Agony Shorthand

Friday, April 08, 2005

If you haven't seen this 2003 RAMONES documentary yet, I wouldn't get too worked up about its recent release on DVD. It's essentially a glorified "Behind The Music" episode with shakier footage, taken to 1:40, with a more indie/rough feel than that, um, guilty pleasure of a show. The arc of birth-triumph-despair-renewal is followed somewhat, only to be trailed again by despair as Joey and Dee Dee regrettably pass away. I'd rent it again had I not seen it, but it's really nothing out of the ordinary, and if you know this band's story well, there's only a few things worth noting:

-- Joey and Johnny just loathed each other for years. Their misery together through decades of touring in the same vans/planes was pure torture for them & everyone around them, as numerous parties own up to (my favorite being 1990s bass player "CJ Ramone", whom I totally forgot about).
-- The band were Rolling Stones-huge in South America. There's some eye-popping footage of the band playing to 30,000 freaks at a soccer stadium in Brazil, and then almost getting brutally mauled by a frothing crowd of 200 wild Ramones-crazed kids while leaving their hotel the next day.
-- The tape of the band playing at CBGB to a 1975 crowd of maybe twenty people is priceless. They sound like something that would have changed your life, your wardrobe & general approach to music in a single night, as they did for so many (side note - a friend saw The Ramones, who he'd never heard of, open for Black Sabbath in the late 70s and turned into a punk the next day, later becoming the foremost "industrial" DJ in the SF Bay Area, when industrial meant Throbbing Gristle and Whitehouse etc.).
-- Johnny was really the glue of the band the whole time, managing their image, their finances and their dogged consistency for over 22 years. He comes off as a self-centered but intelligent visionary of sorts who never suffered anyone, fools or otherwise, gladly.
-- Dee Dee's rap record was even worse than I'd remembered it. The footage from his ungodly video looks like it was filmed straight off of a running TV (!), and it's more painful than any children's record or Starship LP I've heard. It's like that Mr. Show "rap, rap, rap, rapity rap rap" bit with a few obligatory "coloreds" thrown into the background for street cred. Wow.

The genius of the first record and "Leave Home" cannot be overstated, and the bulk of the documentary focuses on those first incredible years. Still, I'm not prepared to shower the same level of praise on the DVD simply because of its subject -- it's a nice B- effort worth unspooling on a quiet, unplanned Wednesday night.