Monday, February 18, 2013

BOOK REVIEW: COMMANDO - THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF JOHNNY RAMONES BY EVAN SHORE OF MUCK AND THE MIRES

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Our book reviewer Evan of Muck and the Mires and Johnny: coolest photo award.

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One day about two weeks ago, I left work in the afternoon to go get a cookie (I was having a rough day, don't judge) and who did I run into to but our good pal Evan from Muck and the Mires. He was in town from Boston and was busting with excitement cause he had just picked up the new Johnny Ramone autobiography, Commando. After he told me he had been buddies with Johnny and even spent a night at the legendary Limelight nightclub in New York with him, we had no choice but to force him to write a book review for us.  

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Rock and Roll High School changed my life. I had spent the latter half of high school listening to the Ramones, but this film was my first opportunity to actually "see" them and I was now hooked. The day after I turned legal to enter a night club, I rushed to the club Malibu on Lido Beach, Long Island and saw what would be the first of approximately 100 Ramones shows that I would attend over the next 15 years. Right after that Lido Beach show, I saw the band again and again throughout the year at places like The Palladium in Manhattan and smaller clubs outside of the city. 

That New Year's Eve, The Ramones returned to Malibu. Johnny twice threw up on the side of the stage forcing the band to abruptly stop their show while he regained his composure. There was a buzz in the audience that he had been drinking; after all, it was New Years, But I soon found out this was not the case. That night, I met Johnny Ramone. It was a small venue, so he was quite approachable. He said, "It was something I ate". 

To my surprise, he recalls this obscure food poisoning incident from one of the band's 2,263 shows in his new autobiography, Commando. The accuracy and attention to detail given to this, and other events that I witnessed first-hand convince me that Commando is the real deal: the true story of the Ramones, told in great detail direct from the indisputable leader of the band. Only Road Manager Monte Melnick's, book, "On The Road With The Ramones" comes close to capturing what it was like to be a Ramone. In fact, many of Monte's accounts are revisited, this time from Johnny's point of view. For example, the time the band, en route to a show, outvoted Johnny and insisted on stopping to see Stonehenge, leaving an angry Johnny and his girlfriend to brood on the tour bus.

But Commando is more than just the story of the Ramones. Behind the scowling face of Johnny Ramone was John Cummings, sharp, witty, generous and loyal to his friends and fans. While he self admittedly describes his teen years as incorrigible (he threw TV sets off the roofs of buildings to scare little old ladies), he also sheds light on how his demeanor was often misconstrued as mean-spirited. Whereas Brian Epstein always encouraged his band the Beatles to smile for the camera, Johnny, the Ramones "Inside Manager", made a conscious effort to frown for the cameras. But behind the tough exterior he also could be very kind. As he writes, he encouraged his younger fans to "stay in school"; in fact, I distinctly recall him giving me that advice. 

Through a mutual high school friend, I would get to know Johnny very well over the next few years, opening for his band six times, visiting the apartment he shared with his future wife Linda, and actually traveling with them on one occasion in their van from Boston to New York. Life in the van as exactly as he describes it in the book. Each Ramone got their own bench seat, and no one spoke to each other.

We finally learn how he and Linda gradually started to fall in love and how that affected his relationship with singer Joey Ramone, whom she was dating at the time. He shares vivid details of his childhood , military school, working construction and finally forming the band. And he takes us along on a 20-year road of hard knocks which included no airplay, little money and missing nearly every opportunity to make it really big. 

Like reading a book on the Titanic, or the Last Days of John Lennon, even though you know the ending, as you read this story, you are secretly wishing that things will turn out differently. You hope that the band will not turn down Saturday Night Live in 1977 (the appearance that instead made Elvis Costello a household name). You wish that the record label would issue "I Wanna Be Sedated" as the single, from Road to Ruin, and most importantly, in the book's final chapter, you wish Johnny would go to a doctor to get himself checked out earlier so perhaps he might have lived longer.

Commando features tons of unpublished photos which help illustrate this first person account of what life was like inside the van, backstage at the shows, in the recording studio and onstage with America's greatest rock and roll band. 

-Evan Shore

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Links: 'Commando: The Autobiography of Johnny Ramone' on Amazon

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