Now they’re all gone. With the passing yesterday of Thomas Erdelyi – better known to vets of the ‘70s punk revolution as Tommy Ramone – all four original members of The Ramones have left us. Erdelyi, who was 62, was the third to die from a cancer-related illness (the other, bassist Dee Dee Ramone, died of a drug overdose in 2002).
Erdelyi’s involvement with the famed New York rockers has largely been unheralded. As drummer, he was the least inconspicuous and the most businesslike. He was the first player to leave and the first to return.
Initially the band’s manager, Erdelyi took over the role of drummer because, in an oft-quoted remark attributed to Dee Dee, “no one else wanted to.” He also wrote one of the Ramones’ cornerstone hits, I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend, and contributed greatly to the composition of several others. All were ultra-economical, ultra-basic garage rock gems with a deceptively high quotient of pop. He stayed with the band for its first four years and its first four albums – Ramones, Leave Home, Rocket to Russia and It’s Alive. He returned to produce the underrated 1984 album Too Tough to Die.
The Ramones have been rightly revered as a vanguard band of the punk movement. But of all the flagship acts of the era, it was hands down the most fun. The Ramones were seldom political, completely un-fashion conscious and, once you got past their street thug looks, refreshingly non-threatening. Their battle cry was never revolution, per se. It was a simple pronouncement of youthful vigor: “Hey, ho. Let’s go.”
One shouldn’t spend too much energy pinpointing Erdelyi’s role in the Ramones’ early music. This wasn’t a unit where fans devoted time to deciphering lyrics and dissecting riffs and solos One must approach any Ramones roster, especially its founding lineup, as a whole that shot out tunes with remarkable briskness, drive and authority. Their songs were always a treat while they lasted. They just never lasted long. That was the point.
In his final performance years, Erdelyi formed the string music duo Uncle Monk and re-embraced a love of folk and pre-bluegrass country that predated his work with the Ramones. But wherever he played, including an April 2007 WoodSongs date, the shadow of Tommy Ramone sat right beside him.
“There is a kind of cognitive dissonance that goes on with people like us,” Erdelyi told me in an interview prior to the WoodSongs appearance. “Ramones fans can’t imagine me doing acoustic music, not realizing that I’ve been listening to it all my life.”