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Michael Gramaglia and Jim Fields
The pre-Marky Ramones were never a band of brothers, but musically they fit together immaculately. While Tommy and Johnny controlled the concept, Dee Dee and Joey wrote most of the songs. Their symbiosis is apparent to everyone interviewed in Michael Gramaglia and Jim Fields’ deft, moving documentary, End of the Century: The Story of the Ramones—everyone, that is, except the Ramones themselves. Tommy, the first to quit, says he felt like a “passenger.” Shown at the band’s Rock and Roll Hall of Fame enshrinement two months before he overdosed, Dee Dee thanks only himself. In a few snippets of archival interview footage, frail Joey sulks about how he was treated—especially by Johnny, the callous taskmaster who took his baby away. (Political by then, Joey swapped the right-wing Johnny for the KKK when he wrote a song about the treachery.) Devotees, of course, will know a lot of these stories: Joey had obsessive-compulsive disorder (kind of explains the fetishistic one-two-three-fahw), Dee Dee hustled at 53rd & 3rd and would rather have been a smack-happy Heartbreaker than a blitzkrieg-bop Ramone, and Phil Spector pulled a gun during the making of the album that provides the film’s title. Linda, the baby—or, rather, fiancée—who ultimately married Johnny, is only an off-camera voice, but most of the other people who should be here are. Among the more perceptive and amusing commentators are the band’s first manager, Danny Fields; Joey’s brother, Mickey Leigh; longtime Ramones lieutenants Arturo Vega and Monte Melnick; Punk magazine mainstays Legs McNeil and John Holmstrom; and British disciples Glen Matlock, Captain Sensible, and Joe Strummer. Although the Ramones were a solid live draw until their overdue 1996 breakup—and filled stadiums in South America—they were always too strange for the American mainstream. Yet the reasons the Ramones never conquered the charts, End of the Century suggests, were as divergent as the four personalities who originally embodied the band: too pop yet too not, too raw yet too stylized, too Manhattan yet utterly Queens. These, after all, were the guys who Johnny Rotten feared would beat him up—yet are remembered by Danny Fields as “all so cute.”—Mark Jenkins