It was with great sadness that I read of the passing of Tamás Erdélyi, the Budapest-born musician who reinvented himself as Ramones' drummer Tommy Ramone. I always thought of him as "the short one", because he stood on a small "ledge" while posing for the cover of the band's debut album. Even more significantly than serving as drummer on the band's first three albums, Tommy co-produced the albums. He also served as the "straight man" in a band that featured three demented characters. To give you an idea of Tommy's role in the band, this anecdote, from Mickey Leigh's wonderful family memoir I Slept with Joey Ramone, should suffice:
Johnny had his own idea of fun, a fascination with depraved people like Hitler and Charles Manson. Dee Dee shared it, especially the Nazi thing- possibly resulting from his boyhood fantasies while growing up in post-World War II Germany, or possibly because he was just mentally unbalanced. For whatever reason, some of this found its way into the fabric of the band's compositions.
Tommy brought a few songs to the table, as well. He'd written "I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend" himself and had come in with a new one called "Animal Hop". "Animal Hop" is a prime example of how the personalities, styles, and visions of the band's members clashed and how the collaborative process really paid off.
"I wrote 'Blitzkrieg Bop'," Tommy Ramone declared. "I wanted to contribute, too, but the guys weren't real receptive to my input. Whenever I wrote a song for the band, it'd have to be incredibly good. This wasn't John, but mostly Dee Dee, because Dee Dee was very competitive. I don't know how Joey felt, because Joey was very quiet. Joey would just sit there not saying anything. But I wrote this song originally called 'Animal Hop', and it was too good to be rejected. It wasn't about Nazis. It's about kids going to a show and having a good time.
"It went, 'They're forming in a straight line, they're going through a tight wind, the kids are losing their mind, the Animal Hop.'
"There's a line that goes, 'Hey, ho, let's go, they're shouting in the back now.'
"Dee Dee said, 'Animal Hop'? Let's call it 'Blitzkrieg Bop'! Dee Dee was sabotaging the song," Tommy recalled, exasperated. "He said, 'I don't like that line "They're shouting in the back now"- say, "They shoot 'em in the back now."' He wanted to do the Nazi thing, so that it would never get played on the radio!"
As Johnny summed up the confusion, "Basically we decided to write some crazy bubblegum music.
Besides writing such Ramones staples as the uncharacteristically sweet "I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend" and the sabotaged-to-the-point-of-transgression "Blitzkrieg Bop", Tommy was involved in the production of the band's first album, and as Mr Leigh relates in his book, he bumped up against Johnny with regards to the use of overdubs. Tommy wanted to use overdubbed tracks to create a fuller sound while Johnny insisted that the band use single tracks to keep a spare, "live" sound. I have to say that I think Johnny was right in this instance, and that Dee Dee's sabotage of the probably-soon-to-be-forgotten "Animal Bop" resulted in a transcendentally, transgressively gonzo masterpiece- the Ramones' first album had some truly warped material on it, something which has been lost in the cartoonish sanitization of the band.
Besides producing albums for the Ramones even after Marky Ramone replaced him on drums, Tommy Ramone produced the Replacements' masterpiece Tim (my favorite track on the album is the heartachingly sad "Here Comes a Regular"- the sort of downside of "Cheers"). Tommy's latest project was in the acoustic duo Uncle Monk, along with his S/O Claudia Tienan.
Enough of the eulogizing, it's time to remember the man in the best possible way, blasting some of his music! Here's Tommy doing an acoustic version of "I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend":
Here's the famous 1977 live version of "Blitzkrieg Bop" off of the seminal album It's Alive:
Goodbye, last standing original Ramone, and thank you for keeping your totally gonzo bandmates grounded just enough to put out some of the best headbanging music ever released.