THE RAMONES were direct precursors to the late 70's/80's punk rock and in many ways to today's metal 'scene' as well. THE ROC is proud to bring you this exclusive interview by ROC's Mike Heck with the legendary Joey Ramone.
ROC: How has censorship affected THE RAMONES?
JOEY RAMONE: We've always had problems with censorship. It's always been over some of the words of the songs or whatever. There's been a lot of censoring of the band throughout the years. But it's never like really affected us. We won't change and we won't compromise. In America, we always got kinda blacklisted. When we started out it wasn't like today where you have alternative this and alternative that, there's college radio, there's MTV, there's this, there's that. When we started out there was nothing, we were and are the first alternative band. We kind of got everything rolling for everybody else more or less. We kinda like blazed the trail. We were the first band to do like a national tour and there was really nowhere to play. All the clubs we played at were like disco with the balls on the ceiling you know back in '75 and '76. When we started out the music that was of the time was Donna Summer, Boston, Foreigner, Journey, Toto, The Eagles, The Doobie Brothers. That's what was going on. It was like us against the corporations or whatever you want to call it, and they weren't too fond of it. The kids were real excited about what The Ramones were doing because it was so refreshing, but those people were really upset about our existence and they weren't going to do a thing to kinda let us in. They didn't want the boat rocked because everybody was making money, so we got blacklisted from the radio and whatever.
ROC: I like to think that you guys like single handedly killed Disco. What do you say?
JR: Well I think we did because we got signed in '75 and we went to England in '76 and our album came out there six months earlier and we were like massive over there. All the other bands formed because of us, they were all inspired by us. To this day they've kinda taken our foundation, our trademark sound and expanded it.
ROC: We've heard rumors about a new side-project and a new anti-censorship song called "Censorshit." Can you tell us about it?
JR: Yes I do, and also I'm going to be doing a rework version of "Give Me Some Truth," a John Lennon song. We've changed the choruses and updated 'em to kinda hit upon things now, like George Bush and all that. I played it with my side band, a pet-project called THE RESISTANCE. It's sort of a creative umbrella where I get an opportunity to work with other artists and musicians that I wouldn't get to work with ordinarily. The Ramones is pretty much what it is and I like doing other things, an outlet for my own self-expression. This gives me an opportunity to do things that I can't do with the band. It's working out really cool where I got a lot of really cool musicians like playing with me. Now it's on more like a regular basis with like Ivan Julian, who played with Richard Hell and Fred Smith who played with Television, actually Television already got back together. I played the song for my manager and she loved it, she said it gave her goose-bumps the version that we had done because I did it with like me and this girl, Joyce Bowen, and we did like a duet of it. She said, let's try to get it released because the way things are, so highly-fuckin' censored now and censorship issue is like real crucial, it's a big election year and the whole bit and that people would like to hear it. We had to get permission from Yoko. I ran into Sean Lennon at a party and I told him about it and the benefit and what we were trying to do. He spoke to his mom and I got permission to record the song. At first she said I couldn't take credit for the words, but now after our lawyer really got into the whole thing, Yoko has now given me permission to re-write the song. Nobody has ever gotten permission to rewrite John Lennon's songs before. It's a real rare thing. The next step is that I wanted the money to be donated to a legitimate organization like a pro-choice woman's group or Rock The Vote or some group that really is doing good work. Yoko Ono said that she wants all the money for herself which is really fucked up because the whole reason for recording the song is to donate the money to do some good. So now the lawyers are working on it because I would get the performance royalties and she would get the publishing royalties. I told the lawyer to set it up where my money goes to some group. What I wanted to do is like pick a group or at least do it where we pick a group together. So they're talking about it. Next up is to get a record deal and do it, so I'm gonna be doing like an EP. I just finished a new song "Fascist Don't Fuck, They Just Screw." So its gonna be like a song of "Give Me Some Truth, Censorshit and Fascist Don't Fuck" you know. Its real good, it makes a statement and its done in a way that's kind of a good way to kick off '92. Actually I wrote "Censorshit" for The Ramones to be put on the new album. I've been doing a lot of shows and I've been playing it, it sounds great and everybody really loves it. I just did a show at The Bottom Line here, with John Wesley Harding, he's fucking amazing man, he's real hip. He did some anti-censorship song and I played "Censorshit" and he loved it. He said it was great and we should write together.
ROC: That would be great you and John Wesley Harding!
JR: Yea, a lot of good things are happening. You know I wanted to talk with you because there is a lot of stuff happening and I've established myself as an individual more than just a part of The Ramones. I do a lot of projects in New York City, I do a lot of stuff supporting new bands and I've been active in anti-censorship projects, you know what I mean.
ROC: I've read you were very active with Rock The Vote.
JR: Yea I am. The next step is getting this record out which will do a lot of good when we get it all together. There's still a few more legal things that have to be taken care of, but things are looking good.
ROC: How would you feel about dedicating "The KKK Took My Baby Away' to like David Duke?
JR: What do I think about it, I think it's perfect. The premise of America is that everybody has an equal shot at whatever. But when you've got a fuckin Nazi running for President, though I think George Bush is a fuckin Nazi, its just making the people aware of what's really going down. Most of the public is so fuckin ignorant they just don't want to see it and they're the one's who can fuckin make the difference and get these people ousted or get them elected.
ROC: How do you feel about Bush's sudden concern about AIDS since the Magic Johnson incident?
JR: Yea, like it takes a basketball player to fuckin' get the concern going. It's like Quayle saying kids should not have sex. It's all absurd. Like Bush saying that it happened to a nice guy or some shit like that, where like everybody else had it coming. Yea, it's sick you know. I don't know, even though a lot of people really think that Bush is the shoe-in, but I don't know if I believe he is, I really think that there's enough people out there who are trying to make people aware, like the Rappers and others. Hopefully there'll be some resistance here. I think it's more in the major cities that people are maybe a little more on top of things, but then look at you guys. I really like what you're doing.
ROC: Oh thanks, that really means a lot hearing you say that.
JR: Yea, because these days you wanna like wake as many people up as you can, especially when like David Duke's running for President, you know what I mean.
ROC: Wasn't it great when the fucker lost the Governor's race? Wasn't that beautiful?
JR: Yea, that's great but it's not over yet. When you think about it, most of the fuckin' people in America are fuckin' Nazis anyway, or Nazi supporters. Yea, he lost which is great, but he's not through, the guy's smart. But that shows where America's going you know like it's for this segregation, hate and bullshit, you know. Then you have the fundamentalists and them telling you that you can't buy this record, and you can't have an abortion and you can't do this or that.
ROC: Its like Dennis Hopper said, "The '90s are going to make the '60s look like the 50s."
JR: Well they will if people fucking let them. When it comes to like Rock & Roll music, it's never been more broad as far as an audience goes and as far as people into music. All these kids are, for the most part, 17, 18 and they just gotta know what's expected these days, despite they know what they can do to make a difference. They have to get active, even if just by voting or whatever. A lot of kids don't vote because they think, 'oh it's uncool' and they're too hip to do it. It's gotta be made clear that this is the hip thing to do especially when the country is being run rampant with all these fuckin' people like Duke and these types of people. It's scary!
ROC: I'm thinking like we see all this in the early '90s, what's the mid '90s and close to 2000 gonna be like.
JR: Well it's just people have to not let this happen. You know for all the nuts out there, it all comes down to us having to combat it. Try to make people aware what they're responsibilities are.
ROC: What made you take an interest and really get involved with Rock The Vote?
JR: I'm just really concerned about what's happening now, like these censorship issues and what's coming down with these fundamentalists like when you can't buy a record without being arrested or people are telling you can't have an abortion, it's just getting too fucking scary. People's privacy is being invaded, their rights are being taken away, it's scary. There's just too much going on and it's everybody's responsibility to be active, if you give a shit at all. And I don't see how you can't give a shit these days. Also I feel that I'm in a position where I can make a difference, therefore I want to be involved. The whole idea is to make kids aware of what's going down and open up their eyes and open up their minds to what it is because it affects everybody.
ROC: From the songs you were naming like the "Censorshit" song and the others, they sound great.
JR: Yea well, the "Censorshit" deals with the PMRC and Tipper Gore and the government basically. "Fascist Don't Fuck" deals with all the fascists, not just Georgie, but everybody. We did a Rock The Vote benefit in New York and we sold CBGB's out. It was very exciting because it was the first time at doing it at your own accord. We set up and did three songs and each song I set up a different group of musicians to play. It was a lot of fun, we did a version of "Bring It On Home To Me" that had Ivan Julian on guitar, and Fred Smith, and this girl named Kip English on drums. I thought a woman drummer would be a lot cooler than just having a guy. Joyce Bowen, she's a singer and I'm kinda representing her now and she's like my favorite new singer, so she was singing with me. Let's see, who else was in the band, oh, Al Maddey on piano, and this guy "Skinny Bones" on guitar and I think that was it out of the first group. We did a version of "Bring It On Home To Me" the Sam Cooke song. It wasn't like The Animals version, it was more my own version. It was more of a rootsy-blues version actually. We did "Censorshit," and CJ played bass on that one, and we did the revised updated version of John Lennon's "Give Me Some Truth." So this is going to be the EP, which I think is the ultimate anti-censorship record. We want to get it out as soon as possible because it will really be powerful.
ROC: With The Ramones being someone who kicked off the whole punk explosion and with you now doing this project we feel it's very important for people to hear and know about this, we'd like to help tell people about it.
JR: Great, that's great. Maybe we can do something for you too. Maybe we can work something out. You know I read the thing that you guys wrote about Rock The Vote and you're right about a lot of those people in the video who didn't vote and didn't register, but like Rock The Vote, they're doing a really good job. We got the Motor Voter Bill that is really a great bill. It got kinda held up, actually I need, I really want to talk with to them about it because they were telling me that they got 60% of the vote to pass this bill, but the Republicans are stalling it until after the election. I heard the Democrats did well so we'll see what's what. It's a great bill because when people get their drivers license they are automatically registered to vote. They don't have to go through all the red tape and bullshit.
ROC: What was the motivation behind the lyrics for "Ignorance Is Bliss" on the last album?
JR: At that time I was really disgusted with the whole thing with Bush letting the environment go, what's happening with the rain forest and the ozone, it's just fucked up. It's like fucked up and it's all these politicians who could give a shit about anyone but themselves. That's just the way of the world, and it's frustrating.
ROC: Tell us a little bit about your videos and the problems they've had with censorship?
JR: Actually we have a new video that was released in January for our new album. It was shot last summer at a lot of major festivals we played at. We played in Germany and Belgium where we headlined these 20,000 plus festivals. We had a big camera out there doing like a seven camera shoot. It came out great, it's "Blitzkrieg Bop" and it really came out great.
ROC: "Lifestyles of The Ramones" was a great video package, we understand some of those videos were censored?
JR: What a package! It's got all the stuff that was never released and some of the stuff that was censored, it's got all the uncensored stuff like "Psychotherapy" in its original form. Actually that was the first video banned on MTV in like 1982. They found it offensive. They were bothered with the kid kicking the psychiatrists and something about it showed a lack of respect for authoritative figures, and of course, the head coming out and a couple of other scenes in there they objected to.
ROC: From reading over some of your influences, it sounds like the '60s was really a major period for you, was it?
JR: Well the '60s was the most influential period ever as far as music goes. The one thing about the '60s for the most part was it was original. Nowadays with the metal and all that, everyone's a clone. There are people who think for themselves, but there's more who don't. Rock & Roll has always been about being an individual and not being a follower or a clone. That's what being a person is all about, being yourself and having your own ideas about things. Yea, the '60s was my generation and it was a good rebellious period. That's the one thing that Rock & Roll today isn't either, it's not rebellious enough anymore, except for certain artists like ourselves. My favorite artists were The Who and Hendrix. There was a lot of great stuff. But when people ask like who are my heroes, I have to say that all of my heroes have been assassinated. A lot of them it was time to get them out of the picture like John Lennon, Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin. They were very influential and they were making kids think and kids were responding and the government didn't want that. They were scared of John Lennon because basically he was going to reform The Beatles. The Beatles were very powerful because they changed the world. They were afraid of what that might mean. They didn't want them going out preaching, well not preaching but opening the kids' heads or swaying the judgment that the government was trying to bestow. They were really scared and it was always John who was the ringleader so they had to get him. John was great, he was the genius, he was the character and personality and a great fuckin' songwriter. The Beatles were great, but for me it was always John because of his wit, character and the whole bit. And on his own he took it all a step further. It wasn't about love it was about reality. He was a real activist, he was right on the money. I mean look at Paul McCartney today doing a tour with VISA as a sponsor, like what is this, VISA and GREENPEACE? Ha! That's really funny, John was real, he was real.
ROC: How did you feel about Motorhead's tribute to The Ramones on their 1916 album?
JR: I thought it was the highest honor. I'm a really big Motorhead fan and have always been. I feel they're as credible as we are and they've always maintained their integrity. To have them write a song to you is like the highest honor. It's a great song and it's right up there with Ace of Spades. It's almost like if The Beatles had written a song about you. That's how I see it because I think Motorhead is one of the greatest bands going.
ROC: Have The Ramones ever played with Motorhead? If not, any chance of it happening?
JR: No we haven't, but we are good friends and fans of each other's music. We've talked about playing together with Lemmy and we might be doing something this summer. We were talking about putting together our own kind of Lollapalooza tour this summer, but now since Perry Farrell is putting together a Lollapalooza II together so maybe we'll just join forces. I don't know what'll happen, and anything's possible, but Perry's a big Motorhead fan too, so I don't see why it couldn't happen.