Interview with Damone Ramone author Frank Lord | By James Alvarez
If you’re a member of the punk rock faithful—or have been inhabiting Earth for the last four decades—there’s a good chance that you’re down with the Ramones. If not, what the hell is wrong with you? The hallowed work of Joey, Johnny, Tommy, Dee Dee, and co. is in our collective lifeblood. Nobody understands this better than author Frank Lord, the man behind Damone Ramone: A Rock and Roll Betrayal, a Bizarro World fictional biography of the band in which the Ramones are actually brothers, told from the perspective of their deranged, long lost sibling, Damone.
Lord’s book takes an old concept—the idea that the famous punk icons were actually blood relatives—well beyond left field, past even the confines of interdimensional space. “I read a comment under a Ramones article where a guy said that when he was young, he pictured the Ramones growing up in some insane dysfunctional household in Queens,” Lord explains. “He’d thought they were really brothers, just like I had. I think a lot fans did, especially back when information wasn’t readily available. So, I thought I’d try and make that vision come to life.”
Only Lord’s tale allows Damone, the band’s lovable but stark raving mad younger brother, to get his story of drugs, deceit, cosmic orchestras, and mind-boggling amounts of masturbation out into the open. Lord describes Damone as a “megalomaniac as narrator, a pompous ass that oscillates wildly between narcissism and self-hatred.” Damone is the man responsible for the otherworldly genius that was the Ramones’ early catalog, whose advanced, out of body musical arrangements—such as the phenomenally titled, “Masturbate Me Immediately Prior to My Surgery” composed using souped-up sewing machines—were stolen by his greedy brothers and bastardized into the punk rock anthems the world knows today.
At times, Damone’s actions range from schizophrenic to a savant-like Forrest Gump persona, but through it all, he remains a defiant and fascinating character to the core. “It was great fun to put him in all these ludicrous predicaments,” Lord says, “and although he goes through tough times, he never surrenders his independence and he never compromises his ideals or his art. I tried to make sure that Damone had a consistent underlying logic for everything he does and says, so even his most lunatic tangents are based on—to his way of thinking—sound reasoning. I hoped that the reader would think, ‘Why am I somehow agreeing with this maniac?’”
And agree with him you might, especially when this ill-begotten Ramone rants about his brothers’ great achievements representing the apex and simultaneous destruction of rock music. “As for [Damone’s] assertion that the Ramones are the end of rock ‘n’ roll, I’m of two minds,” Lord reveals. “On the one hand, rock seems like an art that’s perpetually renewing and will always carry the same spirit, whatever its form. On the other hand, I also partially agree when Damone suggests that people who said, ‘Hey, I can do this,’ after hearing the Ramones had the entirely wrong reaction, because after the Ramones, there’s nowhere to go. This relates to the idea of the Ramones being rock ‘n’ roll in its absolute form, like a pure element that can only be sustained for a short time—for example, over four albums. Even the Ramones seemed, in a way, kicked out of the kingdom after [1978’s] Road to Ruin.”
“Damone Ramone” is both a fascinating character study of a world-class space-case and a hilarious take on some of the most beloved icons of the 20th century. When he isn’t raising hell out in the world, Damone is raising hell with his brothers at home, interacting with each of original Ramones members in his own unique way. Nothing tops his altercations with his oldest brother and de facto band leader, Johnny; he is the hyper aggressive Abbott to Damone’s outlandish Costello. “His was a lonely office. Someone needed to step up and organize, keep the machine functioning,” Lord says of Johnny Ramone’s reputation as a militant hardass. “He’s not supervising accountants here, he’s managing rock musicians—individualists, bohemians, wildmen. Not easy.”
Whether you walk away loving, hating, or being completely baffled by Damone Ramone’s insane journey through almost-rock-stardom, he’s certainly a character you won’t ever forget. “I hope that he ultimately comes off as a strong character rather than a pitiable one, despite some of the holes he falls in,” Lord says. “He is a Ramone after all, and wholly dedicated to the punk ethos. I imagine if we ran into him now, he’d more willingly embrace the term ‘punk’ to describe his uncompromising lifestyle than he would when his tale begins and he’s an avowed enemy of rock ‘n’ roll.”