This is the first time I’ve ever told anyone my Ramones story. I used to think I would get in trouble if I told it. Now, nearly 40 years later, it feels surreal, like a half-forgotten, very weird dream.
I had exactly three friends in high school, all of whom were boys. We were into the Ramones way before anyone else at school. Not surprising, since we lived in Southern Indiana, where Foreigner was thought to be rock and roll. The four of us would get my older brother’s music instruments out and pretend to be the Ramones. I was always Tommy, the drummer, because I was the smallest, and Tommy was the smallest Ramone. The fact that I was a girl didn’t matter, since my hair looked exactly like Ramones hair: long, shaggy and jet black, falling in front of my eyes. If you ask me, I was the most convincing Ramone. Debbie Ramone.
When we heard that the Ramones were coming to play at a local nightclub, we knew we had to figure a way in. None of us had fake IDs and I was especially young looking for a sixteen year old. We met at the parking lot and started casing the joint about three hours before the opening band was scheduled to play. There wasn’t any obvious way to sneak in. There were big, beefy bouncers stationed at the doors.
As the evening drew on, fans started showing up. It was hilarious to us to see all those Hoosiers dressed “punk” for the event. As far as we were concerned, they were all poseurs. But still we couldn’t figure out a way in, and I started to grow anxious. This could be my only chance to see the Ramones! To put my fandom in context, up to that point, the Ramones were literally the only band I had ever heard, other than a couple of songs by the Monkees. I had assiduously avoided all radio music my entire life. I hadn’t even listened to the Beatles. Because the Ramones defined rock and roll exactly, there was no room for anybody who didn’t sound exactly like them. And nobody sounded exactly like the Ramones.
At about 11:00, we were the only ones left outside the building. We could hear the beats of the opening band pounding through the walls. That’s when the bus drove up. “It’s the tour bus!” I whisper-shouted. “It’s the Ramones!”
“Shouldn’t they already be inside?” asked my friend Mike, the one who always played Dee Dee Ramone.
“The Ramones are always late,” I said. I don’t know where I acquired this fact, but it made me feel smart to say it.
We watched from around the corner of the building as the roadies unloaded equipment. And then, sure enough, the actual Ramones came out of the bus. All four Ramones were standing around the back door of the club, like they were regular human beings. At first, we were too scared to approach them. We all started pushing each other to get someone to go first, like we were in some sort of slapstick comedy. All at once, we stumbled out from our hiding place and together, we walked up to the greatest Rock and Roll band in history. Mike did most of the talking for us. He told them that we couldn’t get in, they told us that’s too bad, and he asked some questions about their songs. He asked them what was in tonight’s “set,” and I felt proud that we knew band lingo.
By this point in Ramones history, Tommy, the drummer, had been replaced by Marky Ramone. Marky was super friendly. He was joking about me being small enough to fit in his bass drum case and that he could sneak me in that way. The case was sitting right by him. Drummers never let roadies carry their equipment. That was another rock and roll fact that I knew. “I could fit in there,” I said, squatting down next to the case. Marky took his bass drum out of the case. I heard the Ramones laughing as I crawled inside. It wasn’t even that tight a squeeze for me. Marky zipped up the case and all was dark. All I was thinking was, “I made the Ramones laugh.”
I heard a Ramone say, “Stay quiet!” and felt myself being lifted off the ground. I knew I couldn’t be hurt, since I was in the enchanted presence of the Ramones. They deposited me in a backstage room and let me out. There were about 20 people in this tiny room. They were all super loud and drinking from glass beer mugs. The walls were covered with graffiti. There were crumpled cans and cigarettes all over the floor. Thick smoke burned my eyes. Nobody seemed to notice me as I crawled through the crowd toward the stage.
I was crouching next to some steps leading up to the side of the rickety wooden stage. I knew I couldn’t risk going into the audience; I’d be caught for sure. I was afraid to go back into the room I came from because there were so many people there. The stage was about three off the ground, walled off all the way around, except for a two foot wide area next to the steps, where a bunch of cables were running out. That part just had black fabric over it. I lifted up the fabric and crawled underneath the stage. The opening band had just finished playing, and I could see them walking off, through the cracks in the stage above me. Then, the lights changed and some recorded music came on. I knew the Ramones would be coming on next.
From my vantage point, I could see the legs of people milling about behind the stage, and I could easily identify the Ramones’ skinny legs in their torn jeans. After a while, the recorded music changed, the audience started chanting, “Hey Ho, Let’s Go!” and I watched the Ramones’ legs clomp up the stairs onto the stage.
I spent most of the show lying on my back, looking up through cracks in the stage floor. It was like watching a performance in the heavens above. The entire stage throbbed with Dee Dee’s driving bass notes. The air under the stage vibrated my whole body. I felt like I was inside a speaker cabinet.
When the band started playing my favorite song, Teenage Lobotomy, I rolled on my stomach and banged my head against the floor to the beat. It didn’t really hurt, since the floor was covered with a thick layer of dust matted together with what I imagined was a combination of spilled drinks and the sweat of countless rock and roll musicians. I knew I was cool, because I was banging my head even though no one could see me.
I was completely absorbed into the music, like I had become the music. I was Johnny and Dee Dee’s vibrating guitar strings, I was the electrons surging through the cables to the amps, I was the relentless dance beat of the drum and I was Joey’s voice, traveling through the mic, the cables and out the giant stage speakers.
For their encore, the Ramones played Pinhead, and I watched as one of their entourage, dressed in a pinhead costume, scrambled up the stage steps carrying the famous “Gabba Gabba Hey!” sign. He was jumping up and down right over my head. Suddenly, the band stopped playing. I heard Joey yell, “Thank you and goodnight!” I began to panic. How would I get out of there without being caught? When I saw the Ramones’ legs trotting down the stage steps, I rolled out from under the stage, the same way I had crawled in. I dashed into the backstage room. “Hey! You’re still here!” said Joey. I nodded yes.
“We gotta sneak her out, “ said Marky. It was nice that the Ramones weren’t abandoning me.
“”Hey, I know,” said Dee Dee, with a big grin on his face. He grabbed the pinhead outfit off a table. I slipped on the mask and the dress that went with it. When the Ramones walked outside, I walked along with them. There were about a dozen fans waiting by the tour bus. They all wanted autographs. Someone handed me a marker and I wrote “Pinhead” on her forehead. But I didn’t see any of my friends. I started feeling out of place, and I took off the costume and handed it back to Johnny. I said “bye” to the Ramones, and Dee Dee said, “See ya,” as I walked away.
When I got home, I looked in the bathroom mirror at the dirt and grime caked on my face. I melodramatically declared, “I’ll never wash my face again!” Then I laughed at myself and took a shower.
So that’s it, my intersection with rock and roll history. The club’s been out of business for decades, so I don’t think they’ll come after me for sneaking in that night. I think about the feeling of specialness I had, lying on my back in my own private space, watching the Ramones, their music shaking my body. Now, whenever there’s an especially loud and powerful thunderstorm at night, I go outside and look up in the sky for the Ramones.
Look under the flower for another Daisybrain story: