“Hey Johnny Hey Dee Dee/ Little Tom & Joey/You know we’re goin’ over/Sweet sweet little Ramona”
I’ve had a lot of musical heroes die over the years, Joe Strummer, Clarence Clemons, Roy Orbison and and now, the final member of the original Ramones lineup-Tommy Ramone. Joey Ramone was always my favourite Ramone, as a tall, skinny teenager I’d try to do that weird walk Joey did in the scene in Rock n Roll HighSchool where the band was playing “I Just Wanna Have Something To Do.” But as far as influences go—I wanted to be Joey but I played drums because of Tommy Ramone.
Back in the early 80’s I had friends who had a band that played some original music, but mostly Ramones covers. Occasionally their drummer couldn’t be at practice because of hockey commitments so I started sitting in—and just like Tommy I started on the drums without ever knowing how to play them. Over time I was able to play a simple beat (all that was required for kids playing Ramones songs at 3/4 their original speed) and eventually became, well, not bad. The main thing when playing Ramones songs was just to keep up. And I got pretty good at it. Eventually I became the drummer of the band.
It took reading interviews with Marky Ramone, who replaced Tommy in the late 70’s, to understand that what Tommy did may not have been technically difficult but it was a skill to learn nonetheless. I left my basement band after about a year and was able to keep the drum kit for another 5 years or so. In that time, I set the drums up in my basement and had a setlist consisting of first, Ramones It’s Alive (The Greatest Live Album Ever), and then expanded it to include songs by newer favourites like Bruce Springsteen and U2.
I don’t play the drums anymore. The guys in my old band reclaimed the kit and I never bothered to pick up a new one, although I tell my wife that if she wanted to get me a cool birthday present, she could rent me a drum set for a weekend. I drive her nuts every time we’re in the car as the steering wheel is perfectly tuned for playing drums.
Last night at work, “Ramona” came on my iPod and instead of just letting it play and then shuffling to the next 5000 songs, I reflexively hit the Album button and listened to the album that the song is from, “Rocket To Russia,” my favourite Ramones album. The album came out in 1977 and I’ve listened to it thousands of times. But last night, when “Do You Wanna Dance” was playing I heard something I’ve never hear over the past 30 plus years. Toward the end of the song as Joey is singing, “Do ya, do ya, do ya wanna dance?” I suddenly heard an extra hit on the toms that I have never heard. I repeated the song. Again: “Do ya, do ya, do ya wanna dance?” “THOOM!”
I couldn’t believe it. What a revelation after so many years to discover something new in a song you’ve listened to almost my whole life.
I continued listening to the album. When “Ramona” came on, the line “Hey you kids in the crowd/You know you like it when the music’s loud” struck me as interesting enough to tweet it right then and there. I finished the album, finished my shift and went home.
I woke up this morning and found out Tommy Ramone died yesterday.