Four days before he fell to lymphoma on April 15, 2001, Joey Ramone refused to have a feeding tube inserted down his throat. The gawky all-legs frontman didn't want it to damage his legendary vocal cords.
Johnny Ramone never called or visited his dying bandmate. The two had long stopped speaking to one another, a silence forever sealed after Johnny stole Joey's longtime girlfriend away then married her.
These are among the revelations of End of the Century: The Story of the Ramones (newly released to DVD by Rhino), the blitzkrieg documentary from Michael Gramaglia and Jim Fields that slices open the dark underbelly of the gabba-gabba hey-ers. What spills out is a pathologic foursome of substance addicted, obsessive-compulsive, glue-sniffing misfits from Queens who became punk rock's true godfathers.
From his Brooklyn digs, co-director/producer Fields phoned in some Ramones retrospective.
OC Weekly: You did a series of interviews with most of the Ramones over three years, but before you could get to Joey, he slipped on the ice and broke his hip outside his East Village apartment, then his cancer got him while he was laid up. Why hadn't you interviewed him sooner?
Jim Fields: He wouldn't deal with us for the first year, for various reasons. He didn't want to talk about the Ramones; he was doing a solo album and wanted to move on. Plus, he knew we had already talked to Johnny so he was very suspicious about that—actually he was closed minded. We tried to get in his good graces by helping him make a music video, and did all this stuff to try and win him over . . . and he was very ill at the time. He didn't look good. Ultimately, he said, "Show me all the interviews you did with Johnny." So we did and he was outraged, and he was like, "Fuck you." Finally, we made a sort of five-minute version of what the film would look like, and he really liked it and said he would do it. But he slipped on the ice a couple days later.
What are your lasting impressions of Johnny Ramone [who died of complications from prostrate cancer on Sept. 15, 2004]?
You can imagine the kind of person he was, a little intimidating. . . . Johnny wasn't a nice guy. He was funny at times, but he wasn't nice, and I didn't care because we needed him for this film. He was rock steady and that became really important, and I could see how he functioned in the Ramones. . . . You could have a reasonable conversation with him, and sometimes he'd even listen. Another time he might say something that was deplorable to other races.
Late in the film, the Ramones have just been inducted into the Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame in spring of 2002, and we watch Dee Dee Ramone walking down a long hotel hallway, sort of into the sunset. Then we learn he OD'd on heroin two months later. Did you know he was using?
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I didn't know him well enough to know if he had fallen off the wagon, and we didn't know if he ever used [during the filming]. We think he occasionally did heroin because he lived in a part of LA that my sister called "heroin alley," the worst possible place for a recovering addict to be. Apparently he tried to do his old dose—what he did 20 years ago—and the stuff is stronger nowadays. That's what we heard.
Making this documentary stole seven years of your life, to the point where your wife banned you from talking about the film at home. Has she lifted the ban yet?
I'm kinda doing it on the sly, because she's watching The O.C. in the other room right now. She never misses it.
END OF THE CENTURY: THE STORY OF THE RAMONES IS NOW AVAILABLE ON HOME VIDEO AT WWW.AMAZON.COM OR WWW.RHINO.COM. FOR MORE INFORMATION, VISIT WWW.ENDOFTHECENTURY.COM. ALSO, NEWPORT BEACH CENTRAL LIBRARY HAS ONE COPY, IF YOU WANT TO WAIT IN LINE.