Thursday, January 13, 2011

End of the ‘70’s

“All right! Here we go. One of the greatest sessions of all time, history in the making – Phil Spector and The Ramones.”

Joey beamed. Phil Spector had been his hero growing up. Back when he was little Jeffry Hyman in Forest Hills, he idolized the man behind the great girl groups. A big stupid grin spread across his face as he thought about The Crystals, The Blossoms and The Ronnettes. That was early punk rock, totally cutting edge. Great records, man, the best!


In the booth at Gold Star Studio, the site of Spector’s “Wall of Sound” triumphs, Phil paced, stroking his lush goatee. Sweeping his floor length black cape behind him, Phil had a thought.

“Johnny, Johnny. Let’s do the opening to ‘Rock ‘n’ Roll High School’ again. Whaddaya say, baby?”

Disgustedly, Johnny blew his brown bangs away off his eyes. Johnny Ramone hated Phil Spector, hated these endless sessions. Take after take, and for what? Some crazy idea of a perfect drum sound, or the ideal chord. Johnny knew one thing; this wasn’t the way The Ramones were supposed to behave. But maybe, just maybe, they could sell a few more records attached to Phil Spector. So, Johnny would play along, for a little while longer anyway.

“Yeah, fine, Phil, fine, what should I do?”

“We’ll start off, then you play the opening chord.” Phil raised his right hand high. “OK, greatest session ever, gonna make some history. Phil Spector and the greatest punk rock band ever. Count off so we know you’re there, Johnny.”

“1, 2, 3, 4,” Johnny yelled and Marky thumped away on the drums.

“Rock, rock, rock, rock, rock and roll high school,” Joey sang, trying his best to copy the street wise sass of Ronnie Spector or The Shangri-La’s.

Johnny hit his chord perfectly and…

“Piss! Shit! Fuck! Cunt!” Phil was screaming from the booth, tugging at his long-haired wig. An insane look in his eyes that pierced through his tinted lenses. “Stop the damn tape!”

“What the fuck, Phil?” screamed Johnny. After spending hours and hours watching Phil listening through his headphones as he made Marky hit the same drum beat over and over, Johnny was in no mood to go through the same agony. And he was hung-over from drinking at Phil’s house the night before.

That was some fucked up scene at Phil’s mansion. That crazy bastard preached all night to them about the “glory days” of rock and roll. On and on he would go, about The Beatles, about Ike and Tina Turner, “Instant Karma,” like anyone gave a shit. Joey did. He sat close to Phil, eating it all up. Johnny loved The Beatles. He just hated Phil.

The more Phil raved, the more uncomfortable Dee Dee, Marky and Johnny got. When Spector stood up to put another horror movie in the video cassette recorder, Johnny got up to go.

“Phil, it’s getting late, man. We’re outta here.”

“No, no, don’t go. I want to talk about tomorrow’s session. I have some ideas.”

“It’s 3 in the morning, I’m tired, I’m going.”

Phil bent over and reached under the sofa.

“You’re not going anywhere,” he said menacingly, pointing a pistol with cold steadiness. The Ramones dove behind the couch.


“OK, Phil, OK, you got it, we’ll stay a little longer,” said Johnny quietly. There wasn’t much to do now that they were kept hostage.

“Not your fault Johnny, not your fault. It was the fucking engineer. Hold it one second. OK, let’s do it again, same way. Count off.”

Johnny snapped out of his daydream in time. “1, 2, 3…”
“Hold it! Did someone wave their hand? I thought someone waved to stop, so I stopped. OK, my mistake. Ready? Hey, I just thought of something funny. Phil Spector is producing the Ramones and Phil Ramone is producing Ronnie Spector. Isn’t that a hoot? Far out man. OK Johnny, ready?”

“Aaarrgghh! I’ve been ready Phil. You’re really startin’ to piss me off,” Johnny’s frustration was rising. “Fuck” he muttered under his breath.

“All right then. I’m ready, you’re ready, we’re all ready. Joey, let’s go! Rock and roll history – roll tape.”

“1, 2…”

“Hold it! I was just thinking something. You guys would have been perfect at the Brill Building. Would’ve had to cut your hair of course, but you can write songs and that’s what matters. I was thinking we could overdub a glockenspiel, some strings, big stuff, big sound. I could call in Barry Goldberg, remember The Electric Flag, that was Barry’s group. What do you think?”

“Fuck, Phil,” screamed Johnny. “Can we just record something straight through? Damn!”

“Johnny, Johnny, we’re gonna do another one, same way. I won’t let you do anything until you finish this. You can do whatever you want, Johnny, after this. I make history, you make music. It’ll be a huge hit. Who’s the producer?” Phil laughed. “I mean really. I was making records when you were in diapers.”

Johnny was reaching his end. “Producers are nothing, you stupid fucker. You haven’t had a hit in, what, 15 years or somethin’. We don’t need you Phil. You are a zero.”

“Joey, can you come up to the booth for a second. I want to talk to you about the vocals.” It was as if Phil hadn’t heard Johnny at all.

Joey was bouncing as he happily went to meet with Phil. From the studio Johnny watched and seethed. He’d been watching, day after day, as Phil doted on Joey, helping Joey overcome his insecurities, praising him as a great singer. There was too much focus on Joey and it made Johnny jealous. This sucks. Phil sucks. He took our great songs and fucked them up royally.

The band sat and waited, not knowing when they’d resume recording, Dee Dee excused himself to shoot up in the bathroom. Johnny sat there more disgusted with each passing minute. He was about to blow his top. After an hour, Joey left the control room and descended to the studio. Johnny glared at him as Dee Dee stumbled back to his chair and picked up the bass.

“Alright. This is gonna be number one!” Phil crowed. “Biggest record ever. Everyone ready. Dee Dee, you alright? OK, Joey baby. Joey, you’re wonderful, kid. I can make you a superstar with this band.”

That was it for Johnny. “This band? Fuck you man. We’re not Joey’s backup group. I’m outta here, Phil. I’m packing my fucking bags and taking the next flight to New York. This is fuckin’ torture.” Johnny stood up grabbed his leather jacket from the metal chair and began to gather his things. “Who else is with me?’

Phil reached down into the small cooler he kept on the floor near the sound board. That was where he kept his .38 caliber pistol. He opened the door and stepped out to face the band.

“I will shoot anyone who tries to leave. Johnny, sit down.”

Johnny had seen this all before, last night as a matter of fact. The little has-been was completely full of shit.

“You gonna shoot me, Phil? You little prick, with your stupid glasses and your fuckin’ wig and your boring stories. You’re a fucking ant, Phil. You don’t have the balls to shoot me, you cocksucker.”

“You’re not leaving Johnny.”

"Go ahead and shoot. I'm going back to New York.” Johnny didn’t even look up.

BLAM! BLAM!! BLAM!!! BLAM!!!!

Johnny flew forward, his back punctured by four bullets.

With the loud blasts, Dee Dee picked up his head and focused on the bright red blood spreading across the back of Johnny’s leather jacket.

“Hey Johnny, you look like you’re in Dawn of the Dead!” Dee Dee giggled and passed out.

Phil returned to the booth.

“OK, Joey baby, one more time. Let’s do ‘Baby, I Love You.’ Someone count off.”

Joey counted off, in shock.


“1, 2…”

“Hold it, hold it,” Phil stopped the tape. “Does anybody hear sirens?”

Johnny Ramone and Phil Spector did not get along. At one point, Johnny walked out of a May 1979 recording session after Phil had Johnny play the first chord of “Rock ‘n’ Roll High School” 160 times over a 12 hour session. The album, End of the Century, would not be the breakout record The Ramones had hoped for. Instead, it laid bare the rift between Joey and Johnny and made an eventual split unavoidable. On April 15, 2001, Joey died of lymphoma. Dee Dee died of a drug overdose on June 5, 2002. Johnny would succumb to prostate cancer on September 15, 2004. Phil Spector survives, in prison, serving a sentence of 19 years to life for the 2003 shooting death of actress Lana Clarkson.

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