The Arty Semite

Tommy Ramone, Jewish Punk Icon, Dies at 65

By Michael Kaminer

  • Print
  • Share Share

Getty Images

As Thomas Erdelyi, he was the Budapest-born son of Holocaust survivors who settled in Forest Hills, Queens.

But as Tommy Ramone, he became the leather-jacketed, rhythm-slashing backbone of The Ramones, arguably one of the most influential bands of the late 20th century.

Ramone, the last surviving original member of the band, died July 11 of bile duct cancer at his home in Ridgewood Queens. He was 65.

The Ramones first came together in 1974, at the height of California-rock flab and music-business excess.

Erdelyi, who had worked as a record producer beginning in his teens, was going to be the band’s manager and was helping audition drummers when the group was forming in 1974, according to the Washington Post.

When none of them could follow the Ramones’ style, he picked up the sticks himself, learned to play drums on the job, and became Tommy Ramone. He was also widely credited with creating the band’s signature look — leather jackets, huge mops of hair, and, for himself, omnipresent sunglasses.

Erdelyi initially hid his Jewishness from his bandmates, according to Steven Lee Beeber’s book “The Heebie-Jeebies at CBGB’s: A Secret History of Jewish Punk.” Not even Danny Fields, the band’s Jewish manager, knew of Tommy Ramone’s Jewish roots.

Along with the family’s persecution in Europe, Beeber’s book revealed that Ramone had been ostracized as a “goy” at an Orthodox yeshiva he attended as a child. “Subconsciously, perhaps, he had recreated himself as a tough Jew, shedding the uncomfortable skin of the Jewish victim,” Beeber wrote.

Propulsive drumming, furious guitars, and compact songs like “I Wanna Be Sedated” and “Rock ‘n’ Roll High School” aimed to explode 1970s rock paradigms of indulgent solos, flaccid songwriting, and anesthetic lyrics.

“The Ramones were a rock-and-roll primal scream, an expression of rebellion, loneliness, spite and raw, unfiltered fun,” the Post’s Matt Schudel wrote. “The band was an upthrust finger pointed toward the sappy, overproduced pop music of the time.”

Although the Ramones never scored a top-40 hit, the band influenced a generation of rockers, from Nirvana to Green Day — and were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2002.

“It wasn’t just music in The Ramones: it was an idea,” Ramone said. It was bringing back a whole feel that was missing in rock music — it was a whole push outwards to say something new and different. Originally it was just an artistic type of thing; finally I felt it was something that was good enough for everybody.”

Tommy Ramone left the band in 1978. The Ramones disbanded in 1996 after a tour that followed their final studio album. A live farewell tour album, “We’re Outta Here!” was released in 1997, according to the Associated Press.

The band’s Jewish co-founder, Joey Ramone — ne Joey Hyman — died of lymphoma in 2001. Bassist Dee Dee Ramone, another founding member, overdosed on heroin in 2002. And guitarist Johnny Ramone succumbed to prostate cancer in 2004.

At the time of his death, Tommy Ramone was performing acoustic rock as Uncle Monk with Claudia Tienan, his partner of 40 years. She survives him.


Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Obituaries, Tommy Ramone, The Ramones, Punk, Music

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.




Find us on Facebook!
  • "I’ve never bought illegal drugs, but I imagine a small-time drug deal to feel a bit like buying hummus underground in Brooklyn."
  • We try to show things that get less exposed to the public here. We don’t look to document things that are nice or that people would like. We don’t try to show this place as a beautiful place.”
  • A new Gallup poll shows that only 25% of Americans under 35 support the war in #Gaza. Does this statistic worry you?
  • “You will stomp us into the dirt,” is how her mother responded to Anya Ulinich’s new tragicomic graphic novel. Paul Berger has a more open view of ‘Lena Finkle’s Magic Barrel." What do you think?
  • PHOTOS: Hundreds of protesters marched through lower Manhattan yesterday demanding an end to American support for Israel’s operation in #Gaza.
  • Does #Hamas have to lose for there to be peace? Read the latest analysis by J.J. Goldberg.
  • This is what the rockets over Israel and Gaza look like from space:
  • "Israel should not let captives languish or corpses rot. It should do everything in its power to recover people and bodies. Jewish law places a premium on pidyon shvuyim, “the redemption of captives,” and proper burial. But not when the price will lead to more death and more kidnappings." Do you agree?
  • Slate.com's Allison Benedikt wrote that Taglit-Birthright Israel is partly to blame for the death of American IDF volunteer Max Steinberg. This is why she's wrong:
  • Israeli soldiers want you to buy them socks. And snacks. And backpacks. And underwear. And pizza. So claim dozens of fundraising campaigns launched by American Jewish and Israeli charities since the start of the current wave of crisis and conflict in Israel and Gaza.
  • The sign reads: “Dogs are allowed in this establishment but Zionists are not under any circumstances.”
  • Is Twitter Israel's new worst enemy?
  • More than 50 former Israeli soldiers have refused to serve in the current ground operation in #Gaza.
  • "My wife and I are both half-Jewish. Both of us very much felt and feel American first and Jewish second. We are currently debating whether we should send our daughter to a Jewish pre-K and kindergarten program or to a public one. Pros? Give her a Jewish community and identity that she could build on throughout her life. Cons? Costs a lot of money; She will enter school with the idea that being Jewish makes her different somehow instead of something that you do after or in addition to regular school. Maybe a Shabbat sing-along would be enough?"
  • Undeterred by the conflict, 24 Jews participated in the first ever Jewish National Fund— JDate singles trip to Israel. Translation: Jews age 30 to 45 travelled to Israel to get it on in the sun, with a side of hummus.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.