The one thing former Ramones guitarist Johnny Ramone -- the man credited with inventing the
classic wall-of-noise thrash guitar style imitated by the million or so punks who came in his wake -- doesn't want to
do ever again is play guitar.
"I never played the guitar for fun," said the happily retired 49-year-old
punk-guitarist with the most famous bowl haircut in the business
this side of the Beatles. "I played
to be up there on the stage performing for Ramones fans."
The man who was born John Cummings and who spent more than 20 years
the right of singer Joey Ramone said he'd be happy to do nothing for the
rest of his days except tend to the enormous collections of baseball
autographs, movie memorabilia and horror flicks that overrun his L.A. home.
"I'm retired. I mean, we worked for a long time," said Cummings, who, along
with drummer Marky and bassist C.J., hung it up for good on Aug. 6, 1996,
when the legendary pioneers of punk played their final gig in Los Angeles.
Living up to his reputation as the "sullen one," Cummings didn't really feel
like talking about the band's farewell CD/home video package, We're Outta
Here. A chronicle of the early years, the package also contains their
concert at L. A.'s The Palace, featuring guest performances from Lemmy
of Motorhead, Pearl Jam's Eddie Vedder, Tim Armstrong and Lars Frederiksen
Rancid as well as former bassist Dee Dee Ramone.
"It doesn't really matter what I think," he said of the package, from which
he said he expected more. What matters more to him is "what the fans like.
You know, there's enough stuff in there that people should find something
What Cummings was into talking about was baseball, the historically
dysfunctional singer/guitarist relationship and his favorite overlooked
Ramones tunes. "I've reviewed the Ramones history so many times," he said.
"It would be nice to think our body of work stands up. I'm very happy for our
career, you know, everyone's nice to me, that's fine."
And while he said it wasn't for him to say what the band's legacy would be,
Cummings added that based on what his friends in a pair of powerhouse
bands have told him, he has a good idea. "I wasn't aware until a few years
ago that all these kids grew up listening to us, going to see our shows, the
guys in Soundgarden, Pearl Jam," he said. "They all went to see us and I
hear a lot of our influence in their music."
Although he said he's come to realize that the respect the Ramones have
peers and fans alleviates the nagging pain of not having sold a ton of
records, Cummings still can't help wondering what would have happened if the
New York quartet hadn't been lumped in with their nastier mid-1970s British
counterparts. He looks back to when punk was just beginning to break and how
the negativity of U.K. peers the Sex Pistols and their thuggish
behavior grabbed all the headlines. "We were left suffering from all that was
bad about punk and not benefiting from any of the good things," said
Cummings, sounding not bitter but resigned. "We didn't get the same publicity
as the English scene, but were typecast as a punk-rock band."
The image -- leather jackets, ripped jeans, grubby T-shirts -- stuck so
completely that Cummings said he continues to get invitations to parties
with his stage name. "I can't not be 'Johnny Ramone'," he said,
admitting that sometimes even he forgets he has a real name. "People won't
let you stop. You just have to accept it."
Not only does he not want to play the guitar anymore for the Ramones or any
band, Cummings said he never even listens to Ramones music if he can help it.
"I never did," he said. "Once in a blue moon I might play a song like
'Strength to Endure' or 'Punishment Fits the Crime' for somebody, because
there's lots of songs I feel people don't know as well."
Cummings said he never thought the band communicated well when
were together. "We never talked," he said of his
"relationship" with singer Joey Ramone. "I don't think we ever agreed on
anything. I don't know how we stayed together, but I didn't think it mattered
and the less interference [from Joey] the better off the rest of us were."
The guitarist pointed to the notoriously un-chummy frontman-guitarist duo of
the Rolling Stones' Keith Richards and Mick Jagger as proof that you don't
need personal chemistry for musical connection.
Injecting a ray of light into the otherwise downbeat conversation,
Cummings did say that he always felt the band was the best at what
did. "I knew I'd miss it on some level," he added in a rare wistful moment.
"I'm sure every retired athlete misses their sport." [Sat., Jan. 10, 1998, 9 a.m. PST]