Friday, July 18, 2014

On the Passing of Tommy Ramone

I didn't meet Tommy Ramone until a wine tasting/music lecture/book promotion event held at the Art Gallery in Woodstock sometime in the summer of 2009. It had been organized by Tony Fletcher (author of 'Boy About Town' and 'The Smiths). Fred Smith, bassist from the New York Dolls was there along with a few other notable musicians on the panel. I was there as one of two wineries (the other being Fred Smith's, Cerighino-Smith Winery) supplying the wine for the after party. At the time I had been most excited to see Eric Weisberg who was an old time 12 string guitarist and was supposed to be on the panel. I remembered him from the sixties Village scene but to my disappointment Eric was a no-show at the lecture.

After the lecture and party I went out on the street and was introduced to Tommy Ramone. Tommy was one the original founders of the punk rock group the Ramones and he had been replaced by Marky Ramone as the band's drummer by 1978 following extended 'creative differences' (I believe he stayed on as manager of the band). Marky Ramone (Mark Bell) was my best friend, Marc Sperber's, neighbor at 640 Ditmas Avenue in Brooklyn back in the sixties and we used to sometimes hang out at the Bells apartment when not playing punch ball in the courtyard next to the building. Mark, Fred Bell (Fred) and Marc lived on the first floor of 640 Ditmas while I lived two blocks away (one long one short) on Ocean Parkway. This being the early to mid-sixties,-- pre-punk, you should know, so it was hard to understand what the Bell brothers were trying to do musically because there was as yet no corresponding musical scene.-- The context for it simply had not been invented yet.

Usually they would practice separately in their respective bedrooms but sometimes Freddy and Marky would play together in Freddy's room which was even less conducive to harmony with the upstairs neighbors, I am sure. To me, a kid who was into Mississippi John Hurt, Paul Butterfield Blues Band, Dylan and Phil Ochs, they seemed crazed,-- like men possessed. It was loud. Really loud. We could sometimes hear it from up the street on Ditmas Avenue or even as far as around the corner on East 7th and if we ventured into Mark and Freddy's apartment, we would inevitably find their mother Audrey sitting in the kitchen smoking Pall Malls draped in her pastel print housecoat, face expressionless, as if she were suffering a stroke and a high-powered-testosterone-inflamed-auditory-carpet bombing issuing from somewhere nearby (there father seemed perenially absent,--possibly by design). If I was bold enough to stick my head inside the door to say 'hello' they presented a rather strange tableau, with their stringy long black hair and longer faces, and not only because they were identical twins(one of two sets in the neighborhood) but because the music seemed to have transformed them from awkward teenagers into crazed zombies from some futuristic Daliesque dystopia. There were the two skinny Bell brothers, fellow musicians, buck- toothed twins, Freddie sitting on the bed, one leg draped to the floor, eyes closed, seemingly gang raping his electric guitar while Mark hunched over epileptically assaulting the blue sparkly drumset as if trying to launch it into space.

The only way we could tell them apart was when they were playing music. Possibly the same was true for their mother, which is possibly why she had bought them different instruments, which stratagem she possibly by then regretted. This turned out to be more about Tommy's replacement in the Ramones, Mark Bell. rather than Tommy Erdelyi himself but it has the advantage of being a first-hand account, so it is my hope the reader will overlook this.

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