photo & text by nacrowe
sometimes the less you know the better.
that was definitely the case with COMMANDO (ABRAMS BOOKS, 2012), a posthumous autobiography by PUNK ROCK icon JOHNNY RAMONE written during his final years while battling prostate cancer. its not that i dont appreciate or love his music. shit THE RAMONES are one of the bedrock bands of my entire music listening life, its practically them and THE BEATLES in my mind for most consequential bands in ROCK N ROLL history. its just the dude on paper comes off as a real DICK. and not even a likable one.
i understand that there is a bit of hagiography going on when writing one's memoir, that makes sense. it is after all a book where the author and subject are one in the same so there should be some blurring of that line of credibility. but COMMANDO seems intent on making JOHNNY RAMONE the center of the narrative at all times. it makes sense that TOMMY wrote the preface forward because he is the only other band member that is not characterized as an adult juvenile delinquent. that was unfortunate, given that by the time of its being written, JOEY RAMONE had been dead for more than half a decade. and that is the flaw of this book: its remarkable pettiness.
JOHNNY loves presenting himself as a working-class AMERICAN to point of caricature. he really digs into the concept of an ugly AMERICAN, criticizing EUROPEAN countries for being lackluster because their television was horrible and not in ENGLISH and he didnt like the food (he wanted BURGER KING). its laughable until i realize the unique opportunity this guy had traveling the world only to have his own EGOTISM and MYOPIA step in. for him to think, even in retrospect, that such was cool or to be celebrated is just SAD and PATHETIC. he comes off like a real small person and for him to think that such was him being a REAL AMERICAN makes me cringe. and it appears he wholesale believed such. i really feel for JOEY. JOHNNY RAMONE seems like the quintessential UGLY AMERICAN.
this and his repeated use throughout the book of MISOGYNISTIC and HOMOPHOBIC slurs leads one to believe that he was in fact the emotionally, intellectually and psychologically stunted member of the group. or just another cretin, pinhead or (ENTER YOUR PREFERRED RAMONES REFERENCE HERE). his criticisms of JOEY or anyone that disagrees with him seem to be simple projection. even his assessment of his peers and the early PUNK ROCK bands out of ENGLAND was their similarities to THE RAMONES. its not like he couldnt understand how PUNK ROCK as a template could be expanded by THE CLASH or others with different sounds. its as if he could understand how they wouldnt want to purely emulate THE RAMONES. its total egomania. furthermore, he cant seem to handle the world as it is with any complexity and relied heavily on easy, and unreliable, signifiers of value.
which bring me to his bizarre recurring preoccupation and fascination with MONEY. i understand that all of THE RAMONES felt that they were never paid what they deserved over the arc of their career, especially given rise of 1990s ALTERNATIVE ROCK and PUNK-inspired bands of that era who made a killing. i get that. but no fan really cares about their finances. to the fanbase, their music has a non-pecuniary value. so hearing him relate value with money is just off-putting and makes him come across again, as selfish and self-interested.
interestingly, the closest i have come to this level of NARCISSISM in a memoir is PAUL STANLEY's FACE THE MUSIC (review linked HERE) and GENE SIMMONS' KISS AND MAKE-UP (review linked HERE). in both cases, the KISS frontmen, who came from the same era as JOHNNY RAMONE, were upfront and transparent about their ambitions from the outset of attaining fame and wealth. all aspects of KISS (from the songs, artwork, stage presentation, personnel decisions, marketing, etc.) where made from that perspective. they werent necessarily concerned with personal expression, artistic integrity or even any notion of authenticity. it was really odd hearing this same line from one of the key members of THE RAMONES. it was actually pretty sad to hear. like KISS, JOHNNY RAMONE speaks about how the band would film themselves (even at the outset) and basically choreograph their stage show. i couldve lived without knowing that.
i will admit that at least JOHNNY RAMONE was honest. ill give him that. with regards to his apparent NARCISSISM, MISOGYNY, HOMOPHOBIA, AVARICIOUSNESS and even his REGRESSIVE RIGHTWING POLITICS (the dude was a DITTOHEAD, after all), i could have done without knowing how small his world actually was.
i cant advocate COMMANDO because i wish i didnt read it. i dont know whether to blame his publisher, his editor, his estate or even JOHNNY RAMONE himself. in my opinion this publication should never have been made available to the public as it tarnishes his reputation. makes me want to search out films and books that focus on other members now. specifically JOEY, who seems a more fitting PUNK ROCK icon for the ages than this sad man.
i dont question his influence or greatness, but he is now a part of another subset of notable artists with terrible flaws. like RICHARD WAGNER, R. KELLY, PHIL SPECTOR or even MICHAEL JACKSON.