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1996-12 — Rock Stardom 101
Rock Stardom 101, a step-by-step guide OR it was 20 years ago today the Ramones learned how to play

I’m sure there are plenty of you out there who would like to be rock stars without having to go through the annoying ritual of actually learning how to play. While this may be entirely possible, highly discourages this approach since it lowers your chances of becoming a star by at least 10 percent. The better strategy is to adhere to the traditional steps taken by most rock musicians, such as the Ramones, in your quest for stardom.

Why the reference to the Ramones? To put it simply, who better to use as a role model than New York City’s hardest working band when documenting how to climb to the top of the music business. The Ramones were neither an overnight success nor mega-stars in any sense of the terms. The band went through 20 grueling years before reaching their current status as certified rock stars. And although they have supposedly closed the final chapter in their long, colorful career with the Adios Amigos Tour, their legacy will live on for years to come.

Therefore, without any further adieu, we present «Rock Stardom 101,» with all requisite apologies to Joey, Johnny, Dee Dee, Tommy, Richie, C.J. and Elvis (A. K. A. Clem Burke) Ramone.

Step 1. Learn How to Play
As previously mentioned, we highly recommend that all members of any band learn how to play their instruments before the group engages in any live performances or spends any significant amount of time in a recording studio.

When the Ramones first the hit the rock circuit roughly 20 years ago, all members had at least a fundamental grasp of their respective instruments. Tommy Ramone, for instance, spent the better part of two weeks mastering the drums before the band played its first gig at CBGB. And although Dee Dee has occasionally admitted that he never actually learned the notes on his bass and just «thump[ed] away on one string,» he is nevertheless – in our opinion – one hell of a thumper, perhaps the best in the business.

Step 2. Assemble an Impressive Repertoire
Regardless of what one thinks of the Ramones, it cannot be denied that their tunes are catchy, if not downright masterful for their simple, melodic phrasings. Should you ever hope to attain the level of stardom enjoyed by the Ramones, we highly suggest that you make a concerted effort to write the most impressive body of songs possible.

From the beginning, the Ramones had the songwriting process down to a science. Included in the band’s first performances were such classics as «I Don’t Wanna Go Down to the Basement,» «I Don’t Wanna Walk Around with You,» «I Don’t Wanna Get Involved with You,» «I Don’t Wanna Be Learned, I Don’t Wanna Be Tamed,» «I Don’t Like Nobody that Don’t Like Me,» and «Now I Wanna Sniff Some Glue.»

From such auspicious beginnings, the stuff of greatness is made.

Step 3. Do Not Bore the Crowd
If ever there was a kiss of death for the modern rock band, it is to bore the audience to tears. As obvious as this may sound, it is amazing how many local groups actually miss the mark here in the most egregious manner.

Once again, the Ramones serve as a prime example of how to successfully avert this disaster. A Ramones song is both short and fast. In fact, in their early days, a typical Ramones set was clocked by certain audience members at just under 18 minutes although the set comprised a total of 20 songs.

Whether this is an exaggeration of sorts remains open to argument. The point is that the Ramones never dawdled. In fact, a critic or two has been known to state that the purpose of a Ramones song often seems to be to finish it as quickly as humanly possible. The longest Ramones track on record? Halfway to Sanity’s «Bye Bye Baby» clocks in at 4:33.

Yet in the early Seventies, while Joey Ramone was biding time at Sladeand Black Sabbath shows and not finding them impersonal in any way he can remember, Marky Ramone was still Marc Bell, drumming for a street-level speed-metal band named Dust. And as late as 1975 and 1976, AC/DC’s High Voltage and Aerosmith’s Toys in the Attic and Ted Nugent’s Free for All’’ were uniting punk volumes with punk tempos with punk attitudes with better-than-punk rhythm sections. And unlike the bands the Gotham media were falling in love with at the time, these bands were selling records — to high-school kids, of all people!

Step 4. Hang In There, Baby
The power of persistence goes a long way in the rock business as it does with most any undertaking in life. A few personnel changes notwithstanding, the Ramones have stayed together through 20 grinding years. In 1989, after 15 years of playing with the band, Dee Dee Ramone gave an interview in which he said, «People always ask why we’re still together … [It’s] because we don’t have a hit single and we still gotta work for a living.» He then promptly quit the band a few weeks later.

Adios Amigos
Dee Dee, of course, was replaced by C. J. Ramone. And in 1996, after more than 20 years on the road, the Ramones embarked on what was to be their final tour. Whether this proves to be true still remains to be seen. If the Ramones do disband, they leave behind a formidable contribution to popular music. One must remember that when the band began roughly two decades ago, the airwaves were filled with the likes of Helen Reddy, Boston, Olivia Newton-John, Styx and other pale, sterile recording acts. The Ramones invented punk rock, plain and simple. If for that reason alone – and nothing else – you gotta love ’em.

Otto Luck, www.nyrock.com
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