Judge Dan Mancini went down to Berlin, joined the ice capades.
"I kept thinking the Ramones, Sex Pistols, and The Clash were going to become the three biggest bands in the world."—Johnny Ramone
The Ramones 30th anniversary tribute concert took place on September 12, 2004 at the Avalon in Hollywood—a time when the band was on the verge of losing another of its founding members. Joey Ramone had succumbed to lymphoma in 2001. Dee Dee Ramone overdosed on heroin in 2002. And as the concert took place, Johnny Ramone was at his home in the final stages of prostate cancer. Many of his friends say he hung on just long enough to make sure the show at the Avalon—which was simultaneously a tribute to the band that created punk rock and to Johnny—was a success. He died two days later.
As presented on Too Tough to Die: A Tribute to Johnny Ramone, the show limps to a start with performances by The Dickies (who play one Ramones tune, "Today Your Love, Tomorrow the World," and one original) and X (who play two originals on the basis that they're the sort of tunes the Ramones played). Don't get me wrong, both The Dickies and X are great punk bands, but when you pop in a disc to hear some Ramones, it's a drag listening to someone else. The show improves mightily with a quartet of Ramones tunes performed with gusto by The Red Hot Chili Peppers. The remaining 11 songs are performed by C.J. and Marky Ramone, frequent Ramones producer Daniel Rey (standing in for Johnny on guitar), and a parade of guests including the Mighty Mighty Bosstones' Lawrence Kats and Dicky Barrett; Tim Armstrong from Rancid; Bad Religion's Brett Gurewitz; Henry Rollins of Black Flag and the Rollins Band; Steve Jones from the Sex Pistols; and Eddie Vedder from Pearl Jam. All of the performances (including the originals by The Dickies and X) are played high-speed, high-volume, and with a maximum of energy—just the way the Ramones would like it.
In addition to the concert performances, we're given interview footage from a variety of punk luminaries including Blondie's Chris Stein and Deborah Harry; Thurston Moore and Kim Gordon from Sonic Youth; Rollins, Vedder, Jones, Flea, Anthony Kiedis, John Frusciante, and Rob Zombie (who emceed the tribute show); and many others. The contributors discuss the Ramones' odd place in rock history. The creators of punk rock, they openly longed for the sort of massive success achieved by The Beatles or Rolling Stones, but didn't have even one hit single during their 22-year career. Yet their influence on rock 'n' roll is difficult to calculate, probably matching that of The Beatles or Stones. Certainly the participants in the tribute concert—many of whom are from some of the most successful and influential bands of the last 30 years—almost worship the Ramones. Many cite the band as the original inspiration for their own careers in music.
Too Tough to Die is capped off with scenes from Johnny's memorial service. Eulogies by Tommy and C.J. Ramone, Rob Zombie, and Eddie Vedder are touching and often funny.
The Red Hot Chili Peppers:
Daniel Rey, C.J. Ramone, and Marky Ramone:
Too Tough to Die looks and sounds decent on DVD. The concert and interview footage don't have the vivid, pristine look of events captured in HD, but the overall quality is good enough for punk. Colors are accurate, though never fully saturated. Detail is slightly soft. Audio is presented in a straight-up stereo mix, but it's as ballsy and loud as it should be.
The disc also comes with two supplements: an audio commentary by producer/director Mandy Stein, Johnny's widow Linda, and Joe Sib of SideOneDummy Records; and a brief promo reel for the film.
The Ramones didn't just create punk rock. During their 22 years as a band,
they created a massive body of blazing two-minute songs about teen heartache,
punks, runts, pinheads, and other misfits unlike the work of any of the punk
bands that followed in their footsteps. They blazed a new trail while
demonstrating a deep knowledge of rock's past—one can hear everything from
Chuck Berry to the Beach Boys in their songs, yet their sound is 100 percent
Ramones. They were true originals. Too Tough to Die is a full-throttle
tribute to that originality and to one of the men who made it all possible:
Johnny Ramone. It's a must-see for Ramones fans.
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