For months, Johnny Ramone had been working on the band’s first official DVD, even as he neared the end of a five-year battle with prostate cancer.
Now “Ramones Raw” comes out less than two weeks after the guitarist’s death. It’s a retrospective of the career of one of rock ’n’ roll’s most influential groups, culled mostly from home movies the band shot between 1979 and 1996.
Johnny, who died Sept. 15 in Los Angeles, is the third original member of the New York punk quartet to pass on, leaving only drummer Tommy Ramone. Singer Joey Ramone and bassist Dee Dee Ramone died previously; later members Marky and C.J. are still alive.
“We were lucky enough to talk and hang out a few months ago when he was strong enough to do the commentary track on the DVD,” Mark said, “which was his last professional contribution to the Ramones.”
“Ramones Raw” has all the illicit thrills, blurry focus and jumpy camera joy of a bootleg video, albeit one made by the band itself. It’s a fitting, fast-paced, funny retrospective on the lovable lunkheads’ career, narrated by the guys themselves as they goof on security trying to clear a path through a throng of fans (“What do these kids want?” one asks. “Our limbs,” replies another), tease each other about the girls they were with last night and generally look bored.
Many of the live cuts are seen here for the first time, including vintage 1980 footage from Rome’s Castle St. Angelo, starting, of course, with the classic “Blitzkrieg Bop” and its “Hey, Ho! Let’s Go!” intro. From then it’s right into “Teenage Lobotomy,” which has one of rock’s best-ever rhymes in “Now I guess I’ll have to tell ’em / That I got no cerebellum.”
The stripped-down power of The Ramones shines through as they remake rock ’n’ roll with three chords and four black leather jackets. Together, they put a funny face on the threatening, angry punk movement, making it more accessible to mainstream rock fans who quickly took to their buzz-saw guitar, throbbing bass and simple-yet-steady drum beats.
There’s the typical DVD bonus filler, including commentary from celebs as diverse as Carly Simon, Gilbert Gottfried and “Grandpa” Al Lewis, as well as long-lost TV appearances. One of the coolest add-ons is a claymation-type video of the band doing an alternate version of “Rock ’N’ Roll High School” called “Touring.”
The video and sound quality are all over the map here, but that’s part of the appeal of “Ramones Raw.”
From the band’s beginnings at New York’s punk mecca CBGB to their induction into the Rock And Roll Hall of Fame, the charming dumbness and deconstructionist brilliance of The Ramones is all here. Gabba Gabba Hey!