Interview: Blitzkrieg Bunt

By W.C. Moriarity

Punk rocker Johnny Ramone & baseball executive Billy Beane

Some people might think the worlds of baseball and punk rock don’t have an awful lot in common. But just try telling that to punk rock legend and baseball freak Johnny Ramone and Oakland A’s general manager and punk rock freak Billy Beane!

You’ll have a mighty hard time finding a punk rock icon more devoted to our national pastime, and an even harder time finding a baseball executive who was buying Ramones and Sex Pistols 8-tracks way back in ’78. The dynamic duo recently got together out at the ballpark for an enlightening little chit-chat?

Joey
Gabba Gabba Hey Take Me Out To The Ballgame!

BB: Johnny, I might turn into a crazy fan here and just gush for a few minutes. But I went out and got the “Rocket To Russia” 8-track when I was 16. When I first heard you I went, “Oh my God!” It was like I was enlightened!
JR: Hey, and I wanted to be a baseball player? I just fell into this!

BB: When we were in the playoffs two years ago in New York, Johnny, I made the cab driver take me to CBGB’s in my suit and tie and take a picture out in front of the awning there.
JR: I went and did that when we went into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, this past March when we got inducted. I probably took my first picture there since about 1974. I went inside for the first time in about 20 years too. And Hilly, who runs the place, was actually nice to me. He was never nice to me before. He gave me a t-shirt?he wouldn’t even give me a free soda before!

BB: Well I’ve read all the biographies. You were actually a construction worker at first, right?
JR: Yeah, I was a construction worker. I was a steam-fitter for five years. I bought a guitar when I was 26 years old.

BB: That’s amazing!
JR: Billy, we have a Ramones tribute record coming out. And we’ve got Rob Zombie, the Chili Peppers, Metallica, U2, Green Day, Rancid, The Pretenders, KISS, Tom Waits, a really good lineup.

BB: Now is Tom Waits gonna sing a Ramones song?
JR: Yeah, Tom Waits did a Ramones song. Eddie Vedder did two Ramones songs on it. U2 did “Beat On The Brat.” Metallica did “53rd & 3rd.”

BB: Well I read Dee Dee’s autobiography, so I remember what that song was about!
JR: Nobody sang about this kind of stuff. I mean, here’s Dee Dee writing about some Vietnam veteran coming back and becoming a male prostitute?and a Green Beret on top of it!

BB: Do you know Lars Frederiksen, the guitar player for Rancid?
JR: Yeah. Wow, you really know your punk rock!

BB: Yeah, he’s a huge A’s fan. He lives in San Francisco. In fact, his mother’s a season-ticket holder and we talk on occasion. He’ll call me when we make a trade.
JR: Oh yeah? Lars calls me up like once a year and we usually talk about old movies or horror films. I’ll have to run some baseball by him next time.

BB: Well, I actually gave Scott Hatteberg, our first baseman, the DVD of “The Filth & The Fury,” and I had to explain the whole history of how Malcom McLaren had come over to New York and had sort of managed the Dolls?
JR: One time he was in our dressing room up at the Whiskey, and I’m already offended that this guy was in my dressing room, and he says to some girl I was seeing at the time, “Hey, what’s his problem?” And I go, “What’s my problem?” And I punched him. Then I pick up Dee Dee’s bass and I go to hit him over the head with it, and they drag him out. I don’t need this guy asking, “What’s my problem?”

BB: A couple of years ago when the Pistols did their reunion tour, I came this close to getting into a fistfight at the concert. I was the assistant general manager of the A’s at the time, so my brother grabs me and goes, “You don’t need to be getting into fights at punk rock concerts!”
JR: That would have been terrific, yeah!

BB: The purists would say, “Oh, you can’t go see the Pistols now, it’s not the same thing.” But I’ll tell you what, it was great!
JR: The best band I’ve seen since I got started in like ’74 were the Clash at a certain point?like around ’77-’78.

BB: I saw them when they came over to the States on their first tour.
JR: The first concert I went to see was the Rolling Stones in 1964. It was at Carnegie Hall in New York. I remember the date, June 20th, 1964.

BB: My first one was KISS.
JR: I see Paul Stanley around here. I’ve got him on the Ramones tribute record and he’s a really nice guy.

BB: You guys played out here, Johnny, I think it ended up being your last tour. It was an outdoor amphitheater up in Concord, and I want to say it was ’93.
JR: Well, the last tour would be ’96 when I did Lollapalooza. That was the last thing that I did. I retired then, and the only time I’ve ever played again was one song with Pearl Jam. They did a Ramones song and they wanted me to play one song with them.

BB: Well, Dee Dee was actually up here about a year ago.
JR: Yeah, Dee Dee died, you know?

BB: Yeah, I remember the day it happened in fact.
JR: You know, from watching athletes play beyond their prime, I wanted to retire and stay retired. I did not want to get up there and perform, and be past my prime. I was already, but I had to continue on to reach a certain amount where I could comfortably retire. So I had planned out my retirement probably five years before I retired. And I’m definitely sticking to it. I don’t even touch the guitar.

BB: Well in terms of your guitar-playing, as you got older, did you find yourself more interested in doing more with the guitar, or did you just love the style that you?
JR: No! I never even touched the guitar. When I’d walk on the stage, that’s when I touched the guitar!

BB: Just had a callous on that index finger, right?
JR: Yeah, we’d keep touring and playing all the time. I just loved playing for the fans, otherwise to me it was like I hated being on the road. I loved getting on the stage and playing the hour-and-fifteen-minute show for the fans. Rhino just put out the next four albums starting with “End of the Century,” “Pleasant Dreams,” “Subterranean Jungle,” and “Too Tough To Die.” They came up with bonus tracks and demos and everything else.

BB: I was just saying?I never get tired of it! I go into a ballpark now, and some of the riffs that you guys had I hear in ballparks, and commercials?
JR: Oh yeah, it’s so funny. Actually, I sit there, and when it comes on, if I’m at the ballpark, I feel embarrassed and I’ll look down. I try to hide. “Hey, ho, let’s go!” They play it at Yankee Stadium all the time.

BB: Well it must be flattering, especially when you think about the first time you guys put that riff together, and you’re thinking “Hey, this works!” And then?
JR: Well, we had written that song because we had heard the Bay City Rollers doing “Saturday Night.” And we thought that was our competition, the Bay City Rollers. So we had to come up with a song that had a chant ’cause they had one too.

BB: Well, I think you outlasted them!