The last remaining original member of the legendary punk band, the Ramones, Tommy Ramone, died Friday after a long battle with bile duct cancer at the age of 62. The drummer survived the other three founding members of the band: singer Joey Ramone and lead guitarist Johnny Ramone, who both died of cancer in cancer in 2001 and 2004 respectively, and bassist Dee Dee, who passed away from a heroin overdose in 2002. The other two permanent members of the Ramones, Marky and CJ still survive, but were not original members.
Tommy Ramone was born Erdelyi Tamas in Budapest, Hungary in 1952 and emigrated to Forest Hills, New York, where he met guitarist Johnny (John Cummings). The two later formed the Ramones in 1974. Tommy played drums with the Ramones for four years, produced their first three albums, and managed the band for many years after Marky Ramone took over drums. Their self-titled debut album released in 1976, Ramones, did not do well in the charts when it was first released, but now is known for containing the band’s most recognizable song, “Blitzkrieg Bop,” which was co-written by Tommy and Dee Dee. It is the Ramones’ third album, Rocket to Russia, however, which is seen as the most definitive Ramones album of the 70s and contains almost all of their classics: “Sheena Is a Punk Rocker,” “Do You Wanna Dance?” and “Teenage Lobotomy.”
The Ramones are important in the punk scene as they were the first American band to carve out a definitive sound in the Brit-dominated climate of the mid-70s. They were also known for putting the famous punk bar in New York, CBGB’s, on the map. Their characteristic simple “two chord” musical sound and gawky, unkempt 50s greaser look was unmistakable, as was Joey’s slightly off-kilter 50s-style vocals. The whole band wore ill-fitting leather jackets to accentuate their look, and Joey Ramone was known to never take off his sunglasses. The Ramones are said to have influenced every punk band who has come since them, as well as being integral to the grunge sound of the 90s.
In 2002, all four founding members of the Ramones were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and also won the Grammy Lifetime Achievement award in 2011. Numerous documentaries have been made centering around the influential band and the New York punk scene, including End of the Century: The Story of the Ramones and Burning Down the House: The Story of CBGB. The band also has many tribute bands, including a very famous one called The Gabba Gabba Heys, who is seen to have taken on the task of keeping the Ramones’ music alive despite the band’s dissolution and the untimely deaths of its members, now including Tommy Ramone at 62.
It is impossible to measure the influence the Ramones have had on the current face of punk rock, music, and culture as a whole, and Tommy Ramone was instrumental in shaping the sound and the style that helped define a genre. Though at 62 Tommy Ramone was the oldest surviving founding member of the Ramones, he too died too young. Luckily his legendary body of work lives on to keep the punk rock flame burning and continue to influence musicians and punks for generations to come.
Opinion by Layla Klamt