Just because the Joan Jett biopic The Runaways flopped (with only a $3.5 million gross) doesn’t mean that Hollywood is distancing itself from all seventies punk rockers. In fact, Fox Searchlight is quickly moving ahead with The Ramones, having recently hired Wesley Strick (who wrote the remake of A Nightmare on Elm Street) to pen a screenplay based on the band’s career. To get some unsolicited advice for Strick, we tracked down the last surviving member of the first (faux) family of punks, Tommy Ramone. Now 61, Tommy — the band’s first drummer, producer of its first four albums, and, later, manager — plays bluegrass-folk in a duo called Uncle Monk, and we found him in Kilkenny, Ireland. Some things never change: When we finally reached him, he was in the same bar he’d played in the night before.
What, we asked him, is the definitive Ramones vignette that would have to be in a band biopic? “We were riding in our van and we made a rest stop at this restaurant,” recounted Tommy, “and after seeing us walk in, the owner of the place went up to our tour manager and said, ‘It’s so nice of you to be taking care of those retarded kids.’ He was serious. That was pretty status quo at the time.”
Life inside the Ramones was almost as raggedly taut as their music: Dee Dee Ramone was a lifelong heroin addict, dying of an overdose in 2002. When Johnny Ramone started dating (and later married) Joey Ramone’s ex-girlfriend, the two sang and played together — but refused to speak to each other — for eighteen years. And this was in a band that performed 2,263 concerts and toured virtually nonstop.
“They were uniquely bizarre and neurotically genuine,” says Tommy of his former bandmates. “They were very creative, intense, volatile people. And I only speak in the third person because I was their manager, too. I certainly hope they’d make [the film] as authentic as possible. Hopefully, they will find someone who was a fan.”
In fact, Searchlight has gone one better than that: Strick — who is adapting I Slept With Joey Ramone, a memoir by Mickey Leigh, the brother of the Ramones’ lead singer, Joey — has musical cred as well as screenwriting cred: He’s the former rock critic for Rolling Stone, Circus, and Creem magazines, where he both reviewed the Ramones’ gigs and interviewed the band in its heyday. And he gets its sound as well as anyone; Strick once described the outfit as “the power of 70s heavy metal behind the melodic invention of AM radio mid-60s pop,” which is about as apt a description as we’ve ever heard.