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How the Ramones changed my life, by Nirvana producer Butch Vig

Garbage drummer and Nirvana/Foo Fighters producer on the New Yorkers’ “startling” punk masterpiece

“I was at college when an advance copy of Ramones came into one of the local record stores. I remember being in there when the guy put it on, and just being floored by how amazing it sounded. So I went back a week later and was first in line when it went on sale.

At the time, I was living in a party house on the University of Wisconsin campus. It was sorta like [screwball campus comedy] Animal House – there were basically parties every night. I had a kick-ass sound system – it didn’t sound particularly good, but it was really loud – and I swear to God I listened to that record five times a day. I’d get up in the morning and blast it before I went to class. We’d get back in the afternoon and I’d blast it again. Then we’d go to the clubs and everyone would come back around midnight, we’d play it another three times, and everybody was just bouncing off the walls. We’d sing it at the top of our lungs all the way through, after numerous pints of beer.

It really was a startling sound for that time. There were all these bands like Emerson Lake and Palmer that would do these extended muso solos. The Ramones were the exact opposite of that, they were so stripped-down and bare-boned and so fast. It was a breath of fresh air, an adrenaline shot. In some ways I look at it as an analogy to when I produced Nirvana’s Nevermind. It’s the same kind of thing, where the music sounded fresh and vital and really shook up the music scene. The difference being that Nirvana sold out about 25 million records and the Ramones never sold jack-shit. For all their credibility, they never got played on the radio and thus never sold many records.

I love the whole album from start to finish – it’s only 25 minutes long or something. I think 53rd and 3rd was my favourite lyric. After seeing the End of the Century documentary I think a lot of that was autobiographical about Dee Dee. It’s the bridge: [sings] ‘Then I took out my razor blade then I did what God forbade. Now the cops are after me.’ Y’know, it ends badly. And in the documentary they’re asking him what went on with that, and he pooh-poohs it, but I think some of that was true. It’s a pretty dark song.

We have a bunch of Ramones albums back stage at Garbage shows, and two weeks ago I cranked this one up before the show and it sounded fucking amazing. That’s the Ramones: just turn it up, keep going up. Like most albums, it fades from your memory from time to time, but it always comes back. There;s always a point where I get excited about it all over again. One of these days we should try and write a pure Ramones song: eighth-note guitars and two minutes long. And get Shirley [Manson] to shout over the top.”

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