A chat with Richie Ramone

This interview originally appeared in NARC Magazine Issue 114 (February 2016)

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On the day I interview a Ramone, something I’ve wanted to do all my writing life, David Bowie dies.

So inevitably, when I get through to Richie Ramone on Skype, the first thing we discuss is the death of The Dame. In a broad New Jersey accent, Richie tells me he “just expect[s] it now, kinda. You try not to get too upset. When you get to 70 you know time ain’t on your side. But who next? I guess it’s the Stones”.

Richie Ramone got the rock’n’roll bug early on. “When I was in high school I got hold of fake ID. I was sixteen and living in New Jersey and I used to come up to the city, and that’s where I saw the Ramones. I saw them a few times, and I was fan, totally”.

“I hated all that arena rock shit, but around 1979/1980 I started hanging out at CBGBs, those kind of places, and I saw so many great bands, and I thought, this is what I want, this is how I want to live my life”

“I mean I was a fan, but I didn’t have any Ramones posters on my walls. When I joined the band I joined as a musician. I’ve been playing the drums since I was five years old so I was brought in because I could play.”

Born Richie Rheinhart, Richie Ramone was third in a line of excellent drummers (after Tommy and Marky) and played on the albums Too Tough to Die, Animal Boy and Halfway to Sanity. “I wrote a lot of material for the band” says Richie. “I wrote ‘I’m Not Jesus’ and ‘Somebody Put Something in my Drink’ and I’m the only drummer who wrote songs for the band”

He was also the only Ramones drummer to sing on a track when he recorded ‘You can’t say anything nice’ for the band.

Punk rock to the soles of his Keds, Richie also played on solo work by Dee Dee and the posthumous (and rather excellent) Joey Ramone album Ya Know?. As far as Joey was concerned “Richie saved the band. He’s the greatest thing to happen to the Ramones. He put the spirit back”.

The love is obviously mutual as Richie continues to play at the annual Joey Ramone Birthday Bash

“I’m off to the studio this week in LA” Richie tells me. “I’m working on my second solo album, Cellophane, and I’m really looking forward to it. I don’t play great guitar, but I play enough to write songs”. Unfortunately the album won’t be ready for the tour. “Nah, that’s unfortunate, I know” he says, frustrated at the timing. But Richie is one busy boy, recording with the Gobshites, the Rock’n’Roll Rats, and previously with Fred Schneider of the B52s and Dan Sartain.

Richie plays The Cluny on February 9 and it’s not going to be a night for nostalgia. “I’ll be playing Ramones classics, songs I wrote and songs I didn’t, and I’ll be playing a lot of my own material from my solo albums” he says.

“I heard about audiences up there” he says of Newcastle. “You guys really like punk rock, right?”

Oh yes, I tell him, oh yes.

SHEENA REVOLTA

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Ladies and Gentlemen, tonight Hilly Kristal will be played by Mr Alan Rickman

The problem with making movies set in the recent past, especially when they concern infamous landmarks such as CBGBs, is that there are people who went there and bands that played there still walking the asphalt.

If you didn’t actually go there to see a band (and I didn’t, despite working in New York when it was still open), you’ve probably read a hundred reviews of gigs being played there, or heard live albums recorded there, or seen Roberta Bayley or Bob Gruen’s photos of bands gigging there.

So Randall Miller’s 2013 movie (currently available on Netflix) had it’s work cut out ahead of time, and it seems nobody involved, least of all Miller, felt like making much of a job of it.

Metacritic gave it 30 out of a hundred based on 17 reviews, while Rotten Tomatoes gave it 3.4/10. The LA Times called it “a mess of caricatures” while The Village Voice (who should know) said the film’s “biggest problem is that it’s taken such electrifying source material and done absolutely zilch with it.”

But don’t let that put you off! It’s hilarious!

There are one or two excellent turns, the surprise package being Hogwarts’ own Rupert Grint as Cheetah Chrome, while Stana Katic stands out as Genya Ravan, and someone called Caleb McCotter has a crack at being Jayne County.

Much of the casting however, verges on the farcical, particularly Malin Ackerman’s Debbie Harry. One thing you can say about the lead Blondie is that she had charisma in spades. Not so Ackerman, I’m afraid. Too tall, too busty, too plain, too miserable.

Ramones in CBGB

The four wack jobs playing The Ramones (see above) are just five blokes in leather and wigs, but completely hilarious. I’m imagining an excellent sitcom starring these four chancers permanently at war with the film’s Dead Boys – also completely laughable and loveable. A weekly thirty minute laugh-a-thon featuring the fake Ramones and Dead Boys might even be an idea I’ll steal myself.

And don’t even get me started on the Iggy, Lou and Patti characters. They could have been played by Kenneth Williams, Frankie Howard and Fenella Fielding for all the difference it made. The film would have been better for it.

By the way, my CBGB comedy theory is leant some weight by the presence of real gag-show royalty, in the form of Mrs Costanza herself, Estelle Harris (as Hilly Kristal’s mom, Bertha), and a decent part by ex-Rosanne alumnus and Big Bang Theorist Johnny Galecki (as Terry Ork).

CBGB-Alan-Rickman-www.whysoblu.com_So how about the recently departed Alan Rickman as Hilly Kristal (above)? I’ve never been much of a fan of Rickman. I never forgave him for Truly Madly Deeply, but it seems he was a truly decent bloke. Labour supporter, state school educated, raised by a single parent.

When all else is collapsing around him he brings this rootedness to the role of Kristal. Joey Ramone only knows how Miller got him to take the part, as a cursory glance at the script would surely have had the Shakespearean rolling around on the casting room with stomach cramps. But there you go.

Hilly Kristal was said to be good to his musicians, appreciating that they needed good sound, promotion and payment. Punk Magazine’s obituary was kind to Kristal and honoured his legacy, and I think the same could be said of Rickman’s portrayal of the club owner.

The greatest tribute to Rickman is that in a litter tray of a movie, his performance lifts it out of the ordinary. It’s still a comedy, but it has a heartfelt and memorable dramatic execution at the heart of it.

David, Vi and me

I don’t remember when I first came across David Bowie but it was probably on Top of the Pops, as it was for most of my generation.

This would have been in the very early seventies, and in order to understand the impact Bowie had you have to know a little bit about my life and those of the people around me.

suedeheadsI lived on a large council estate built to house the bombed out overspill of blitzed towns like London, Glasgow and Portsmouth. Our heroes were often footballers, but more often football hooligans. My first memory of wanting to achieve a specific ‘look’ was wanting to be a suedehead (this being the end of ‘skinhead’). I wanted monkey boots, a denim jacket, a feather cut and red braces.

My father was a no-nonsense, ex-forces, manual worker, who I’d followed around the world with my mother until illness forced him back onto Civvy Street and a council house.

I went from a good junior school to a bad comprehensive and everything changed for the worse. I got bullied, my clothes didn’t fit, I had few friends. My comprehensive was staffed by disinterested teachers, and less interested children. We weren’t being schooled to succeed in anything other than staying off the dole queue.

After five years of comprehensive education, a tenth of my school mates ended up doing time, a third joined the Army, Navy or RAF. and the rest were employed in the Naval dockyard.

Top of the Pops was a programme I was both desperate to watch, and anxious to avoid be noticed watching. My father used Top of the Pops as an opportunity to vent his homophobia at every opportunity, while my mother seemed only interested in whether bands wore suits (she therefore approved of The Jam, just).

To my Dad, Marc Bolan, Steve Harley, Freddie Mercury, and especially David Bowie, were ‘poofs and weirdos’. My Dad hadn’t even been a rock and roll fan. His music was Frankie Laine and my mother liked the Light Programme on the BBC.

On the other hand, although I was rather excited by my suedehead and bootboy friends, it was not a world into which I fitted. I liked drawing and singing, dressing in my mother’s heels and putting on make up, reading books and listening to a huge stash of sixties pop singles on a Dansette record player given to me by my aunt (who was only a few years older than me).

adrian-street-and-his-father

Because my parents both worked several poorly paid jobs, I was often left in the care of my Grandmother, Vi, who was, compared to them, liberal and understanding. Not only did she teach me to knit and sew, but she knew Harvey from the Glitter Band (who she’d served as a teenager in the Coop) and Adrian Street (right), the outrageous, be-glittered wrestler.

She’d take me to see wrestling bouts at the Theatre Royal Portsmouth, or the Guildhall.

We’d have front row seats, and after the bouts she’d take me backstage where Jackie Pallo and Kendo Nagasaki would shout “hello Vi, is that your little grandson?” and pat me on the head with hands the size of baseball gloves.

She let me watch Top of the Pops without comment, and saw glam rock for what it really was – good old British variety with great tunes and humour in spades. She laughed when she watched ToTP, but she did it in an affectionate way.

After nagging her about David Bowie, Nan who took me to a record shop in Southsea to buy Space Oddity. It wasn’t the original release but a maxi-single released in 1975, with two songs on the b-side; Changes and Velvet Goldmine. The three songs on this record changed everything.

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Those three songs led me to a greatest hits album; ChangesOneBowie, and to a second hand paperback copy of The Man who fell to Earth by Walter Tevis, and every interview with Bowie in every magazine I could find.  Bowie seemed to represent and vindicate not only my confused sexuality, but also my feelings of alienation in terms of my gender and personality. If Bowie didn’t fit in then it didn’t matter that I didn’t fit in. In fact it made it cooler.

The interviews I read with Bowie in the music papers (and there were six of them published EVERY week in the UK in the seventies) were like recommended reading and listening lists. So I was introduced to the work of Mott the Hoople, Lou Reed and the Velvets, Andy Warhol, Nico, Kraftwerk, Iggy and the Stooges, New York Dolls, Roxy Music, Eno and Fripp.  And from there to punk, krautrock, disco and beyond.

Later, when Bowie dressed as not one but three different women in the Boys Keep Swinging promo video, I knew I was correct to follow and keep following Bowie.

Outside my family, Bowie is the ONLY constant in my life. Outside of people I actually know, Bowie has been the most important person in my life.

Interestingly I never saw him play live. I was always too frightened that he’d disappoint. And I had my own Bowie and I was happy with that. I didn’t want to share him with anyone else in some sort of mass worship experience.

Anyway, I’m going to miss him, though I have him with me in the person I am. Bowie runs through me like my own blood.

My books of 2015 … the rest

#2 Not that kind of girl by Lena Dunham
LenaDunhamI shouldn’t like this book, but I do, just as I love Dunham’s TV series Girls, and her movie Tiny Furniture. What’s that all about?

I’ll be open about one thing. I do find Lena Dunham particularly hot. Is that wrong? She’s funny, intelligent, politically liberal (and engaged), interestingly dressed, frequently naked.

Of course I fancy her!

But I also loved the book because it was recommended to me by real-life girlfriends who had found it inspiring and said it reflected their own lives. As much of Dunham’s work, it’s about that period between leaving school and starting your adult life. And the friends, and the shit ushering jobs, and the attempts to write something meaningful. Going to your friends’ piss poor drama performances, or derivative art exhibitions. Their bad bands. Their poorly attended club nights.

I laughed out loud a lot when I read Not That Kind of Girl. Because I recognised my own life and that of my friends at that stage of our development. And that, more than anything, is why I love Lena.

Check out her blog, Lenny, by the way. It’s an excellent daily reader.

 

#3 Live Nude Girl: Chronicles of Sex-Positive Culture by Carol Queen
CarolQueenA delightful treatise on queer life, and a book that offers another way of living, one that is about self-definition, personal autonomy and pleasure.

Carol Queen managed to put into words something I’d been struggling with my whole life – why, if my culture is queer, my politics are queer, my friends are queer and my art is queer, I am defined by who I’m sleeping with at any given moment?

 

#4 King Kong Theory by Virginie Despentes
Essays on rape, gender, sexuality, and punk rock by the writer of Baise-Moi.

Despentes seemed to take these issues back from the realm of theory, and positioned them anew against the backdrop of her own experience.

She’s one of the freshest writers I’ve read for years, and her anger shines brightly and offers hope, not least because she embraces the act of sex and the practice of sexual choice. She doesn’t hold it at arms length.

 

#5 Sick On You: The Disastrous Story of Britain’s Great Lost Punk Band by Andrew MathesonThe_Hollywood_Brats_5
Even though I’d adopted the lifestyle of punk towards the end of 1976, I’d never heard of the Hollywood Brats.

That’s hardly surprising as their ‘career’ had come to an end by 1975. They were possibly Britain’s first punk band, our own New York Dolls.

Matheson’s book is a riotous carry-on, instantly recognisable to anyone who’s been in a crap band. It’s about bedsits and cider and fag butts. It’s about falling out with a succession of bass-players and managers, and about all the times you nearly have ‘made it’; but for your own ignorance, pride, pig-headedness and stupidity.

Mathewson is the punk Withnail, and it could make a fabulous movie. As long as they don’t cast Noel Fielding, Russell Brand or Bill Nighy, it could even be a great movie.

 

#6 Wreckers of CivilisTGation: The Story of Coum Transmissions & Throbbing Gristle by Simon Ford
Leant to me by artist Juli Watson (who has become something of a partner in crime this year), Wreckers of Civilisation was an excellent introduction to the story of Throbbing Gristle.

With a very few exceptions I still prefer reading about TG than listening to their music (this is an exception).

But TG were as revolutionary as the Sex Pistols, Crass or the Ramones. In both art and music, their impact has been enormous. Many people have had their lives opened to incredible possibility by Cosey, Chris, Sleazy and Genesis. I’m one of them.

 

#7 Pirates, Punks & Politics by Nick Davidson
FC St. Pauli are the adopted German football club of punks, anarchists, hippies and larrikins, supported across the globe by those who feel excluded or morally corrupted by the ManYoos and Real Madrids.

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I used to make a living writing about sport. There are times when I still do. I’ve written extensively about the politics and culture of football, rugby league, Aussie rules and wrestling. This book as a reminder of why I loved sport in the first place, and what was missing from so much of the sport we have access to via television, print and radio media.

St.Pauli are run by their fans, and make collective decisions. They’re based in the inner suburbs of their city, Hamburg, and fans still stand up at matches.  To understand why that’s important you probably have to be a football fan. But to understand why football is important, you just need to pick up a newspaper.

 

#8 Low Budget Hell Making Underground Movies with John Waters by Robert G. Maier
robert maierI’m a huge fan of the work of John Waters. I saw a double-bill of Pink Flamingos and Desperate Living at the old Scala Cinema off Tottenham Court Road in the late seventies, and it was as much a turning point as hearing United by Throbbing Gristle or the first Swell Maps records. I thought – I could do that!

Maier was an insider on all of the early Waters’ films, mostly as Waters’ production manager.

He sheds a harsh light on Waters’ single-mindedness, selfishness and meanness in making his movies. And while Waters also comes across as self-obsessed myth maker, often at the expense of his friends, he also comes across as kind and thoughtful, generous with his gifts, a man who likes to surround himself with those he trusts the most, supporting them in their endeavours and personal trials.

 

#9 Carsick by John Waters
ct-watersfrontis1-jpg-20140529On the other hand there’s this.

Probably the most disappointing read of the year. While it had it’s moments (most of these being the factual interludes where Waters enjoys the company of ordinary drivers who pick him up as he hitch-hikes across the American continent), at least a third of the book, perhaps more, is given over to Waters’ sexual fantasies.

These, perhaps inevitably, are about being picked up and tortured by truckers. I love a good sexual fantasy, particularly when they’re being shared by famous people I admire (I LOVED Madonna’s SEX!), but John W’s wet dreams are tiresome and repetitive.

He’s always fun, but this time I was laughing less than usual. Got a signed copy though, courtesy of my gorgeous friend Elspeth.

 

#10 Zami: A New Spelling of My Name by Audre Lorde
AudreLordeIn early summer I asked my friends for a list of great books by women.

The amazing Ami Nisa suggested this book and was then kind enough to lend it to me.

It’s the story of a young black woman growing up in Harlem NYC and her growing awareness of race, sexuality and intelligence. It’s about her writing and her education, and it’s powerful stuff.

She was a contemporary of the Beats, but her story is the flipside of that macho, homo-erotic, misogynistic culture. While the Beats deified ‘negro’ culture (and jazz in particular), Lorde was living with the reality of actually being black in pre-civil rights America. Being working-class, female and lesbian added suffocating layers to her daily struggle, but Lorde is an inspiring figure, tackles life with gusto and triumphs as a writer and as a person.

One of the great autobiographies.

My book of 2015

jiz_lee

#1: COMING OUT LIKE A PORN STAR: ESSAYS ON PORNOGRAPHY, PROTECTION AND PRIVACY (Ed. Jiz Lee)

I’m proud to call Jiz Lee a friend, and although they’re ‘only’ a Facebook friend, they’ve been a Facebook friend for some years. If you haven’t seen Jiz’ work, treat yourself. Jiz (see photo above) is an extraordinary adult performer who just smashes everything you thought you knew about porn.

This book (which was published by an excellent new publisher called ThreeMedia shares intimate personal ‘coming out’ stories from porn performers of many genders, races and ethnicities. Coming out to family, friends, partners, lovers, and community, the writers open up about far more than their personal relationships.

But what this book was really about for ME was ownership and autonomy.

Who owns our bodies, who has a say in how it’s used, defined or displayed? It goes beyond fucking and sucking. It’s political.

These amazingly open writers talk, sometimes unconsciously, about the way powerful coercive forces – government; churches, temples and mosques; the local community; big business – have literally taken ownership of our body rights, where reclaiming them has become a revolutionary act. Which is why the act of ‘coming out’ is dangerous, and why this book is so important.

I’d say it changed my life. 2015 was a year in which I decided more than ever that it was important to define myself, and to own and live that self. And this book inspired that in ways I’m still becoming aware of.

PS: it also serves as a primer to a list of simply amazing queer performers. 2016 will be SO much more interesting as I work my way through that list x thanks Jiz.

PPS: you can order the book here. Do NOT use Amazon!