Happy Anniversary: Ramones, Brain Drain
25 years ago today, the Ramones released their 11th studio album, Brain Drain, a notable record for the band in more ways than one, some of them good, some of them maybe not so much.
Certainly, it’s notable for featuring the band’s theme song for the film adaptation of Stephen King’s Pet Sematary, a track which hit #4 on Billboard’s then-new Modern Rock chart and has proven to be one of the Ramones’ more enduring singles. (It also has a pretty entertaining video, one which includes cameos from Debbie Harry and Chris Stein.) For longtime fans of the bruddas, it’s also pretty exciting that it’s the first album to feature Marky Ramone back in the fold since 1983’s Subterranean Jungle. Unfortunately, there’s also a highly depressing aspect to the album, and that’s that it proved to be Dee Dee Ramone’s swan song with the band. Well, as a musician, that is: he continued to write or co-write songs for the band all the way through to their swan song, 1995’s ¡Adios Amigos!
A few months he left the Ramones, Dee Dee sat down with Legs McNeil, having called the noted music journalist with a desire to discuss his departure from the band. In the conversation, which can be found on Vice.com, Dee Dee explained that a lot of things had been irritating him about the Ramones, but a great deal of the problem revolved around his struggle to – for lack of a better phrase – grow up, something which membership within the band made difficult.
“One thing that's always been important to me is to be myself. I don't write music according to a certain style that I'm noted for or familiar with. I write how I feel at the moment. I write current. I don't try to recreate the past, and that was the Ramones' thing. That was hard to deal with. I was also sick and tired of the little boy look—bowl haircut and the motorcycle jacket. And really, for four middle-aged men trying to be teenage juvenile delinquents is ridiculous. The thing that you want to strive for is to become a man, whether you want to be an adult or not. I think it's better to be an adult—to be secure enough with yourself not to hang on to what may have worked before.
“I was just getting sick of playing in a revival act. I was trying to say something about life and something positive. I don't know if what I was doing was right at the time—and I don't think the kids buying the albums wanted to hear what I was trying to say. I would write things about getting down on my knees and praying' for peace and all that, ya know? I was doing that kinda stuff and that's how I felt—and it was really hard to do that in the Ramones. No one in the group was really growing up besides me, which is pretty weird ‘cause there was no one in that group more self-destructive than I was. I was a big troublemaker in the group. I put them through a lot of pain, but as much as I gave to them, they gave right back to me.”
According to On the Road with the Ramones, the book written by the Ramones’ former manager, Monte A. Melnick, Dee Dee continued to bring the pain long after his departure from the band…ah, but that’s a story for another time. For now, let’s just fondly remember Brain Drain. In addition to the aforementioned single, it’s also got a pretty great pair of bookends, opening with “I Believe in Miracles” and closing with the holiday favorite, “Merry Christmas (I Don’t Want to Fight Tonight),” and just before “Pet Sematary,” there’s a rollicking cover of Freddy Cannon’s “Palisades Park.” Is it one of the band’s strongest albums? Nah, not really. But the stuff that is good? It’s really good.