writer frank lord imagines a world in which the ramones were actual brothers
Creating an alternative history of punk, Lord's new novel Damone Ramone is a work of historical revisionism, telling the story of the seminal band’s fictional fifth brother.
2016 marked the 40th anniversary of punk in London and the historical gig the Ramones played at Camden's Roundhouse on the 4 July 1976. It was one of those where everyone who was there to see The Ramones that night went on to start a band the very next week. And quite rightly: in the audience were various members of the fledgling UK punk scene who would go on to form seminal groups like The Clash, The Damned and the Sex Pistols.
American author Frank Lord's new novel Damone Ramone tells the story of this moment in musical history by rewriting it. Imagining, as many people mistakenly do, that the Ramones were in fact real brothers.
The novel focuses on forgotten, fictional Ramones brother Damone Ramone, and reveals the true Ramones family history and his struggle to get credit for writing much of the band's music, set against the backdrop of the true people, places and events that defined the blossoming punk scene in the 70s.
What inspired you to write this story?
I read a comment beneath a Ramones article in which the person had written something like, "When I was a kid, I always wished the Ramones were real brothers, living together in a dysfunctional house in Queens." I'd felt the same way. It occurred to me that all the fans were disappointed when they found out the Ramones were just four unrelated guys. And ultimately, the Ramones story is so much more tragic than them simply not being brothers. I thought, "No, it's too much, it isn't fair. I'm going to rewrite the history that should have been."
Were you part of the punk scene in NYC?
In 1977 I was seven, so no. I first heard the band in 1983. I was living in Rochester, Michigan. It's a great town for traditional career paths, but if you wanted something else, it felt limiting. It inspired nonconformists to work really hard and go to extremes to escape, like our three hometown celebs: Madonna, Dita Von Teese, and the serial killer Aileen Wuornos.
Growing up in a town like that, trying to figure it all out, made moments of illumination like hearing the Ramones all the more important, moments when one is made aware of a bigger, more exciting world.
Former Ramones manager Danny Fields described your book as being referential: both historical and anti-historial. What do you think he means by that?
I use actual events - a lot of deaths and television shows - as signposts as Damone navigates the 70s. I let the exhibits represent the time period rather than try to create a world I wasn't there to see. But I tried to create a Bizarro World version of the Ramones' story, an invented history that pulled elements from the actual story to create my version. But beyond Damone's story, I wanted to reiterate the massive impact the Ramones had on music and culture, like a giant meteor wrecking everything that had happened up to that point and replacing it with something entirely new.
I love that the book is self-published. It feels true to the DIY spirit of punk.
I never considered doing it any other way. I knew how I wanted the book, and that's how I did it. I didn't want someone saying, "No, that's not right," or "You can't say that anymore." Of course a writer needs blunt criticism and smart editorial advice. But between self and traditional publishing, the choice for me was obvious.
I've been told that this is your last book. Is that true?
It's likely. I feel like the job is done.
Text Vanessa Roberts
Images courtesy of Danny Fields