by Guest Blogger
The comic book, buzzsaw chug of the Ramones is one of the most recognisable and imitated rackets in rock’s pantheon. Eternal misfits, they occupied a space of paradox: musically inept but trailblazing in their deconstructing of musical conventions; Rock and Roll Hall of Famers who never really hit “the big time”; a band equally influenced by the Stooges and the Ronettes. They were the kind of band that inspired dogged devotion: a definitive cult item. Therefore, it is perhaps fitting that the one museum dedicated to these loveable losers is far from their hometown of Queens, New York, and just happens to be where one of their biggest fans lived: Berlin. The Ramones Museum is a testimony to die hard fandom, and has Johnny, Joey et al’s scruffy, underdog charm written all over it.
The exhibits are arranged in a loosely chronological order, charting the Ramones’ rise from snotty street urchins to major-label almost-stars. Most of the material is presented through myriad fliers, handbills, posters and photos, but within the yellowing snippets there are some real treats to behold. Shots of these punks mooching on street corners in their home city, unnoticed and awkward, stand side by side with iconic portraits of them hitting London for the first time. There they were hailed as champions of a new, three-chord zeitgeist, with a wide-eyed John Lydon and Joe Strummer jostling to be in the presence of their unlikely idols.
There are touching stories told, too, in which Joey emerges as an especially magnetic character. Clumsy and loping, all limbs and bushy hair, he sticks out as a truly missed icon of the counterculture, with his goofy visage standing out as a welcome presence in all the images on display. His relationship with Johnny was famously fraught: the latter stole and married his girlfriend, leading to a frosty silence that lasted the rest of their career, and this tension is in clear evidence in many of these compelling images.
From the sublime to the ridiculous, then, as you can witness Dee Dee’s alarming propensity for treading in dog-dirt, and the obligatory, Spinal Tap-esque “rotating drummer”. Alarming, too, are their label’s (desperate?) attempts to market the band. Ramones surfwear for the Australian market, anyone? Amongst other treasures are Joey’s beaten mic-stand from their last show in 1996, Dee Dee’s omnipresent padlock necklace and Johnny’s savaged Levi’s.
€5 buys you a lifetime’s entry(!) and a drink in the bar. There you can sit and scan the walls, which form a ramshackle mural/shrine to the Ramones, in the form of graffiti left by passing punk and indie musicians. From Biffy Clyro to Sum 41, all these artists have been inspired and touched by the Ramones’ less-is-more ethic and surging, fuzztone pop. They soldiered on and “did the clubs” for years, watching the bands who they influenced overtake and outshine them along the way. They were perhaps tragic in the fact that, unlike a lot of punk bands, they wanted and courted fame but remained perpetual also-rans. Johnny, Joey and Dee Dee died within a few years of each other: they would surely have been delighted to see their legacy done service at this excellent, big-hearted little museum.