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Wednesday, 28 July 2021

Book review: Guitarist Ramone memoir reveals charming, grumpy punk icon

The book is based on a series of interviews Johnny Ramone gave in the final years of his life for the purposes of a memoir.

(Reuters), Tuesday 8 May 2012
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Johnny Ramone, guitarist for seminal punk band the Ramones, pioneered a fast, no-nonsense sound that made him one of the most influential guitarists of all time.

"Commando: the Autobiography of Johnny Ramone," released nearly eight years after Ramone, born John Cummings, died of prostate cancer at age 55, reads like a Ramones song: short and to the point, but with plenty of colour to keep things interesting.

The book, recently published by Abrams Image, was written from a series of interviews Ramone gave in the final years of his life for the purposes of a memoir.

"He wanted to have his last words because he knew he was dying and he was always kind of a misunderstood character," Ramone's wife, Linda Cummings Ramone, said in an interview.

Linda enlisted author and former Black Flag singer, Henry Rollins, as well as her manager, John Cafiero, to put together the 176-page book, which is peppered with photos and collected memorabilia.

The result is a raw telling of Ramone's life story, from a blue collar New York upbringing playing baseball and roughing up neighborhood kids, to early Ramones gigs with Blondie and The Talking Heads at punk-rock bastion venue CBGBs.

It also sheds light on the ongoing tensions that took place within the band, and his more than 20-year romance with Linda, who once dated his former friend and bandmate Joey Ramone.

"When I left Joey to go with Johnny, it was intense, because nobody wanted the band to break up. The band was always first," Linda said.

"Joey and Johnny didn't talk. Did I have something to do with it? Well, yeah, of course, a bit, but musically Joey and Johnny were growing apart. That was more the tension in the band," she added, citing a 1994 Christmas card shown in the book that Joey sent Johnny, a gesture Linda said showed how those tensions had thawed toward the end.

Other parts of the book detail Ramone's thoughts on his famously brash personality, his sometimes meticulous nature and musical inspirations.

While Ramone described himself in the book as an angry person for much of his life, beginning as "the terror of the neighborhood," he also lets on that his favorite place on earth was Disney World, and when he listened to music, chances were he was listening to Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra, or Elvis.

He was also a fastidious saver and was planning for retirement even before the first Ramones show in 1974. Following the band's last performance, in 1996 at the Hollywood Palace, the Ramones were making more money than when they were together, having established fans around the world.

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