FUV Essentials: Meg Griffin on the Ramones
Meg Griffin (front row, second from the right) and the Ramones with Linda Stein and Danny Fields (back row) in 1979 at WPIX-FM in New York (photo by Tomas Boyle, courtesy of Meg Griffin)
When I think of the beloved Ramones I initially feel a pain in my heart, still mixed with a sense of disbelief that all four founding fathers are gone. But this feeling of loss is quickly followed with the joy that rock 'n' roll releases in its one-of-a-kind way.
Who among us rock 'n' roll kids would have predicted the eventual way-too-early departures of Joey, Johnny, Dee Dee, and Tommy? In the mid to late '70s, the soundtrack of our lives was made up not of disco, but of staples like "Blitzkreig Bop," "I Wanna Be Sedated," "Sheena Is a Punk Rocker," "Beat On The Brat," "Pinhead," "Something to Do," and "Rock 'N' Roll Radio."
Do you remember "rock 'n' roll" radio? I sure do. I grew up with the best that AM Radio had to offer, by way of WABC and WMCA, aka the "Good Guys." I am a child of the Beatles, the Stones, the Searchers, the Kinks, the Shangri Las, the Ronettes, the Beach Boys, Elvis, Buddy and the Motown sound. We had it all on the AM radio of New York City. The transistor radio under my pillow, as well as the all-important music machine in the dashboard of my parents' car, gave me the "information" that I needed to know — who I was and what I valued. Those values prevail to this day.
I can only guess that AM radio did the same for Joey, Dee Dee, Tommy and Johnny, who like me, were kids from New York City. (In their case, Queens.) In the first half of the '70s I was a frequent flier at Max's Kansas City, witnessing the New York Dolls repeatedly and feeling excited about this new kind of rock 'n' roll that wore the real DNA on its sleeve.
Starting in 1975, after less than a year in college radio, I left school for my first paid gig as a "baby" DJ in a house in the woods of Briarcliff Manor, New York, on WRNW, Radio Northern Westchester. I found the magic of creating a good segue, which is a feeling better than sex for those of us who live and breathe the act of sharing music via two turntables and a microphone. The Ramones' songs enabled seamless sets of music that combined every decade of rock 'n' roll thus far, because you could segue on the beat into or out of their songs with everybody from Chubby Checker to Blondie. The Ramones were the heart that kept the rest beating.
The sets of music that I knitted together on my radio shows were spiced heavily with the Ramones, resulting in my first radio nickname: "Sister Mary Ramone." It was a badge of sorts that followed me to WNEW-FM in New York in '77 and WPIX (PIX 102) in '79, a radio station we dubbed "New York's Rock 'n' Roll, from Elvis to Elvis." Once again, our lives were "saved by rock 'n' roll" (thank you, Lou).
In part, the Ramones were known for a machine gun sound, a style that Johnny Ramone contributed with his guitar while playing it like a like a jackhammer. After all, he'd been in construction and by the time the band was formed it seemed that all four members knew this would be a better gig than some other types of hard labor. They worked hard in this band.
On the other side of Johnny's attack approach we have dear, sweet Joey who could croon with the best of them in my book, as is the case on their cover of the Searchers' hit, "Needles and Pins." Joey was a fan of T. Rex frontman Marc Bolan's singing style too, one that he described as "mystical."
I think that Mr. Bassman, Dee Dee Ramone, will forever be regarded as a crazy great songwriter. Drummer and producer Tommy Ramone offered grounding in the midst of the insanity that accompanies being pioneers within a music business that never fully understands or appreciates you. Except for a few, like Sire Records' co-founder Seymour Stein and Warner Bros. Records' Stu Cohen, these "industry types" were deaf to the Ramones. Audiences could be hostile as well. Joey once told rock critic Lester Bangs that the band had bananas thrown at them in Chicago.
Rock 'n' roll for me has always been a healthy, good-for-you, American experience of three chords, a message, and the reason for a dance floor. Thanks to Hilly Kristal of CBGB, the Ramones had a room where they actually learned how to play their instruments. CBGB was the first room where I saw the Ramones perform. While I'd play Ramones records for some friends who were not initially accepting of songs like "Carbona Not Glue," the live shows at CBGB would seem to flip a switch and create a new fan on the spot.
After all, they were cartoonish like in a way that created affection. Joey was a muppet-like punk prince. You got this—and a dose of real rock 'n' roll—when you saw them live. Although they were new and different, the Ramones also brought the music back to its timeless, naked roots, especially after one too many albums on the FM dial had gagged many of us with excess and overproduction. Joey once said, "Textbooks don't compare to living in the real world. Rock 'n' roll teaches you how to live."
Well, Joey, you led by example and taught with gifts of honesty and frailty, integrity and courage, and truth and beauty. The Ramones will forever give any misfit kid a reason to feel less alone in an alienating world.
And for this, and for the armor of a black leather jackets, blue jeans and sneakers, I am grateful.
- Meg Griffin
[Note from Meg Griffin: A terrific book to read is Marky Ramone's Punk Rock Blitzkreig: My Life as a Ramone, published in 2015. Marky replaced Tommy on drums in 1978 as Tommy preferred to be behind the scenes at that point. Marky's radio show can be heard on "The Underground Garage," Sirius XM. Also, look for Everett True's book, Hey Ho Let's Go: The Story of the Ramones.]
[Editor's note: According to Meg, the photo was taken at WPIX-FM in 1979 when the Ramones and managers Danny Fields and Linda Stein stopped by the radio station before a screening of the Ramones' movie "Rock 'n' Roll High School." Top row, left to right: Linda Stein, Danny Fields, Dee Dee Ramone, Marky Ramone, Johnny Ramone, Joey Ramone and Sire's John Montgomery. Bottom row, left to right: Program director Joe Piasek ("Joe from Chicago"), Sire's Ken Kushnick, music director and evening host Meg Griffin, Sire's Stu Cohen.]