The Ramones hold the distinctive position in City Gardens history as the band that headlined the most—22 shows. The New York City-based group was a touring machine and, given their proximity to Trenton, it is no wonder they played City Gardens so often. Ramones shows were always an event, and just about everyone who ever went to City Gardens saw them in some form, at some point.
Jeff Feuerzeig (TV producer): I got to interview Joey Ramone in 1986, and it was a big deal that I scored this interview for WTSR. I went backstage, and all The Ramones were lurking about but not talking to each other. I talked to Joey for ten minutes or so. It was a Jewish holiday and I knew he was Jewish, and I’m Jewish, and I made some stupid Yom Kippur joke. It was not appreciated.
Ken Hinchey: I went up to the dressing room once to get the Ramones to record radio IDs for my radio show. Joey was super friendly and really nice. In front of me was a girl who gave him a stuffed rabbit with a box of Sucrets. She was like, “Joey, I heard you had a sore throat and wanted to give you this.” She walked away and Joey looked at me and said, “I got a bunny!” Everyone was hanging out and the mood was upbeat. But at a later show, I went to talk to them, and Joey was totally different. He wasn’t rude… he was practically asleep. He was leaning over a table and grabbed my tape recorder and put it under his hair. I couldn’t even see his face. The atmosphere in the dressing room had changed.
Monte A. Melnick: One of the biggest celebrities to ever hang with the band was none other than The Boss, Mr. Bruce Springsteen. We were playing the Fast Lane in Asbury Park in 1978 and, as soon as I put the band onstage, I wander over to the back bar and see Bruce Springsteen sitting there by himself, watching. I figured I’d give him about three or four songs and then he’d be gone, as you had to have an acquired taste for the band, but he stayed for the whole show and loved them. At the end of the night he was still at the bar, so I walked over to him and asked if he wanted to come back and meet the band. I brought him back and Joey said, “Hey, why don’t you write a song for us,” which he did.
Stephen Brown (City Gardens regular): I dove off the amplifier stack at a Ramones show, and I think I broke some guy’s collarbone because my boot came right down on him. Randy had me thrown out of City Gardens that night because I climbed the stack, but I snuck back in the side door. Willie Nelson let me in. Willie Nelson was that biker dude who was also a bouncer. I’m sneaking around, keeping a low profile, and Randy doesn’t see me. Everything’s going great. Right up until the black bouncer saw me, and he was like, “Hey, I gotta talk to you for a second.” I was cool with him, so I went up to him. He takes me right the fuck up to Randy! Randy loses his mind. “That’s it! You’re banned for life!” I said, “Wait, you already banned me for life. You can’t ban me for two lifetimes!” He said, “That’s it, Brown—two lifetimes! You’re outta here!” I was banned for two lifetimes. What the fuck?
Alex Franklin (City Gardens regular): Ramones. Everybody talks about hardcore nowadays and how the dancing is so violent and malicious. Let me tell you something—there was never anything like a Ramones show. They would play a Friday and a Saturday. Sometimes they would be booked for an entire weekend. They would come by at least twice a year; maybe even three times. It’s funny to me how legendary The Ramones have become, because they were not cool back then, especially in the mid ‘80s. People thought they were sell-outs for being on a major label. Especially the real hardcore crowd. There was a time when people thought The Ramones were soft and kind of corny. I always loved The Ramones, but a lot of people thought I was a dork for liking them. They thought I wasn’t a real punk! It was the same with the Sex Pistols. People said you weren’t a “real” punk if you liked the Sex Pistols. Can you imagine? Ramones shows were always insane. They would be so big and so packed that there were three mosh pits going at one time. When The Ramones played, everybody went crazy. There was nowhere to stand that wasn’t pandemonium. People would be jumping off the bleachers or off the bar. It was so packed that the sweat was pouring off in waves. You would sweat so much that your sneakers were soaked, and when you went outside there would be steam coming off your body. The worst pit injury I ever received was at a Ramones show sometime in ‘89. I was standing to the right of the stage by the side door, next to the bleachers, and I was trying to watch them play. Suddenly this elbow hits me directly in the eye. I got hit so fucking hard that it broke the orbital bone, broke my cheek, and broke my nose. In one shot. My face looked like I had gone six rounds with Mike Tyson. The membrane that separates your eye from the rest of your face was broken, too. I was sick at the time, so when I blew my nose, the whole side of my face filled with air. I looked like the Toxic Avenger! It was horrible. My mom got so pissed at me that I wasn’t allowed to go to any shows for a month, and at City Gardens there were at least three good shows a week!
Stephen Brown: Randy did some messed up stuff like taking bands from two different ways of thinking and putting them on a show together, and he would expect a fight not to start. Except for The Ramones. The Ramones were a band that everybody kind of liked, so you weren’t going there for a fistfight. At least not that night.
Steven DiLodovico (author): The first time I saw The Ramones was ’87 or ’88 and, at that time, the punk rock “elite” had deemed it uncool to like The Ramones. Their records had always been really important to me, but I had never seen them live. Bands in the punk scene have a very short shelf-life and, by this point, The Ramones were already “old.” I honestly wasn’t expecting much from a bunch of old guys, but they completely blew me away! They were like a machine on stage. It was amazing.
Tim Chunks (Token Entry, vocalist): I worked as a stage manager at City Gardens in 1991 and it was awesome. I was living in New Brunswick with the Bouncing Souls, and we went to City Gardens one night. After having played there so many times with Token Entry, I had built a friendship with Randy. He was always a great, great promoter. He did his job really well. He got the word out that bands were playing, and he got kids to come to the shows. That’s what bands wanted. There’s nothing worse than showing up to a place, especially a club the size of City Gardens, and finding out that the promoter hasn’t promoted your show and that a place that can hold almost 1200 people has only 200 in it. So, I was at the club one night, and Randy asked me if I wanted to stage manage. I had no job at the time, so I was like, “Certainly. I totally want to stage manage.” I remember when The Ramones played, they brought in a full semi, or maybe even two semis’ worth of gear. It was insane. I couldn’t believe they brought so much stuff, but it was The Ramones. In 1987, Clem Burke from Blondie played drums for the band as Elvis Ramone. He only did two shows, one of which was at City Gardens.
Ken Hinchey: I saw the Ramones about 20 times, and most of those shows were at City Gardens. The band had the show down to a science, so there wasn’t a lot of variation. But I remember the Clem show, and it seemed like he couldn’t keep up with them, which is strange because he’s a great drummer. I think he literally joined the band the day before the show and didn’t have a chance to rehearse. At the time I thought he couldn’t keep up, but I think he just didn’t know the songs. No disrespect to Clem, but he didn’t fit in at all.
Monte A. Melnick: The Elvis Ramone show was at City Gardens. It was his second and last show! The thing was with The Ramones…you know their songs were so fast and tight… any tiny, little thing… the guys would… well, Johnny noticed things and was kind of tough about it. Clem’s a great drummer, but he didn’t have enough time to work into the group. He was thrown into the fray. He did a good job. Within the group, they noticed. They were uncomfortable with him and then [Ramones drummer] Marky came back. Clem went on to better things.
Clem Burke a.k.a. Elvis Ramone (Blondie, drummer): I was offered the drum slot for The Ramones when Tommy [Ramone] was leaving. I had a sit-down with [Ramones manager] Gary Kurfirst at his office at that time and said, “I’m in the middle of the Blondie thing.” The second time I got offered the gig was when I came off the road with the Eurythmics in 1987. Richie [Ramone] had just split and they had shows coming up. I said I’d fill in. As I started to get into it, I was thinking, “Yeah, this could be really cool.” I told Gary I would not do it on a permanent basis… just until they found someone else. Gary said it would be easy, but I knew better than that. I knew The Ramones weren’t easy. Tommy was a big influence on me when I was watching him play at CBGB. The songs weren’t that easy to play, and Tommy definitely had the knack for it. It had a lot to do with the fact that he wasn’t a drummer. Playing drums wasn’t his life. He was just trying to be a part of the band, make it work, and lay down the beat.
Monte A. Melnick: Clem was a good friend and a great drummer. He came up in the scene with us and loved the band. He wanted to be a Ramone right from the beginning. He got his leather jacket and we tried him out. But he only did two gigs, and just wasn’t right. It wasn’t his fault. He was a different style of drummer.
Clem Burke: All their songs are like tongue twisters, so a cymbal crash in the wrong place was disastrous. They were very fanatical about it. My style is more related to jazz, I kind of get in the moment more. I’m more influenced by Keith Moon or Elvin Jones. I don’t necessarily believe in playing the same thing at the same time each time. In a live performance, that can get extremely boring. I don’t know if I could do that continuously without any improvisation or variation on the theme. But that’s what made them what they were. I was probably a better player than they had been used to, and I don’t know if they could actually keep up with me, to tell you the truth. Dee Dee was great, but he didn’t play the bass with precision. He was performing when he was onstage, which I can understand, ‘cause that’s kind of how I feel when I’m onstage. Johnny was into things being exact. That’s his vision, his concept.
Monte A. Melnick: Clem didn’t really fit in. He would come with his Platinum American Express card, cologne, and Armani suits and then trot out in his leather jacket and go onstage.
Clem Burke: We did a couple of disastrous gigs and that was it… I got the feeling that Johnny wasn’t very happy about how it went.
Jim Norton: We would have problems at Ramones shows when people showed up because they had heard City Gardens was a “punk club” and The Ramones, of course, were a punk band. They would come to “get their punk on” as it were. It would be some guy shoving another guy’s girlfriend because he thought shoving a girl was acceptable at a punk show. He’d end up getting his face pounded in by her boyfriend and his two friends. They thought it was okay to pound his face into a piece of hamburger meat because that’s what punkers do. Those were sort of constant things at Ramones shows. Some guy would walk away with a gigantic egg on the side of his head because someone else thought it was really “punk” to punch him.
Rich O’Brien (DJ/City Gardens bouncer): This is the only time I remember the cops coming, because usually you would call and they wouldn’t show up. But this one time, another security guy, Ronny, and I tackled a guy in the back bar after he pulled out a gun, and somehow the gun got knocked behind the bar. The clincher? The guy with the gun was an off-duty Trenton cop who started a fight with somebody. I still remember running back there and diving on him, and guy’s yelling at me, “You’re under arrest!” I said, “What the hell are you talking about?” The main guy from the Trenton police force had to come out and do an investigation. He grabbed the off-duty cop by the hair and threw him into a patrol car. The investigating cop told us he was sorry and left. That was the last I ever heard of it.
Rowan Bishop (The Outcrowd): We dragged our asses down to Trenton to see The Ramones. It was really hot and, on our way into the club, we saw some guys hanging out by the entrance. I look like I’m gonna join Motörhead, with my long hair and my Black Sabbath t-shirt. One of these guys says, “Hey remember when we beat up that fat hippie the other day?” Really loud. I walked past without even looking at them, head down, arm out, middle finger up. The funny thing is, they didn’t look like they belonged there. They looked like generic Jersey guys. Guys you would never expect to see at a punk show. We came out after the show and the same guys were still out there. I don’t think they ever went in. I walked past them, and they started again with, “Hey you fat hippie… Yeah, we’re talking to you!” Of course, I gave them the finger again. Then I feel something go sailing past my head. It was a big bottle. It missed me and hit the back of the head of some guy who was walking in front of me. He was a young kid, maybe 17 or 18, a little guy. The bottle shattered on the back of his head, and he turned around with a “What the fuck?” look on his face. The guys who threw the bottle start walking over to him and then ten other guys just appear out of the bushes, like they had been waiting all night. They all pounced on the dude. Ten guys were wailing on him, and the poor kid’s girlfriend was trying to protect him. There was a huge crowd of people coming out of the club, and everybody was taken off guard. Next thing you know, the Trenton police show up, and there were a lot of them. They got there really fast, which never happened. There were blue lights everywhere. As soon as we saw the cops we ran to the car and got the fuck out of there. About a month later in the [music tabloid] East Coast Rocker, there was a cover article on skinhead violence with one of those headlines like, Skinheads... Out of Control? that were so popular at the time. They had the famous picture of the skinheads running full force in the Wall of Death. That was one of the last times Dee Dee played with them.
Ken Hinchey (City Gardens regular): I was a huge Ramones fan, and in 1989 I had a chance to interview Dee Dee Ramone when he was promoting his rap album. I didn’t care what it was for. It was an excuse to meet one of the Ramones. The day before the interview was scheduled to happen, Dee Dee’s publicist contacted the magazine’s editor and said, “Don’t bother going up for the interview because Dee Dee’s missing.” That whole thing—they couldn’t find Dee Dee for a couple days—was supposed to be off the record, but it’s such a good story. It’s what you want to hear about the Ramones! It adds to the mystique. When the interview finally did happen, the photographer and I went to Dee Dee’s apartment in New York City, and his girlfriend was there with him. I guess he was friendly, but every question I asked got a yes-or-no answer, and I couldn’t get him into a conversation. I’ve seen other interviews, and I think that’s just how he was… he didn’t have much to say. I had read in a ‘zine that the Ramones did a song with Dusty Springfield called 1-2-3-4. I asked him about it, and he looked at me and said, “How do you know about that?” I let it drop. His rap album was getting panned, but during the interview he played me some stuff that has never been released and was much better. It sampled Duke Ellington and was much more hip that what he had put out, which sounded like a novelty record. It was horrible. While they were setting up to do the photo-shoot, I saw his acoustic guitar in the corner and I asked him if I could check it out, and he said sure. So, I picked it up and started playing “Blitzkrieg Bop.” He looked at me, like, “Oh, brother…” When the photographer started taking the photos, he said, “Let me pose with my gun!” He grabbed the gun, and then he said, “Let me get the clip.” He put the clip in, so the gun was live! As he’s putting the clip in, his girlfriend is yelling, “No, Dee Dee, no!” It was an odd experience.