Tuesday, October 20, 2009

I Wanna Be a Horror Movie Star: The Ramones Meet Stephen King

"Lewis turned on the radio and dialed until he found the Ramones belting out 'Rockaway Beach.' He turned it up and sang along - not well but with lusty enjoyment."
from Pet Sematary by Stephen King, p. 52

When I was a teenager in the mid- to late-1980s, two of the biggest stars in my personal universe were punk rock kings the Ramones and bestselling horror writer Stephen King. I couldn't get enough of either one, and spent plenty of time and money getting my hands on everything related to them. Didn't matter that I had to be at school in the morning; I'd be up until 2 a.m. with Night Shift or 'Salem's Lot or Different Seasons listening to Rocket to Russia or Pleasant Dreams or Animal Boy. Weren't those the days?

King had referenced the Ramones in several of his books, and King is name-checked in a Ramones song or two, but it wasn't until 1989 that these two mighty heroes of mine joined forces in what at first seemed improbable: the Ramones would perform the title track for the movie adaptation of King's gruesome 1983 novel, Pet Sematary.

Since their debut album in 1976 the Ramones had never been shy about incorporating their love of horror movies; songs like "Texas Chainsaw Massacre," "Pinhead," and "I Don't Want to Go Down to the Basement" are charming tunes influenced by the genre. Alice Cooper they were not, but performing in the Lower East Side throughout the '70s brought them in close proximity to the original grindhouses. The influence couldn't help but rub off. Here they are on MTV. Jeez, something about the Ramones on MTV in 1989 just seems wrong.

Written by Dee Dee Ramone and Ramones collaborator Daniel Rey, "Pet Sematary" appeared on their 1989 album Brain Drain. While the movie itself leaves much to be desired in many respects, I think "Pet Sematary" is one of the band's better latter-day songs. I particularly love how they incorporated their patented "don't wanna" sentiment into the chorus.

Performing with World's Most Dangerous Band on Late Night with David Letterman reveal a not-too-uncomfortable-looking Joey and Johnny without, oddly, Dee Dee or Marky. Check out Paul Shaffer's look of utter befuddlement at 1:54! Awesome. And half of the Ramones on Letterman just doesn't quite fit.

But the Ramones, who should have been the most popular punk rock band of all time, performing one of their greatest songs on behalf of Stephen King, pop-horror's greatest practitioner? That seems most right of all. And yet...

"In the night when the moon is bright,
Someone cries, something ain't right..."

This post is part of the Countdown to Halloween.

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