If you have ever wondered what it is like to be in a touring band, I think I just read the most realistic book on life on the road. It’s On the Road With the Ramones by Monte Melnick, their tour manager who was with them for their entire careers, and Frank Meyer. It’s an easy to read book, one of those books where they divide it up into chapters that focus on a theme, and then have a cast of characters comment on the themes of that chapter. A perfect book to hop in and out of.
Now the Ramones were not an average band or an average group of people. They were one of the most influential groups of all time. However, despite the fact that they are now rightly recognized as that, this was not always the case during their actual careers. They often found more success in other countries than they did at home in America. Although the people attending their shows were often a who’s who of rock n roll history, they were usually only playing to between 1,000 and 2,000 people a night. In order to make a living and to play over 2,000 gigs in twenty-or-so years, they had to run a tight operation.
They also had many personality quirks, if you could call them that. Joey and Dee Dee both had issues that plagued them throughout most of their careers. Joey suffered from extreme OCD, and Dee Dee was an addict with a host of personality disorders. You throw in Marky, who was an alcoholic for a part of their career, eventually getting fired for three albums, only to return later, and Johnny, who was a right winger that had very little empathy during his career for those who crossed him, and you’ve got quite a stew of insanity. The Ramones also were in constant conflict with each other. Joey and Johnny spent have of their career only talking to each other through intermediaries. Monte’s job was often babysitter as well as tour manager.
Despite the fact that the book doesn’t gloss over any of these problems, it still makes you understand why they were so revolutionary and why they are so beloved. As a working musician I also found it extremely interesting how their operation was run, what allowed them to overcome the difficulties that they faced. Despite any problems, their organization often ran like a well oiled machine. They almost never missed gigs, even Dee Dee! They took measures to cut down costs, such as the band always traveling in a van, instead of a more expensive tour bus, even when they could afford one. From the very beginning of their career they were focused on how to make their gigs sound as good as possible. Even in the early club days they would often bring their own PA. They had a rider that was based on common sense, so that they would actually get what they asked for. Everything from their lights and the way they moved on stage, was planned out in advance so they could constantly give people the best show possible. There was an order in their organization that allowed them to overcome the chaos of their personal lives. These are just small details that the book elaborates on. The book always has a conversational tone, so it never bogs down while communicating these details.
A lot of people read rock n roll books for crazy rock n roll stories. There are plenty of those here if that is your deal. I personally probably wouldn’t have finished the book if that was only what the book was about. I always want to know how someone that created something lasting and unique did it. If there is a slight downside to the book it is only that their records aren’t discussed at any deep length, but because their tour manager is the one guiding this book, that is to be expected. However, this book deals with the practicality of touring in a way that is rarely discussed in most books on musicians. If you are a Ramones fan this book is a must, but I think if you are interested in the music business at all, this book is worth your time. I personally think the Ramones are one of the greatest bands ever, and this book gives great insight into how they became that.