This short story appears in our Ramones anthology Gabba Gabba Hey that was published in July 2021 - we reproduce it here for your Halloween pleasure...
TOO TOUGH TO DIE BY JON PARK
Arthur cannot recall the last time he was on these streets. He watches from the back of his limousine as they glide through Manhattan. Down into East Village. Recognising nothing. He knew these streets when they were grim and intimidating. The buildings like broken teeth, stained and crooked, have been cleaned and crowned. Now they sparkle. The perfect smile.
The limo reaches the corner of Bowery and East Street. Peter, his driver, slows so he can glance up to the heavens. Levitating, a sign. “Joey Ramone Place.” He smiles. The years fading.
Onto Bowery Street, the mean bars and music venues are long gone. Expensive boutiques, trendy art galleries and gleaming coffee shops now exist in their space. He looks for the white awning that used to hang here, CBGB written on it in blood. Where his life began within its smoggy womb. CBGB’s is long gone. Its doors closed and boarded up in 2006 over a rent dispute. So many times, Hilly had reached out to him for help. But he was lost. Fighting his own battle with drink and drugs. The only calls he was excepting were from his dealer.
Hilly eventually lost CBGB’s. Then his life. He owed Hilly so much. Yet he had failed him. A burden he has carried all these years. Today, he hopes to make amends.
“Peter,” he calls, “Can we stop just here?”
“Sure Mr Jones, but you do know the venue is a couple more blocks.”
“Yeah, I know, I just need to check in on an old friend.”
He steps from the limo. 315 Bowery. Where CBGB’s once stood. He recalls its windows smothered in flyers for bands, its exterior white walls lost beneath graffiti. When the doors opened the heat and smell of weed would slap you dizzy. A designer clothes store stands in its place. He peers into its windows, seeing the twenty-year-old student, whose life was yet to begin. He feels a tear run down his cheek and brushes it away. He wishes he could speak to this kid and tell him of the mistakes he will make, the loved ones he should have held close and the friends he should have been there for. He smiles and whispers, “You did alright kid.”
A stumble. “You okay Mr Jones?” Peter asks stepping forward. He waves a hand, looking down at the pavement where someone has scratched “CBGB73” into the concrete. He remembers the night his life began. August 1974. Him and his buddy Stevie standing in the main aisle of CBGB’s drinking warm beer while sweat dripped from the ceiling. He often accompanied Stevie to CBGB’s. Stevie loved folk and blues music and CBGB’s provided this in abundance and was renowned for it.
They order another two beers as the next band began to emerge onto the stage. Twenty or so hippies, the love generation are gathered at the front, a greenish smog hanging over their heads.
He can see the four members of the band he will come to love and adore, on stage, getting ready to blow a hole in his life. A hole he will attempt to fill for the next forty years. Each member wore a black leather motorcycle jacket, faded jeans and sneakers. Battle fatigues for the war they were about to wage.
The lead singer looms out of the shadows into the spotlight. Shoulders stooped. Eyes lost behind a pair of black Ray Ban’s; his long fingers curled around the microphone stand. Menacing.
It begins with a call to arms. “ONE! TWO! THREE! FOUR!”. And his world explodes. A tsunami of sound submerges him. Dragging him under. Driving the air from his lungs. The assault on his senses relentless. No mercy. No prisoners taken here, mother fuckers.
Each song rips away at his very DNA. The tectonic plates of his life shift as the band blows his world apart. This performance is like nothing he has ever experienced or will ever experience again. It is like witnessing the Four Horsemen of The Apocalypse, wearing leather jackets as they storm the walls of Rock and Roll. It ends after ten minutes with a cry of, “WE ARE THE RAMONES, GOOD NIGHT,” the microphone drops to the stage and they are gone. The revolution has begun. His world changed forever.
Someone is screaming. Stevie, beside him, is pissing himself laughing. Then he realises, its him screaming. “FUCKING YEAH! FUCKING YEAH”. Every fibre in his body alive. Wanting more.
“What the fuck Stevie. What was that?”
“It sure wasn’t the blues” Stevie replies, still laughing.
“Who the fuck were they? They were fucking awesome.”
“I think he said they were The Ramones, but I couldn’t really hear over the screaming. Ask one of the bar staff. They’ll tell you.”
And so, he does, standing at the bar, buzzing, alive. “What can I getcha?” the barmaid asks.
“Would you happen to know the name of the band who’ve just finished?” he shouts, ears still ringing.
“I don’t, but Hilly will,” and she calls down the bar to a middle-aged guy who is loading beers into a fridge. “Hilly, kid here wants to know the name of the last band.”
Hilly looks up, wipes his hands down his shirt and comes to where Arthur stands.
“Guess you mean the speed freaks. That’s The Ramones. Tall geeky kid is Joey. You can do us both a favour, take them these beers and you can introduce yourself”. Arthur takes four bottles of beer from Hilly. “Take the door to the right of the stage. The dressing room is at the bottom. You’ll smell them before you see them. And, hey kid, tell Joey to stop dropping the fucking mike. Those things ain’t cheap.”
So, he makes his way backstage, Stevie following. He finds The Ramones sat in the small dressing room. “Hi, I’m Arthur. Hilly asked me to bring you some beers.”
“Cheers kid”, said Tommy, The Ramones drummer and acting manager, relieving him of the beer he hands them out to his band mates.
“I thought you guys were awesome,” he finds himself blurting out, embarrassed. The four band mates raise their beers in unison. “Fuck Yeah,” hollers Dee Dee the Ramone’s bass player, “the revolution has begun, and we’ve got our first recruit.”
“Where are you playing next?” he asks.
They all look at Tommy. “Nothing firm yet kid, but I’ll speak to Hilly before we leave tonight.”
“Well, listen, if you’re interested, our Uni puts bands on every Friday night. I can ask about getting you a gig.”
“If it pays, we play,”, cries Dee Dee and again they raise their beers with a “Fuck yeah!”
Two weeks later, The Ramones are on stage at his university, watched by an audience of bemused students. Again, they blaze through their set. Arthur stands with Stevie, mesmerised. Absorbing every note, feeling alive. Then they are gone.
The band are back in the dressing room when Sarah the Student Treasurer seeks him out.
“Arthur, can I have a word?” she asks.
“Sure,” he said stepping out into the corridor.
“What the fuck was that?” Sarah shouts. “We agreed thirty dollars for your buddies to play at least thirty minutes. They managed ten. Every fucker is complaining. Now, if your buddies expect to get paid, they better get back out there and give me what I’m paying them for.”
He heads back into the dressing room. “You got our money?” Tommy asks.
“Not yet, the treasurer wants more for her thirty dollars. Like twenty minutes more.”
A moment of silence, then Tommy speaks. “Okay troops, let’s get the fuck back out there and give the lady what she wants.” The Ramones march back on stage, play their set two more times and Sarah begrudgingly pays up.
Arthur booked them a couple more gigs with ambitions to manage them, but they always refuted his requests. Eventually the band gave him a simple explanation. “Listen Arthur, you’re our friend. We don’t want business to fuck with that.” He loved them even more.
Although he never got to work with The Ramones on a professional level, through them, other bands soon began to approach Stevie and him to arrange gigs for them. They were soon spending most days searching for venues, making bookings for The Misfits, Blondie, Television and many more he no longer remembers. Him and Stevie took a small fee for their time. After a few months this had become so lucrative that they both quit university, rented a small office not far from CBGB’s and thus was born East Village Management.
Within five years, East Village Management had become one of the biggest agencies in the world. A stable of bands under their tutelage, but much to his regret, The Ramones were never part of it.
In 2015 Stevie passed away from a heart attack while holidaying on his yacht in the Caribbean. By then, the world had also seen the departure of the four original members of The Ramones.
His mobile phone rings and brings him back to reality. It’s his wife Karen, “Hi love. Yeah, I’m on my way now. I was just checking in on an old friend. I’ll see you in ten.”
He gets back in the car and they set off for the venue.
For the first time he feels a sense of unease. He recalls the countless conference calls with John Atkinson, their head of legal. “Listen Arthur, this is not illegal but as to whether it is ethically correct is a matter for you and your conscience.” He knows that if he wants to keep East Village Management ahead of its rivals then they need to keep innovating. Take the odd risk. Record sales have plummeted and most of their acts income now comes from touring and merchandise. To survive and thrive they must find new revenue streams to exploit.
“We are here, Mr Jones”, Peter calls to him. Arthur steps out in front of “The Tunnel Club.” This was the nearest venue they could find to CBGB’s. Two heavies squeezed into dinner jackets guard the entrance. Fiona his personal assistant steps between them.
“Arthur, so pleased you could spare us the time,” and they air kiss. “Come on, we don’t have much time before the big event kicks off.” Fiona leads him into the club.
“Are we expecting trouble?” he asks, nodding at the two heavies.
“Precautions, Arthur. Precautions. Golden ticket only for this gig. This is the biggest day in the history of our firm. We can’t afford any unwanted guests.”
Fiona leads him through the bar area. The smell of food suddenly making him feel hungry.
“This will be where we will be hosting our esteemed guests. Everyone has accepted. Safe to say from some of the calls I’ve been receiving, we have grabbed their attention. Oh, Tommy wanted to know did you want to sound check?”
“No, I’m good thanks. How are the band?”
“All good. Sound checked and raring to go. Karen’s with them.”
“Well?” he asks.
“What?” she asks, pencilled eyebrow raised.
“How did they sound?”
“Good, Arthur, really good.”
He relaxes a bit, knowing Fiona would have been brutally honest.
Two more heavies guard the next set of doors. Fiona leads him through. “And this is the room where we will be blowing their freaking minds.” He sees the stage with a black curtain pulled across it. Its smaller than the one he remembers at CBGB’s. Tommy is stood at a mixing desk in the far-right hand corner of the room. His sound and lighting team are making their final checks.
Tommy waves. “He’s all good, Tommy,” Fiona shouts across to him. Tommy gives a thumbs up.
“Has everyone signed an NDA?” he asks.
“Yes, all taken care off and no one is allowed in this room with a mobile.”
He glances round. Soon, thirty of the most influential people in the music industry will be gathered here in this room. Journalists, record executives and television producers all makers and shakers in the industry. All gathered here to witness his rebirth.
Fiona looks at him. “Now listen Mister. Today you will change the face of rock and roll. This is your day so enjoy it. Now I will love you and leave you and get back to welcome our guests. Now go say hello to your better half,” and he sees Karen his wife has appeared through the curtains and stands at the front of the stage. He makes his way over to her.
“How are you?” Karen asks bending down to embrace him.
“Nervous. The boys?”
“Yeah, they’re excited. The sound check went well. They just want to get on with it.”
“What’s with the curtains?” he asks.
“Build the suspense. We’ll open them as you finish your piece.”
He smiles, between Karen and Fiona he has a formidable team. He just wishes Stevie could have been here. Just a pity his wife had him cremated.
Fiona appears at the doors and waves. He leaves his wife, who disappears back behind the curtains.
“Patrick is here, he wants to know can he have an exclusive.”
“I’ll come and say hello.”
He follows Fiona back into the bar. Patrick Smith, The Rolling Stone editor-in-chief is stood with a photographer drinking a glass of champagne.
“Arthur you devious old bastard.”
“Less of the old, Patrick”. They hug.
“Okay, you got me here, so come on give me something to work with. “
“Patrick, I wish I could, I really do but if I did Fiona would cut my balls off. All I can say is what you will witness today will change the face of rock and roll for ever. Now, you must forgive me I need to love you and leave you and get back and I promise you the first interview after the event. “Okay, it’s a deal. But let’s have a photo before you go.”
“Sure”, and they stand arms around each other like old friends while the photographer snaps away.
Back in the main room he spends the next thirty minutes chatting to Tommy and his team. Trying to remain calm as the minutes tick away. Then Fiona is at the door. “It’s show time. Everyone is here and already getting impatient. Tommy can one of your crew alert Karen and help her get the band in position. Arthur, get your arse on stage and blow their fucking tiny minds. Oh, and we love you. “
He heads to the stage. Finds his spot, watches as the double doors open and the invited guests are ushered in. Friends and business colleagues who have always supported him and Stevie over the years. He nods and smiles as they spread out across the room. Tommy brings down the room lights and the spotlight hits him. He can see movement behind the curtains. It is time to make history.
And so, he begins. “Esteemed friends and Rupert from Rolling Stone,” they laugh. “I’ve known most of you in this room for thirty years. We have shared the highs and lows together. I thank you for being part of mine and Stevie’s journey and for your continued support. Our industry continues to change and evolve. Record sales continue to decline. We must innovate to survive. Those who know me well, know my life began two blocks from here at CBGB’s. In August 74, Stevie and I were lucky enough to witness a moment of musical history. A night that changed my life. And tonight, I want you to relive that night with me and witness the future of our industry.”
He pauses as the curtains begin to slide open. “Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the greatest rock and roll come back of all time. “
Powerful spotlights hit the stage. The lead singer, black leather motorcycle jacket hanging lose across his stooped shoulders, steps forward. Eyes lost behind Ray Bans. His long skeletal fingers slowly wrap around the mike stand. “It’s good to be back”, he coughs.
And so, it begins, “ONE! TWO! THREE! FOUR!” The opening beats of Teenage Lobotomy blast out. Arthur smiles. He can see the banner stretched across the back of the stage, announcing the dates for the “Resurrection Tour”.
Then someone in the audience begins to scream.
If this has whetted your appetite you can find out more about our very cool Ramones anthology here...