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CJ Ramone talks gun control and The Simpsons

Dan Webb
Bass player and vocalist Christopher Joseph Ward always knew he would be a famous musician. In 1989, during a brief stint in military jail for having deserted the U.S. Marine Corps, he got a phone call from Johnny Ramone which would change his life forever. Now, 30 years on and with four solo records under his belt, we speak to him ahead of his latest Australian tour.

The Ramones are widely considered by many critics and fans as one of the greatest, most influential rock bands of all time. How does that feel on a personal level, to have been involved?
Yeah, (laughs). Yeah, you know, it’s funny, I mean, to this day I’m… it’s still um, I still get a real great feeling when I think about the fact that I played in the Ramones and I was part of one of the greatest bands, in my opinion, of all time. I was a fan long before I got to the band. So a lot of the positive things that happened for the Ramones (was) while I was in the band, and after we retired. You know, it’s, (chuckles) it’s, it’s really just very special to have been part of it, that’s for sure… I don’t, um, I don’t really have the words to explain it. I mean, the way usually I explain to people is, imagine if a band that you grew up in idolising suddenly opened a spot for you to come in and enjoy the best years of their career with them. That’s…anybody who’s a rock fan could, you know, imagine what that would be like. And how you imagine it, is exactly what it’s like. You know, to look over during a set and see Joey standing next to me and Johnny on the other side of him. I mean, all the way up to the last, very last show we did. It was just, unreal.

You once said in an interview that you just knew that you were going to be a famous musician one day. I’m wondering, in retrospect, what made you so sure about that, or was it just wishful thinking?
Uh, I just I always felt it, I really felt it inside, like that I would do something in music someday. I don’t know, maybe it may have just been wishful thinking or positive, you know, reinforcement, however you wanna explain it, but I literally used to just daydream about what it would be like to be on the road and be on tour and what it would feel like when I was on the plane taking off on my first tour. And the day that I was taking off for my first tour, I had a flashback, as we were taking off from John F. Kennedy airport in Queens, I had a flashback to when I was younger, what I was imagining it would be like and I knew, I already knew the feeling. So I mean, you know, I don’t like to get into, into you know, theories or anything like that, but it just really felt like I was fulfilling something I knew I was gonna do. And I don’t, I can’t, there’s no scientific proof of anything like that but um, but I really did feel like I was fulfilling something I was supposed to do. I definitely had that feeling.

I understand that Joey and Dee Dee didn’t particularly like English punk bands such as Sex Pistols – vomiting in public and stirring controversy to generate headlines. Dee Dee once told a reporter “I think they all stink”. Having come into the band later on, what are your thoughts on English punk? Did you grow up listening to the likes of the Sex Pistols?
Yeah, I was a fan and I always say that in interviews and, you know, my favourite English punk band was The Damned. I really, really loved The Damned. The Clash I liked and the Sex Pistols I liked, but they were very political and there was some stuff in there that, you know, was kind of – it didn’t relate to me, but the songs were still fist-pumping and you know the spirit of the music was there and the spirit of rebellion was there. But, I really liked The Damned… I just loved the energy that they had, and Dave Vanian’s voice is incredible. Rat Scabies was one of my favourite drummers, favourite punk drummers, you know, period. Oh you know, with the Sex Pistols and the Sex Pistols especially, you can’t deny like, they had great, great songs. They had unbelievably great songs. You know, all the other drama that surrounded them was inconsequential when you really listened to the music. You put on Never Mind the Bollocks… and it is a great record. Side to side, song to song, it’s great. Um, you could put on any Clash record up into, in my opinion, Give ‘Em Enough Rope and it is great side to side, you know, song to song. But I loved The Vibrators, the Buzzcocks, I mean, there’s a whole bunch of really, really great British punk bands. You know, of course I grew up in uh, I’m a generation behind Dee Dee and Joey, eh, pretty much. So, you know, those were influential bands to me when I was younger, whereas Joey and Dee Dee were influenced by the music from the 50s and the 60s. And, you know, the early 70s if you want to consider proto-punk, you know, with uh, the New York Dolls or The Stooges or, you know, even Velvet Underground, some of that type of stuff.

In 1994 Johnny Ramone said “I think rock and rollers should retire by the time you’re 50, for sure. especially punk rockers.” You’re now 53 and still touring. What would you say in response to Johnny if he were still alive today?
Oh Johnny would not be happy. He would not be happy with me right now, definitely not. He’d be like, “you’re fat, you have a big, grey beard, you’ve shaved your head, you don’t look punk at all, you don’t look rock ‘n’ roll, you’re not cool anymore,” but um, you know, to me, uh, I really have spent the last few years putting out my own records and still doing, you know, a whole bunch of Ramones songs in the set. And I’ve really just been enjoying doing my own thing and including, you know, the Ramones stuff and having a good time and, you know I have a band, bunch of guys that rely on me for work and I have a wife and three children that rely on me for a paycheque, eh. So there’s a whole lotta other things at play that Johnny would have never even considered or thought about that are different to me. And if I could stretch it out a couple more years, I absolutely would, but, you know, there’s still – I still have time to do some of the things in my life. There’s other things that I really wanna do outside of music. Still some stuff within music I wanna do too, but, you know, I just felt this year is 30 years that I’ve been, you know, touring in a van. 30 years, so, I figured that’s a good number to kinda break away and jump off and do something else.

Johnny… would not be happy with me right now, definitely not. He’d be like, “you’re fat, you have a big, grey beard, you’ve shaved your head, you don’t look punk at all, you don’t look rock ‘n’ roll, you’re not cool anymore,”

There’s been some really tragic mass shootings earlier this week, which sadly are all too common in the United States. As a former U.S. Marine and as someone who perhaps has conservative leanings, I’m wondering what your thoughts are on gun control and whether your views may have evolved over time?
Yeah, that’s like a, that’s really a real hot topic right now and it’s uh, it’s really, it’s gonna – we’re getting to the point where something’s gonna happen. Something’s gonna get done. And I’m not saying that they’re gonna pass a whole bunch of gun control laws or something – but I think what people are starting to realise is like there’s a lot more going on within our culture, in general that needs to be addressed. And that’s really where we’re getting to, we’re kinda getting to the point where it’s like, “okay we have to do something about this situation”. But we have laws in the United States in the Constitution that guarantee people gun rights. That’s not something you can just flip. I know over in New Zealand, that, you know, they were just like, “yeah okay, everybody turn in your assault weapons.” I don’t know how successful that shit’s been, but the general population in the United States owns more rifles than our military does. So to try to change things here is not as easy as it sounds. It’s not as easy as it sounds. You can’t just do it like you can in other countries, because, you know, we have a constitutional right. And I know some people would be like, “big deal just change that.” It’s not that simple, you can’t just change things in the States and especially when it comes to gun rights, because, guns to the average American, they are, is very much a part – we were born out of a gun culture. We’re literally born out of a gun culture. That’s how our entire, our country was founded by the gun (laughs). You know what I mean. We killed, we killed off huge amounts of each other to end slavery. You know what I mean? It’s like we have lived by the gun for a very, very long time. That’s a deep cultural thing. I don’t know what the answer is to changing it. I don’t know, I’ve had other interviews where people have asked me about what needs to happen, what needs to get done, and…I don’t even know how to explain it. If you’re not from here and you’re not from a culture, it’s a very tough thing to explain to people because we are, it’s so much a part of who we are, and has been.

The general population in the United States owns more rifles than our military does. So to try to change things here is not as easy as it sounds.

We’ve been fighting since World War II, I think we’ve only had a couple of years where we haven’t been at war. So the whole warrior culture is even, it’s very deep-rooted here in the United States. There’s a real serious warrior culture outside of the military. It’s uh, it’s such a overly complicated situation and I would love to say that, like, this is all we have to do to get it straightened out. But you can pass a law today, and it will mean nothing tomorrow, because there are so many guns in our country. There are so many guns. And what do you think is gonna happen if they go “we’re confiscating all the assault weapons”? People are gonna go, “Really? Come knock on my door.” That’s really what you’ll have. And I have friends who are seriously like, real hardcore, anti-gun people, who are like, “that won’t happen. If they pass a law people are gonna abide by it, nobody’s gonna want to have this big, you know, uh, shootout and risk the lives of their family.” We have large groups of people, in the United States, large groups of people with military grade weapons. You think those people are just gonna give them up? You know what I mean? That ain’t gonna happen. It’s not gonna happen. So we really need to address it in a different way. We need to address it in a completely different way. But, it’s gonna have to be a little bit of everything, and that’s the point that we have to get to. But in the meantime we just fucking, we keep having these unbelievably horrific things, and it’s usually young people. All of the shooters are very young men, and they obviously have a mental – these are not people whose minds operate like the rest of the public does. Obviously. These are people with deep-rooted mental problems on top of it. And it’s just another layer that complicates the entire situation. So I would love to be able to give you a good little clean snippet that you could put in there and make a statement one way or the other, but my answer is I don’t know what to get, I don’t, I don’t even, I can’t even begin to address it. Because it is so deep-rooted in our country, our culture is, is born from it and it’s gonna be a really tough thing to separate the two.

Yeah. Well I’ve hopefully got a much easier question for you now.

You’re the first person that I’ve interviewed to have voiced a character on The Simpsons. I’m just wondering what that experience was like?
That was, one of the more fun things I got to do with the Ramones, to, you know, voice myself on one of my favourite shows on TV at the time. I was a huge Simpsons fan. So when we got asked to do it I was so blown away. And the fact that I got to curse on primetime TV was just beyond the beyond. My nine year old self would have been jumping up and down celebrating to be able to curse on primetime TV. But yeah it really was a lot of fun. That was a really kinda cool moment. And you know to be animated on The Simpsons really meant something, you know what I mean? It was like – the people that they actually had on were always a little bit of kind of like an outsider, uh, person or group of people that would have on so I was really, really happy with that.

The fact that I got to curse on primetime TV was just beyond the beyond.

If you could collaborate with any artist, in any medium, who would it be and what would you create?
Okay. So (laughs). Funny you should ask that question. I am trying to get, there’s an artist here in the States, her name’s Lydia Loveless. They consider her like an alt-country artist, but I’m a really big fan and I’m trying to get her to record a record with me. But she recently had a very, um, public, um, she outed somebody from the music business for sexual harassment. And it was the guy that owned the label that she was on. And, you know now she feels like a bit of a pariah within the record industry. So I have been like, messaging her on Instagram and I’m just like, “let’s just make a record, let’s just make a record, let’s just make a record”. I’m really trying to get her to work with me because I love her voice, I love her songwriting, her lyrics are just super-duper like, in your face. Just real, uh, serious, she don’t pull any punches. And she uses, I mean, any girl who sings, um, “two of my fingers smell like pussy and Lucky Strikes”. I wanna make a record with that girl. That’s the kind of person I need to write songs with. That’s who I wanna collaborate with. Um, so Lydia Loveless would be the artist I wanna collaborate with right now. Anybody in the history of music? Johnny Cash.

Nice. Nice. Alright CJ, well thanks very much, I hope you have a great rest of your day.
Thanks a lot, and good questions. I appreciate when somebody actually puts a little bit of thought into what they’re asking, instead of asking, you know, how the Ramones parents met. And I have been asked that, people have actually asked me, “So how did Mr. and Mrs. Ramone meet?”