sxsw 2016

SXSW Pens a Love Letter to the Ramones, 40 Years After Their Initial Blitz

Musical Milestones: Celebrating 40 Years of the Ramones - 2016 SXSW Music, Film + Interactive Festival
Bob Santelli, Seymour Stein, Linda Ramone, John Doe, and David Fricke. Photo: Heather Kennedy/Getty Images

“I ripped that look off immediately.”

As a lanky dude with a blunt bob and eye-shrouding bangs, David Fricke is one of the more recognizable rock critics in the game, and the Rolling Stone writer got a good-natured laugh from the SXSW room when he poked fun at just that, during Thursday’s panel marking the 40th anniversary of the Ramones. Fricke — who became an immediate fan of Johnny, Joey, Dee Dee, and Tommy when a Philadelphia radio station rejected their album and handed it to the then rookie writer — was one of four experts gathered to discuss the lasting legacy of the quintessential Queens rock quartet.

Alongside Seymour Stein, the legendary Sire Records executive who signed the Ramones; Linda Ramone, wife of the late Johnny Ramone and the president of Ramones Productions; John Doe of Los Angeles punk-pioneers X; and Grammy Museum executive director Bob Santelli, Fricke spent an hour deconstructing how, exactly, four dudes with a penchant for crowd-deafening volume and elementary song structure changed rock and roll.

It was a conversation between superfans and close friends of the band, who each shed intimate light on the Ramones’ history with ridiculous stories and superlatives at the ready. (At one point, Stein leaned over to Ramone and asked her permission before launching into a story about the time the Ramones refused to tour with the Sex Pistols for the sake of hygiene, frankly: “They didn’t like the Sex Pistols — they loved the Clash — and they didn’t want to get spit on every night!”) The panelists traded favorite songs, all able to name their picks instantly, with “Do You Remember Rock ‘n’ Roll Radio?” (Fricke), “Blitzkrieg Bop” (Stein), “I Wanna Be Sedated,” “Glad To See You Go,” “I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend” (Ramone), and anything off of Rocket to Russia (Doe) topping the list.

Trotting out the glory days of the Ramones is fine and good, but the panelists didn’t settle on rehashing their time spent with one of the most influential bands to break out of New York. Through sharing their own experiences with the band, the panel focused on the lasting legitimacy of the Ramones and the long tail of their impact, stressing how they took a very particular, gritty time in New York and rendered it immortal with their songs. “The Ramones were a conceptual art piece that had nothing to do with fine art,” said Doe of the influence the Ramones had on his own band. “It was pop art. It was that connection between Andy Warhol and the street and popular music. We wanted to be part of that.” Fricke credits the Ramones for his lasting career in music journalism: “[They’re] one of the main, main reasons I’m here still doing what I’m able to do now. That’s my road to Damascus.”

The band’s tenacity, workmanship, and distinct MO were there from the beginning, as evidenced by one studio session Seymour remembered booking for an hour not long after signing them. “They must’ve done 15 songs in 18 minutes — or 18 songs in 15 minutes, I can’t remember. We used the other 45 minutes to discuss the deal.”

As for the Ramones in 2016, the 40th anniversary of their self-titled debut has been met with celebrations and various developments that put the spirit of their music at the cultural forefront. Ramone squashed the rumor that Martin Scorsese is involved with an upcoming film: There was once talk of a Scorsese/Ramones project, and there is a Ramones biopic in the works, but it doesn’t involve the renowned director. (He’s got his hands full of ‘70s rock nostalgia anyway with Vinyl.) Hey! Ho! Let’s Go: Ramones and the Birth of Punk, a two-part exhibition, will debut at the Queens Museum (on view from April 10 through July 31) and then move to L.A.’s Grammy Museum (opening September 16).

SXSW: How the Ramones Changed Rock and Roll