President Bush can wish and hope and legislate for an idealized Norman Rockwell-esque United States of America, but mythic rock and roll will always be made by troglodytes who would never be invited to his ranch to chow down on Laura’s barbeque. Authentic rock is rebellious and sweaty and rude and loud and absolutely unfettered by cultural norms or rules of acceptable behavior. It exists in society’s messy little cracks, and polite types never want to deal with it until it starts making money. And, man, if you happen to be in one of those seminal bad-boy bands, you’d better enjoy a life out on the fringes—unless you happen to hit the record-biz jackpot.
Well, the Ramones never sold a gazillion records or owned their own jet or forced the business world to its knees. They did invent punk rock—whatever that’s worth to someone who lives for the next Justin Timberlake release—and they did build an adoring community of fabulous miscreants and suburban punk wannabes. They even got elected to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. All of this is a miracle. The band was comprised of one cagey future music producer (Tommy), an unrepentant junkie and brilliant songwriter (Dee Dee), a gawky OCD victim with hippie leanings (Joey), and a right-wing former thug with the baddest downstroke in guitar history (Johnny). None of them were Disney Channel nice or lived lives that you’d want your children to emulate. And yet rock would not be the same without them. End of the Century tells the story in their words, and the words of people who were there (including several neighborhood buddies and Joey’s mom and brother), and it’s a tale that’s so beyond the manufactured gloss of “Behind the Music”-styled documentaries that it can be considered cinéma vérité. This is real. And it’s sad and chilling and inspirational and brilliant. As usual, the concise and no-B.S. Johnny Ramone delivered this DVD’s best review before he died: “It’s accurate. It left me disturbed."