All Hopped Up and Ready To Go - Ramones at the Hammersmith Palais, London, England. May 4, 1986.
“Beat, dead, burnt-out you know what I mean
My brain was racin’ but my feet wouldn’t scream.” Dee Dee Ramone
I was inspired to write this by my teenage step-daughter. She recently asked for a “Ramones” t-shirt for her birthday. This got me thinking about the Ramones and their music and the one time I got to see them in the 80s.
I was stationed in England during the mid-80s (1984–1986) when I was an Airman in the United States Air Force. My station was Lakenheath (Suffolk) where I enjoyed my time and the two years there seems like 10 in my memory. I met a lot of great people there, only a few of whom I have kept in touch with. I was very young then, not even 21, when I left England in 1988. Maturity-wise I was probably about 12-years-old and made a lot of bad choices, and rubbed most of my colleagues the wrong way every day.
I belonged to a circle of work friends who hung out at the house of a couple who lived off base. The couple were a husband and wife who were from the east coast. They both loved Punk music and we would often play albums during get-togethers and talk about music. I was really young and didn’t know anything much about music at the time. I was discovering a lot of bands by borrowing albums from the base library (X, The Blasters, Oingo Boingo, Sparks, The Belle Stars, Bow Wow Wow, to name a few) but we did have a shared love of “The Ramones.”
The couple worked in the same military hospital that I did, and they were both nurses or something similar. Some of the jobs people had were indistinguishable. They were peers, but much more mature than I was. Marriage, children, and adulthood, despite the fact that I was an adult, seemed like another country to me. I was a lost boy and had no idea what I was doing.
The couple were very nice to me, and always very eager to include me when our group got together. I was often clueless and rude without meaning to be. I would sometimes leave gatherings early with inexplicable social phobia that would make me hyperventilate or feel ill. People thought I was just being a snob, but I was a mess and didn’t know why. I tried to make up for this by always talking, saying anything that came to my head. I was saying the wrong thing, at the wrong time. Trying to be funny, but always missing the mark.
I had gotten into the Ramones during my high school years. I saw them on MTV once and that was all it took. Love at first listen. The song “Rock and Roll High School” was so tight and perfect it set up a lifelong love affair with this crazy band. The Ramones were never played on the radio, and despite the fact that now they seem to be a household name, no one really knew them then. Unlike now, you could not buy their albums at the store or online. I only had a few of their cassettes but I dreamed of owning all of their work on vinyl eventually.
On the military base where I was stationed, we had a stand that sold tickets to sporting events (cricket, rugby, British football) as well as tickets to theater performances (Cats, Starlight Express) and music events. They would list the upcoming events on a long bookmark-like paper and we would all snag them from time to time to see what tickets could be bought. I saw that the Ramones were coming and knew I had to get tickets. I believe tickets were much cheaper then and they were only $17.00. I had spoken to the husband of the couple and he said he was going and asked if I wanted to go with him. I said, “Of course!” and he said, “I’m getting tickets, you can pay me back.” I figured that the two of us would go to London, get a few pints, and go to the show.
The night came and I got dressed for the event. I had little punk gear, so I wore my one “Too Tough To Die” album art t-shirt. I shaved the sides of my already short hair into a “sorta” mohawk, put a safety pin in my one pierced ear, and borrowed a friend’s (Sorry Bill, thanks for being a good friend even though I treated you like shit) leather jacket. I put a black denim vest over the jacket covered with Ramones pins and safety pins. I wore black jeans and my combat boots-not as good as a pair of Doc Martens but I already owned them. My friend wore a leather jacket and some jeans. He looked at my getup and said “Well, no one will know we are yanks at least.” I was shocked to look into the car and see his diminutive wife, heavy with child and wearing an adorable red checked dress that looked like it would be very much in place on the cartoon character Strawberry Shortcake.
I was surprised to see that the wife was going with us as she was 7 months pregnant. “Look”, he said. “My wife wants to go and she’s a little hormonal right now, understand? I either take her -or — we are not going.” I didn’t get this at the time, but now being married I understand a little better. The fact that she was using the other ticket meant that I was out of a ticket. “Don’t worry,” the husband said, “we can buy one from a scalper.”
We drove the long road to London and found a parking garage there. We walked over to the Hammersmith Palais and after asking a few people found a couple of guys who were selling tickets. These guys looked rough. They were like something from a movie set in London that needed a few guys to fill out a scene and put out a casting call for “rough-looking thugs” You would have picked these guys. We asked the guy how much he wanted and after a pause, he said “30 quid.” This really pissed me off because it was almost double the asking cost. I paid the guy grudgingly. The thug looked at his mate, smiled, and then looked back at me. He said, “It’s a tradition in London that when you buy tickets from someone you have to buy them a pint.” This pushed me over the edge and I said “No way! Fuck that and fuck you! You motherfuckers!” and I stepped at these guys like I was going to swing. I have to admit looking back that I must have been out of my mind because these guys could have handed me my ass. My friend gave the guy a $ 10 Pound note and said “Hey, forget my friend and have a drink on me” and the guys grudgingly took it and walked away. My friends were really mad at me and the husband lectured me for almost getting us all killed. I felt bad but I was still unrepentant. I kept saying “Fuck those guys.”
We stopped at a pub and had a pint and waited for the venue to open. At about 8:00 we went over. The couple still seemed a bit pissed off but were thawing. The Ramones were not slated to play until 10:00. So we had time. The Hammersmith Palais was not an inviting looking venue. The décor was that of an eastern block gulag. It smelled of piss, stale cigarette smoke, and body odor. The first thing I noticed going in was that it was very very crowded. And, as our bad luck would have it, it continued to immediately get more crowded.
As we walked in they had a table selling Ramones merchandise, with the “Too Tough To Die” Album or the new “Animal Boy” album art. I would later find out that “Animal Boy” ended up being one of my least favorite records by the Ramones with way, way too much Dee Dee and too little everyone else. It seemed like an amateur album and was one I hardly ever played. They would later do only four songs that night from the album (thankfully) and I was happy to hear most of the older songs.
There was a bar in the venue, but it was blocked by a sea of sweaty bodies. Most pubs in the city had bars where you had to fight someone to the death to get a drink there. I wasn’t really thrilled to be trying that tonight.
The Opening Bands
I had no idea who the prisoners were, and it wasn’t until years later and Wikipedia that I was able to satisfy my curiosity. They were a local London band of the 80s. They were a good band, but I was unfamiliar with them and like most of the crowd who were not too blitzed out of their mind to not know where they were, were eagerly waiting for the Ramones. Most of the music the Prisoners were playing was standard blues-based rock and roll. I would have liked to see the Prisoners again but at a different venue.
The Thrashing Doves were a nice band, but very much out of place as the opening band for the Ramones. The Thrashing Doves looked like they all just got out of art school. Nothing wrong with them and they were a good band, but they didn’t really fit the energy of the Ramones. “Matchstick Flotilla” their lead song was full of yelps from the lead singer and bad feedback from the shitty sound system. After a long set, they kept being asked to play longer as the Ramones were apparently late. They looked like sheep being lead to the slaughter. They gulped and soldiered on, but they kept getting pelted with plastic pint glasses and were eventually harassed off the stage. *note
With no one to play and it getting quite late (it was now 10:45 p.m.) the crowd was getting unpleasant. The audience had not been pleasant to begin with, but it continued to get more and more crowded. Several times my companions and I had been swept off of our feet by the crowd. The wife was having people push on her from all over. The husband and I kept battling to keep people off of her but it was futile. At one point I punched a man full in the face several times who was trying to climb over her, but the guy gave no indication he was aware he was being punched. The husband and I pushed him aside and he was swept away by the crowd.
I would say a great deal of the people in the crowd were completely out of their minds on drugs. I don’t mean high, or drunk but on another plane of existence. Most of the people in the crowd had the blank face of the somnambulist Cesare from “The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari”. It was very close to the zombies in George Romero’s “Night of the Living Dead.”
Finally, the roadies came out and set up for the Ramones. They set up the drums and the amps while we all cheered for the band we had come to see. The PA started playing some music and we chanted “We want the Ramones! We want the Ramones!” and “Gabba Gabba Hey! Gabba Gabba Hey!”
Finally, the Ramones came on stage. Joey, then Johnny, Dee Dee, and then Richie. They all looked incredibly pissed off. They plugged in with little haste, glaring at each other with intense hatred like that of the bitterest enemies, and immediately launched into “Durango 95.” The crowd understandably went nuts. This was followed by several rapid-fire sets. We were assailed by a solid wedge of “Teenage Lobotomy, Psycho Therapy, Blitzkrieg Bop, Do you Remember Rock and Roll Radio and Freak of Nature.” Then they took a five-minute break and the lights came on revealing a Hieronymus Bosch landscape of bodies pressed together.
Looking at the band up close and personal was interesting. Joey was always such a good live performer. He always used the mic stand like a prop and would have it working all over the place. Johnny Ramone just came out like an automaton and played, his arms flailing like something not of this earth. The only other guitarist I’ve seen like him is Billy Zoom from “X” who also plays like a demon with no concept of human endurance. Johnny played so hard and so fast that one could scarcely believe it. Dee Dee Ramone was the most animated, looking around at the others constantly, checking out the temperature of the band and the audience. Dee Dee got to sing on a few songs and he sounded like a Muppet on a crack bender. Richie Ramone was the newest drummer and I didn’t know him from Adam. He played as well as he could and I otherwise didn’t really notice him.
The band came back on in a flash and Joey looked into the crowd and pointing his finger at anyone out there, said “This one’s for you baby!” They began with Gimme Gimme Shock Treatment, Rock and Roll High School, I Wanna Be Sedated, The KKK Took My Baby Away, Crummy Stuff, and Loudmouth.
The crowd continued to get drunker and rougher. I was getting bruises all over and was exhausted from pushing bodies off of myself. I thought that there might be a mosh pit, little did I know that the entire audience was a mosh pit. The husband and I were able to scream at each other enough to try and find a place where the wife was not constantly being crushed. We moved about 20 feet back and found a pocket where we were not in the center of a crowd. We were able to breathe again. The wife looked worn out, and I was worried about her. I don’t know much about being pregnant, but being in this atmosphere and being constantly pummeled wouldn’t be beneficial. I asked about her a few times and the husband looked pissed off. I decided not to continue.
The band took another quick break and we were again buffeted by the crowds. Not wanting to attempt whatever passed for a bathroom here, I was happy to not have had anything to drink tonight and also angry that I had not had a drink that night. I looked around at the crowd and saw an interesting mix of ages and types. It definitely wasn’t a dyed in the wool punk crowd. Hippies, preppies, greasers, Rastafarians and everyone under the sun was at this concert. There were a few punks though and some guys that looked to be pretty rough.
Back from another break, the Ramones went into Love Kills, Sheena is a Punk Rocker, Glad To See You Go, I Don’t Care, Mama’s Boy, Animal Boy, Wart Hog, and one of my favorite covers they perform, Surfing Bird, Johnny was beginning to warm to the crowd and was all over the front of the stage. Johnny head down stood planted still, a machine.
I wanted to stay and see the end, but the concert was becoming hard to take. The crowd took on a weird turn that seemed to be faded and belligerent. Some of the pushing had turned to more punching and it was becoming more commonplace. Some of the people in the crowd were climbing over the top of the crowd. I didn’t feel like this was particularly a problem for me, but it could be for the wife if someone landed on her, or tried to climb over her again.
I had yelled to the husband that we should leave. He looked really disappointed. (In retrospect I don’t blame him) His wife didn’t push the issue, but I know he knew she would be better off out of there. The husband reluctantly agreed and we left through a back exit, literally walking past people who were shooting up. I was shocked to see people who were injecting drugs while giving zero fucks about being in public.
We got back to the car and drove home. I had gotten a sense that I had blown it. I think I was kind of a buzzkill for wanting to go home. I was hurt to have disappointed these two and it made me feel like the night was a failure in context. Maybe if I had just minded my own business this would have been a better night.
They dropped me off at base, and I slunk back to my room. (But first I stopped to give Bill back his jacket.) I would continue to see the couple at work, but I don’t think I ever saw them much again after that. I wish I had stayed in touch with them, but often we lose touch with people only to regret it later. I remember they had the child, a daughter I believe — and moved back to the states to a base near where they were from.
I always loved the Ramones because they seemed to be the champions of “Fuckups” and “Nutjobs.” They felt like someone who understood me and I felt like their music belonged to me in this context. In one of the songs on Subterranean Jungle they sang the lyrics on the song Outsider:
“I’m an outsider, outside of everything
I’m an outsider, outside of everything
I’m an outsider, outside of everything
Everything you know
Everything you know
It disturbs me so”
A few years passed and the Ramones would start, change lineups and members, and ultimately stop. Their albums would come out and I would buy them of course, still in love with these crazy guys. In 2001 Joey died, followed by Dee Dee in 2002. Johnny would die in 2004. I never had managed to see them again before the band members had passed. I had a few chances seeing them in Tijuana in the later 80s but I was too broke even for that. You can listen to them now on Spotify, and even kids who were born after the members died are wearing the band's t-shirts. It’s a funny fucked up world.
- Weird side note: Years later I dated a woman who claimed to have met Thrashing Doves lead singer/guitarist Brian Foreman after a show in San Francisco. She had given him her number to hook up, and then he called her to come see him in the Emergency Room. He had gotten dysentery while in San Francisco and she came and visited him in the hospital. She never saw him again but they stayed in touch. Weird story.
Dean Jones is a Librarian, Cookbook Reviewer, and writer. Originally from San Diego and having lived his teen years in the Pacific Northwest, Dean has lived for over 20 years in the wonderful but barely affordable San Francisco Bay Area. Dean has graduated with an MLIS from the University of North Texas and has a BA in Liberal Studies from JFK University in the Bay Area. Dean is the Library Director for Hurwich Library in the San Francisco Bay Area. Dean can be seen at Book Festivals, and Library field trips with the BayNet Libraries Group, of which he the Vice President. He can also be seen haunting farmers’ markets, bookstores, and local restaurants. Dean lives in the SF Bay Area with his lovely wife, six kids, and many books. Dean has been published in “Amoral Beatitudes Magazine” and writes for “One Table One World,” “The Cookbook for All,” “An Idea,” “The Riff” and “Authors what are you reading.” Contact Dean at email@example.com