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.
Jerry Jones (The Fiendz vocalist): That show in 1990, opening for the Ramones… we were scared to death. It was the scariest thing, but the most exciting thing. When we started our band, we loved the Ramones, but we never dreamed that we would have the chance to open for them. Back then, the audience would throw things at the opening band and just yell, “Ramones!” through the whole set. We were terrified to get up there, it felt like suicide. But by that show, we had already played there a bunch of times and had a following. When Randy announced us, the crowd was like, “Yeahhhhhhhhhhh!!” And we were like, “What, they want us?! They like us?!” We had an amazing show and we sold an unbelievable amount of merch. At the end of the night, I said to Randy, “I didn’t even get a chance to talk to the Ramones.” And he said, “Jerry, they aren’t going to talk to you. They don’t even talk to each other!”
Monte A. Melnick: Being that we were so close to home, you know, coming from New York, we didn’t have to worry about getting… anything for some of the band members. Dee Dee had his own spot in New York, and it was only an hour away. It got crazy when we went overseas. I would call the promoter to tell him that when we got off the plane, he had to have this…. you know, supply, whatever you want to call it, for Dee Dee. But an hour from New York? He was able to bring his own.
Johnny Ramone: As Dee Dee got more serious, the problem got worse. Early on, he was straight for the shows, but then he would show up hung over on pills or drunk. In the beginning, we were all straight all the time, at least when we played the show. But even when he got really bad, Dee Dee would always play. He would never cancel. Dee Dee was on the road with hepatitis and could still play fine.
Stephen Brown: The only asshole I ever met in the back bar was Dee Dee Ramone. He was a dickhead. He didn’t want to talk to nobody.
Ken Hinchey: During the interview I asked him if he was going to leave the Ramones, since he had this solo thing out, and he said, “No, I’m not leaving.” Not a month later I see Kurt Loder on MTV Music News saying that Dee Dee was leaving because being in the band was a threat to his sobriety.
Rich O’Brien: A few weeks before he died, Dee Dee was in Philly for the premiere of the film Bikini Bandits, and I was working at a club down the street from the premiere after-party. I’m outside and I see this motley crew of people walking down the street—and two of them were Dee Dee Ramone and Corey Feldman. All I could think was, “You both look old.”
Monte A. Melnick: The only difficult thing about City Gardens was getting the band to the stage, because we had to go through the crowd all the way from the back of the building to the front. Everyone liked to touch the band on the way up, and sometimes it got a little crazy. But Randy took care of that. He always had plenty of security. In fact, he got extra security for those nights.
Jim Norton: The other thing about The Ramones was the dressing room. The security protocol for The Ramones was like this: The Ramones would show up right before doors opened and they might—might—hop up on stage for a quick soundcheck. And by “quick,” I mean ten minutes at the most. They would go up to the dressing room and they would stay there most of the night. Then, when it was time to perform, we would assemble five or six security guys at the foot of the stairs by the dressing room. We’d assemble another seven or eight guys at the single door that was to the right of the stage between the soundboard and the stage. It was one of the doors you got thrown out of when you were stagediving. You’d have one or two guys outside those doors as well. The Ramones would come down the stairs, and we would walk to the back bar room and go through the set of double doors to the outside, go around the building to the single door near the stage, and bang on that door a few times. The door would open, and security would basically form two cordons and walk through with the band. Sometimes a person would specifically be walking between the band members, so you didn’t have all four band members in one shot. You would spread it out a little bit. The prestige gig for the security guys was to guard Joey Ramone. Of course, he’s Joey Ramone. I am proud to say that on more than one occasion I was Joey Ramone’s personal bodyguard for a whole 15 feet. But there was one time in particular that stands out. I was walking behind Joey Ramone, holding my left arm out to move the crowd and protect him, and he reached out his left arm to shake hands or high-five somebody, and he put his arm back down, but he put it over top of my arm. There was a bit of a crush, and his left arm pushed my left arm further into his body. Now I am behind Joey Ramone and I am spooning Joey Ramone while standing behind him. My arm is around his belly and it’s getting pushed in by the crowd. Let me tell you something creepy: his gut was so loose and gelatinous that it is not much of an exaggeration for me to say that I felt his spine. My arm just kept going. It was like his entire body was hollow and he had no organs. It was the strangest goddamned thing I ever felt.
Ken Hinchey: The Ramones didn’t have set lists, because it was always the same and they had it memorized. When a new record came out, they would take out a few older songs and replace them with some new ones, but that was it. It didn’t change. They always started with “Durango 95,” then “Teenage Lobotomy,” followed by “Psycho Therapy” into “Blitzkrieg Bop.” One time I saw Joey Ramone had a piece of paper with him, and I’m like, “Are they changing the set list?!” I went up to the stage to see what was written on it, and it said, “City Gardens, Trenton, NJ.” That’s what he needed to know. Not what songs to play, but where he was.
Randy Now: The Ramones told me that City Gardens was the hottest club they played. In all the years, and all the places they played, City Gardens was it. It would get so hot that Johnny would take off his leather jacket.
Amy Yates Wuelfing: In addition to being hot and swampy, the place would be so packed that everyone spilled beer on you. But you couldn’t get mad if someone spilled beer on you, because it wasn’t their fault. I have a vivid memory of standing by the stage at a Ramones show, my shoes so soaked with beer that they squished when I walked, and I could see wind coming off the speakers. It was so loud, it made wind.
Randy Now: The Ramones played so loud that they once tripped a circuit breaker and we lost power. They actually had to play quieter to keep the sound from going out.
Johnny Ramone: At the first show with the Marshalls I deafened everyone because I didn’t know you only need a half stack for a club that size.
George Tabb (Ramones’ road crew): On John’s side of the stage they had one Marshall so John could hear himself, and one bass cab. On Dee Dee’s side was one Ampeg bass cabinet so he could hear himself, and one Marshall to hear Johnny. Then you had all these other Marshalls with nothing coming out. They were decoys.
Scott Foster (1124 Records): No matter how early we got there, the line was always wrapped around the building ten times. You had to stand out there and wait forever.
Monte A. Melnick: I couldn’t have written my book [On the Road With the Ramones] with the stuff about Joey’s obsessive compulsive disorder while he was still alive. It was rough what he went through. He overcame that and did what he had to do onstage. Back then, we didn’t know what it was—even he didn’t know what it was, for years. We just thought he was out of his mind. It was unbelievable. Nobody knew what the heck was going on.
Tracy Parks-Pattik (City Gardens employee): Back then, it wasn’t like hanging out with rock stars or anything. We were all part of the same scene. I’m pretty tall for a girl, and I remember standing next to Joey Ramone one night and only coming up to his chest. I had to look up at him. We were just hanging out, shooting the shit. He didn’t really talk much. When you look at it in this day and age, I have a 20-year old kid who’s long past the age of idolizing people, but he likes The Ramones. For him, to hear about his mom growing up and hanging out with these people is pretty weird. Nobody believes him when he tells them about it.
Monte A. Melnick: When they were onstage and doing The Ramones thing, it was what they lived for. They knew that they had a good thing going. By the end they couldn’t stomach each other, but they’d get up there and play a show and you’d never know. That’s the Ramones magic. That’s why they tolerated each other, because being in The Ramones was a special thing, and when you get onstage in front of an audience like that, there’s nothing like it. That’s why a lot of people take drugs when they are off the stage, because they want to replace that high. You can’t get a drug as good as that.
Jeff Stress Davis (City Gardens regular): I went to City Gardens so often there are times where it almost became routine. I’m almost embarrassed to admit this, but I saw The Ramones several times and never even paid attention while they were playing because I was hanging out with friends and stuff. It was so common for us to see these great bands over and over again, that it almost became like background music.
Henry Hose (City Gardens regular): The Ramones played City Gardens so many times, and it seemed like they were always playing somewhere in the tri-state area. We had a running joke… If we can’t find anything to do this weekend, we can always go see the Ramones—because you know they’re playing somewhere.
Bruce Markoff (City Gardens regular): I probably saw the Ramones 12 or 15 times, and one of my regrets is not seeing them more. If I had the offer to take a year off my life to see them again, I’d say yeah, I’ll go for a year. Back then, I took them for granted because I saw them so many times. There were times when they were playing the club, and me and [bouncers] Rich and Carl would be at the front door, laughing and naming the song they were going to play next. I look back at most of my life and say, what a jackass I was, but I was so naïve and stupid and jaded… Christ they’re not even alive now, let alone playing. It’s embarrassing to think back. And you know, there are probably a million people on the planet who would kill to see just one of those shows I saw, and there I was, rolling my eyes at them.
Joseph Kuzemka (Trenton Punk Rock Flea Market): One thing I’ll never let myself live down is that the first punk record I ever bought when I was 12 years old was The Ramones self-titled record. They’ve been probably one of my favorite bands ever since then, and I never saw them. In the span that I was going to City Gardens, they probably played 10 or 12 times, and I always said, “Well, I’ll see them next time.” I was into the straight-edge scene at the time, and if there was a straight edge show the same night, I’d go to that. I said, “I’m going to see The Ramones next time they come, because they’re always going to be playing City Gardens.” I actually showed up at a Ramones show once, and I met up with some friends outside, and they said they were going to TGI Friday’s to get some food and then go back and see the Ramones. I went, and we didn’t make it back in time. That was my last opportunity to see the Ramones. One of my all-time favorite bands played 22 times within three miles of my house, and I never saw them. I’ll never forgive myself for it. Any time I know someone who says that they saw The Ramones X amount of times, I want to kick myself. It’s difficult to think about a band that I adored so much, that played so close to my home, and I never made the time to see them.