, you’re right. The other guys I don’t get. Steve Jones doesn’t seem to care one way or the other. He was just looking for girls.
KIM: Nothing wrong with that.
JOHNNY: If that’s all your life about, I guess there’s something wrong with that. I don’t know. Ramones fans always seem to be okay. They know I’m that way and I think a lot of the Ramones fans are sort of in agreement with me. Those are the only kids I have contact with. I don’t talk to any of those punks on the street.
MARGARET: Wearing Crass shirts and begging for money
JOHNNY: Yeah, that’s all hippies. Same thing as was going on in the late sixties. To me, I think punk should be right wing. That’s how I see it. The left wing is trying to destroy America by giving handouts to everyone and making everyone dependent on them. They only care about the voter base. They don’t really care about anything else. They don’t care about anyone. If they can get illegal aliens to become able to vote by motor registration, they will. They’re illegal aliens! They don’t even belong in the country, let alone voting. It’s just to keep their base of voters. Is it best for America? It’s not best for America.
KIM: Do illegal aliens actually get driver’s licenses?
JOHNNY: Yes, they passed a law! Pre-natal care for illegal aliens! This is all craziness. Who pays for this? Sure, for rich people it ain’t gonna make much difference. But look at all the middle class people. That ain’t rich. Even at $75,000 a year, you have a wife and two kids, you’re just getting by. That’s not rich people.
MARGARET: They don’t have to have a house.
KIM: Or kids.
JOHNNY: They take away half your money on taxes. Then you pay property tax and tax on everything you buy and then you go get gasoline. The first thirty six cents is tax. Then you buy the gasoline and they tax the total amount. You’re paying tax on the tax! They wanna sue the tobacco companies. Tobacco company make twenty five cents on a pack. The government makes $1.25! The world’s getting sicker and sicker. We’re getting involved in these crazy things. Sudan, Afghanistan, Iraq, whatever’s left of Yugoslavia here. $40 billion on bombing these countries and having all these refugees. It shouldn’t be going on to begin with unless it’s of vital interest to America. It’s okay to let the Chinese steal our secrets because we’ve been selling them all this stuff.
MARGARET: (says something indecipherable about Kosovo.)
JOHNNY: The reports are greatly exaggerated. Well, the reports we’re getting from our pilots is that they’re finding boxes covered with canvas with tanks drawn on top of the canvas! We wasted all this money. If they wanna give hand-outs, they could’ve used this money to do something with in America. Every report they put out there is a lie. Just a lie. My mother called me up and goes “isn’t that terrible?” And I’m like “You listen to this crap? You listen to this propaganda. It’s all lies. Can’t you get used to hearing the lies?”
KIM: What is the source for your information?
JOHNNY: I watch a lot of stuff. I mean I listen to talk radio, Hannity and Colmbes at 11 o’clock at night. There’s a left and a right viewpoint, and they discuss it. I try to watch this stuff. I find the left, especially the men, are such wimps. (laughs) Such wimps. You can spot them .
MARGARET: I was looking at a picture of Russian revolutionaries from 1905. I said “Ugh, that guy looks like such a Communist!” And it was Trotsky! (laughs) Maybe it’s a genetic thing.
JOHNNY: I had friend who was getting ready to vote for Clinton back in ’92. I said “How could you do this? Don’t you see the lies? He’s evil.” Naw, he voted for him. Within a year he was sorry. He wished he’d voted for Bush.
MARGARET: I’m surprised he learned that soon.
JOHNNY: I’ll never let him forget it. He’ll say “C’mon it’s been seven years.” I don’t care, heh.
MARGARET: I still talk to people who have the blinders on. “Okay, so he sleeps around with women…”
JOHNNY: It’s okay to just let the Chinese steal our secrets. They’re our “friends.” But they have missiles pointed at every American city, and L.A. is the first place they’re gonna shoot because it’s closest.
MARGARET: And that embassy we bombed.
JOHNNY: They are not our friends. We have to have tight security. We gotta stop fighting these wars. So many soldiers die. We should have troops at the border and keep illegal immigrants out of the country. We have a million illegal aliens. You wanna let them stay? Fine, whatever you wanna do. We gotta stop getting any more. They don’t want them to stop because these are potential voters. All they care about is re-election and staying in office.
MARGARET: Do you even vote?
JOHNNY: I think I might start, but I’ve been so disgusted. My wife does. She votes Republican.
MARGARET: That’s what she tells you.
JOHNNY: She does. (laughs)
MARGARET: Like Edith Bunker.
JOHNNY: That’s a show too. They tried to make the conservative look like a bigot. I hated that show. All of sudden I realized, one day, “I see what they’re trying to do. Archie Bunker is the fool and Meathead is the wise person.” I was thinking it would be interesting if George W. takes a woman as vice-president. The left would have to vote Republican. They wouldn’t know what to do.
MARGARET: They should get a black woman.
KIM*/ *JOHNNY: That would be too strange.
MARGARET: Did you see the Ted Nugent Behind the Music?
JOHNNY: Yeah. I never watch it, but it was on. And then there was the Red Hot Chili Peppers episode, with John Frusciante. People ask me “How can you be friends with John Frusciante?” I only know him straight. I don’t know him any other way. He was like the worst Bowery Bum on heroin. I haven’t seen that one yet, but I’ve seen Poison. These guys talking — the mentality of this band is so different. It’s all about women, and they go nuts on the road…
KIM: They’re not in it for the music at all.
JOHNNY: That stuff never entered my mind. I always had a girlfriend and never cheated on her. Going on the road is touring for the record and making some money. Changing schedules so we could get to the place fast enough to see a baseball game.
MARGARET: Yankees fan?
JOHNNY: Yankees fan. Angels fan too. Baseball fan. So Poison’s mentality… these guys seem all right, but they looked at it as a party. When I go on the road for the next two months it means I don’t drink or smoke pot or do anything till I get back home.
KIM: It’s a real work ethic.
JOHNNY: Each day was about being as good as I could possibly be that night. I don’t do anything to get me tired. Go to bed early.
KIM: It was most important that you do that, because if you screwed up, you’d screw up the others.
JOHNNY: It’s more obvious.
MARGARET: I had a friend mention seeing the Nugent show the other night. They didn’t like him because of his guns and politics.
JOHNNY: Even if you don’t like his music, he’s one of the real characters of rocknroll.
KIM: Do you like his music?
JOHNNY: Just his image more than anything. I don’t hunt, but I don’t have anything against people who do. Gun laws don’t get guns out of the hands of criminals. They just make it harder for me and you to get them.
MARGARET: We can hire all those criminals to protect us.
JOHNNY: It’s all about money. That’s all they’re trying to do. Do they want to ban tobacco? They just want to make money off of it.
KIM: How much do they charge for a pack now? Four bucks?
JOHNNY: I think they’re up to that now. I’ve never smoked a cigarette in my life.
KIM: I smoked one just to see what it was like. It was real horrible.
JOHNNY: I’m not for people not smoking. Second-hand smoke — it doesn’t do anything to anybody.
KIM: It makes your clothes stink.
MARGARET: It makes my eyes red.
JOHNNY: Okay, but it didn’t kill anybody. Have you seen the billboard “Do you mind if I smoke? Do you care if I die?” They go to a bar and they’re worried about second-hand smoke. They’re not worried so much about people drinking and getting on the road and driving drunk and killing innocent people. That’s what’s steaming them. They’re worried about smoke.
KIM: JOHNNY, when did you realize you were going to be a Ramone forever? And did that make you feel like there pressure for you not to change as a person?
JOHNNY: Well, I didn’t think it was going to go on forever. Like the Dolls, who thought it was going to go forever and spent it all. The track record of bands — they break up.
KIM: Are you a Ramone right now?
JOHNNY: Yes, guess I’ll always be a Ramone.
MARGARET: Is that how you introduce yourself?
JOHNNY: They’ll say “What’s your name?” I’ll say John. My wife will press me to say “*JOHNNY* Ramone.”
MARGARET: It’s not on your driver’s license? (laughter)
JOHNNY: No, but it’s part of my own real identity. Pressure to change? No. Not changing musically, that was more pressure. It was better when we didn’t care if the records would sell and just made them for our fans. Adios Amigos, after twenty-two years, I think was a very good album. We didn’t worry about the hits. I tried never to worry about it after the first three albums. I knew we were going to be a cult band and it was going to stay like that. Nowadays, they get albums to go to #1 right away on the charts and you don’t know how many are out there, how many sold, because they shipped a million. All that matters are the final figures.
MARGARET: When I worked at a record store, we were asked to pre-order a lot more Pearl Jam records than we needed, just so they could get the numbers. They were going to pay shipping and everything and a bonus so it wouldn’t cost us anything. They knew we would ship a bunch back.
JOHNNY: It happens. Eddie would be unhappy to hear that. Some people don’t feel they’ve succeeded unless they’ve sold ten million albums, every one went to number one and everyone tells them they’re the best. I never thought I’d get this far. I never thought it would go for twenty-two years. I can retire. Everyone’s nice to me.
KIM: Did you go to college?
JOHNNY: For a year. I went to college because of the Vietnam war, but I had a high draft number so it was very unlikely anyway. Every eligible kid in the country was ahead of me. I was against it. It wasn’t a good war like WW II.
MARGARET: The same people who were protesting the Vietnam war twenty years ago are pro-war now.
JOHNNY: A lot of the heroin coming into this country is going through the Albanians.
MARGARET: Some people think that’s a good thing.
JOHNNY: They have twelve kids per family. The Serbians are Catholic have like two per family. And were choosing sides with the Muslims, like we’re protecting them.
MARGARET: The Albanians carry on blood feuds and generations of Albanian men are stuck at home where they can’t get killed.
JOHNNY: And we’re siding with them?
MARGARET: Hitler did the same thing. He tried to give Kosovo to the Albanians.
KIM: [enough politics already!] So, JOHNNY, over all, did you have fun?
JOHNNY: Over twenty-two years surely I had some fun. Say, have you been on the internet?
JOHNNY: Well, my friend is selling Ramones snow globes! The deluxe edition has a leather jacket in it. They come with pieces of my jeans in them. I’ve signed a bunch of his things that he’s sold on eBay.
MARGARET: Really? How did the leather jackets come about?
JOHNNY: I had mine since ’67. I was a real punk. I was a bad person, then all of a sudden one day I woke up. I didn’t like who I was. I gave up drinking and drugs. After two years, I just woke up. I’d see a bottle in the street and put it through someone’s window. Just petty things that were wrong. I didn’t like who I was. I went to see a psychiatrist but after a while he said “I can’t help you.”
KIM: Reverse psychology!
JOHNNY: I thought “what are you going to do with your life? I don’t know what the hell I want to do.” I decided the next day I was going to find a part-time job. Held that for six months and then went to my father and said I was ready for a full-time job. He was in construction. Then Affirmative Action came around and they needed to fill a quota really quick on a job that was all white and I lost my job. Then I went out and bought a guitar.
SCRAM: And here we are. Thanks, JOHNNY!