Tommy Ramone, Last of the Original Ramones, Dead at 62

Tommy Ramone, Last of the Original Ramones, Dead at 62

Drummer Tommy Ramone, the last surviving member of the four founding Ramones, died of cancer Friday at age 62 (some outlets place his age at 65). Born Thomas Erdelyi in 1952, in the band’s early formative years, Tommy also served as record producer  and manager. Tommy was responsible for writing “I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend” and co-writing “Blitzkrieg Bop,” two songs that helped put the Ramones on the map and forever change the future of music.

Named after the pseudonym Paul McCartney used at hotels while he was still a Beatle, The Ramones came together in the mid-seventies and recorded their first of 14 albums in 1976. Tommy, apparently the most functional of the group, left in 1978. The party lifestyle and touring exhausted him.

With the death of Tommy, and since the band’s break up in 1996, all four of the original Ramones have died, and done so prematurely. In 2001, lead singer Joey Ramone died of cancer at age 49; Dee Dee Ramone, the band’s founder and bassist died at 51 of a suspected heroin overdose in 2002; guitarist Johnny Ramone was only 55 when he died of prostate cancer in 2004.

While the Ramones were never Top 40 stars, the band’s influence, especially in Britain, was every bit as profound as that of the Beatles here in America. Using four chords, an insane tempo, songs that started with an explosion of noise (“Hey, ho, let’s go!”) and frequently didn’t reach the two minute mark, Dee Dee, Joey, Johnny and Tommy invented what became known as Punk Rock.

The Ramones also revived rock ‘n’ roll as a whole. Upon their arrival, the American music scene was awash in disco and silly love songs like “Silly Love Songs” and “Don’t Go Breaking My Heart.” Although mainstream success would always elude them (not that they minded), The Ramones’ influence on other musicians was profound and not just musical; the Ramones served as a reminder of what rock ‘n’ roll was supposed to stand for — which was “Screw you, I’m not bothering you, why are you bothering me.”

Though (among other things) it caused all kinds of strife between them, there’s no question that the band’s attitude and posture was affected in a positive way based on Johnny’s political conservatism and Joey’s liberalism. The result was mercurial, impossible to define. During the 80’s the band recorded the song “Bonzo Goes to Bitburg” criticizing then-President Reagan; in 2002, Johnny delivered what is still the most punk rock moment of the new century when, in front of a left-wing Hall of Fame audience, he asked God to bless American and George W. Bush. 

This is what made The Ramones The Ramones. 

In the late 70’s the Ramones went as mainstream as they ever would with a move into something best described as Punk Pop. In 1979, Roger Corman captured this era beautifully in the band’s film debut, “Rock ‘n’ Roll High School” (which is currently streaming on Netflix) Though they sold more albums during this time, the band preferred the purity of punk, returned to their roots, and never looked back.

The Ramones performed on stage together for the last time in 1996. In 2002, they were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

The Ramones were brats, adolescents, their own men, pure, unadulterated, joyously angry, simple but never dumb.

Most of all they were free … and now they are gone, all of them, and that just seems impossible.

For those wondering what all the fuss is about, “The End of the Century” is a must 



Follow John Nolte on Twitter @NolteNC