Sometime near the end of December, I finished reading Hey Ho Let’s Go: The Story of the Ramones. Besides Dee Dee’s Lobotomy, it’s the only Ramones bio I’ve read. But I knew the story pretty well. There weren’t really any real surprises in the book for me. But it was an excellent in-depth portrait of the band and their music-making.
Everett True, the author, makes the point that there was a sort of division among Ramones faithful as to which member you preferred: Joey for his sensitive and limber vocal style or Johnny for his raw and direct guitar style. There had occurred a huge rift in the band when Johnny “stole” Joey’s girlfriend from him. (Though the fact that Johnny and Linda married and stayed together til Johnny’s death suggests that she had a say in the issue.) True clearly falls on the Joey side of the debate in suggesting that Joey never got to explore his vocal talent in the Ramones. (Again, as if Joey had no say in it.)
For the last third of the book, I thought True was giving Johnny the shaft. He repeatedly mentioned or suggested that Johnny wasn’t even playing on the records. But Johnny fans know the score: he drove that band; he kept them touring and he kept them making money and Johnny ensured their legacy. The book proper ends on a sour note without a reconcilliation between the two camps. But in the third addendum to the book, True makes up for his oversight. At a Dirtbombs show, Primal Scream’s Bobby Gillespie pulls True aside and tells him that the original version of the book gave Johnny the short shrift and that he’d better talk to Johnny because he was ill.
True doesn’t get a chance to interview Johnny before his death. But he does interview others about Johnny. And he ends the chapter with a long quote from John Holstrom (founder of Punk Magazine) about how Johnny had a bad rap. It ties up the loose ends and lets the book go out on a better note.
I was hoping for a better explanation of the Johnny/Joey rift, but by focusing on the music and the politics of making the music, True writes about the Ramones in the way they lived as a band: along a strict, no personal bullshit code.