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Punk rock icon Tommy Ramone dies

By Ben Brumfield, CNN
updated 9:50 AM EDT, Sun July 13, 2014
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STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • The Ramones are credited with kicking off the punk rock movement
  • Their music is fast, loud and cynical, but with an upbeat tune
  • They were joined in the new music style by the likes of the Sex Pistols and the Clash
  • Tommy Ramone was the last living member of the original band

(CNN) -- Punk rock fuel-injected the beat of rock and roll in the mid-1970s with a frenetic tempo. On Friday, the drummer who gunned out those rhythms with pioneering punk band the Ramones passed away.

Tommy Ramone was 65 and the last living original member of the band, which debuted its first album in 1976. Ramone was also one of the band's composers.

A notice of his death was posted on the band's Facebook page with his age. The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame reported that he was 62.

Ramone was reportedly battling cancer when he died.

Tommy Ramone was the last surviving original member of the Ramones. From left: Guitarist Johnny Ramone (1948-2004), drummer Tommy Ramone (1949-2014), singer Joey Ramone (1951-2001) and bassist Dee Dee Ramone (1952-2002).
Tommy Ramone was the last surviving original member of the Ramones. From left: Guitarist Johnny Ramone (1948-2004), drummer Tommy Ramone (1949-2014), singer Joey Ramone (1951-2001) and bassist Dee Dee Ramone (1952-2002).

With their racing-pulse beat and disparaging, cynical lyrics that were combined with oddly florid but loud guitar riffs, the Ramones kicked off a music and counterculture movement in New York that quickly spread to Britain.

Tommy Ramone, former drummer for the Ramones, plays as part of the duo Uncle Monk at the Stagecoach Country Music Festival i Indio, California, in 2012.
Tommy Ramone, former drummer for the Ramones, plays as part of the duo Uncle Monk at the Stagecoach Country Music Festival i Indio, California, in 2012.
Punk rock combined a DIY sensibility with stripped-down songs and a screw-you attitude. Though the best-known punk movement came out of 1976-77 Britain, the genre had its roots in 1960s garage band America, with bands such as the Seeds, the Sonics and Question Mark and the Mysterians. Their singles were collected on the 1972 LP "Nuggets," which was expanded into a series of boxed sets in the CD era. Punk rock combined a DIY sensibility with stripped-down songs and a screw-you attitude. Though the best-known punk movement came out of 1976-77 Britain, the genre had its roots in 1960s garage band America, with bands such as the Seeds, the Sonics and Question Mark and the Mysterians. Their singles were collected on the 1972 LP "Nuggets," which was expanded into a series of boxed sets in the CD era.
A short history of punk: 'Nuggets'
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A short history of punk A short history of punk

It came echoing back from London in variations from groups like the Clash and the Sex Pistols.

Glue-sniffing darkness

Their debut album, "Ramones," left little doubt about the direction of the new rock style with song titles like: "Beat on the Brat," "Chain Saw," "Now I Wanna Sniff Some Glue."

Not all of their lyrics were dark. Some were playful ruckus, but most of them seemed to come "from a sullen adolescent basement of the mind," as the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame put it.

Their head-banging rock cut like a machete into the candy-glazed, infatuated glam pop of the time that was vaulting the band ABBA to Beatles-like elevations. A flock of similar kissable, bell-bottomed groups were riding their coattails.

Then punk rock slammed into the party head-on.

Clashing with glam pop

The Ramones' black leather, torn jeans and canvas sneakers clashed with the rainbow satin, sequins and platform shoes that had overtaken youth culture.

The everyday heroes the Ramones sang about had dumped surfboards and disco gyrations for lives as pogo-ing punk rockers in the urban grit of places like Berlin and New York.

The Ramones were practically the house band of the hole-in-the-wall rock bar CBGB on lower Manhattan's Bowery, a neighbor to skid row. Other American punk and new wave acts like Blondie, the Cramps and Joan Jett joined them there.

The Hall of Fame credits the band with saving rock music "from one of its lowest ebbs."

"The Ramones got back to basics: simple, speedy, stripped-down rock and roll songs. Voice, guitar, bass, drums. No makeup, no egos, no light shows, no nonsense."

Tommy Ramone said the intention was innovation with a statement.

"It wasn't just music in the Ramones: it was an idea. It was bringing back a whole feel that was missing in rock music -- it was a whole push outwards to say something new and different," he said.

Iron Curtain

While his Hall of Fame biography states that Ramone was born Tom Erdelyi in Budapest, Hungary, he was actually born in that city as Erdelyi Tamas, on January 29, 1949, and his name was changed to Tom Erdelyi after he emigrated with his family to the United States in 1957, according to Andy Schwartz, a representative of Ramone's longtime domestic partner, Claudia Tienan.

It was during the morbid wake of World War II, when the Soviet Union was beginning to cement Eastern Europe into a communist bloc.

Some of the Ramones' music reflects that Cold War background with songs like "Blitzkrieg Bop" and the album "Rocket to Russia."

Ramone built his music career on the band but handed over the drum sticks in 1978. In subsequent years, he still drummed, composed and produced for other bands, including the Talking Heads.

But in the decade prior to his death, he didn't play drums for any band, including Uncle Monk, the acoustic duo he formed with Tienan, Schwartz said. Ramone also stopped composing for other artists during this period, Schwartz said.

The other original band members passed away between 2001 and 2004, according to the Hall of Fame.

Joey Ramone, born Jeffrey Hyman, died of cancer in 2001 at age 49.

Dee Dee Ramone, born Douglas Colvin, died from an apparent overdose in 2002 at age 49.

Johnny Ramone, born John Cummings, died of cancer in 2004 at age 52.

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