The late John Cummings, better known by his nom de rock’n’roll of Johnny Ramone, was one of the most important guitar players of the last half-century. His trademark buzzsaw approach to the strings was the instantly recognizable stylistic signature of famed punk-rock ensemble The Ramones, and was heard all over the world from 1975 until the band’s split 20 years later, in venues ranging from the grimiest club (the group’s original stomping ground, the late CBGB’s, being among the grimier) to huge stadiums across Latin America and Europe, where Johnny and his cohorts enjoyed popularity somehow denied to them in this country.
Johnny was almost as well-known for his fervent support of Republican and conservative causes as for his music. When he was inducted into the Rock’n’Roll Hall of Fame in 2002 and took the stage alongside his bandmates (except for singer Joey Ramone who had died the previous year, and who was as staunch a liberal as John was a conservative), he accepted his award with these words: “God bless America, and God bless President Bush.” This didn’t go over too well with some of those assembled, but John was hardly one to care.
Now, eight years after his death following a battle with cancer, Commando, Johnny’s autobiography, has reached the stores. The text is comparatively brief but the book, published by a subsidiary of famed art publisher Abrams, compensates for this with plenty of photos of the quartet from Queens onstage and off.
As an appendix, the book includes various Top Ten lists focusing on topics dear to John’s heart, such as food, amplifiers, and 1950s sci-fi and horror films…and also Republicans. In more than one interview, John called Ronald Reagan the best President to serve in his lifetime, so it is unsurprising that the fortieth Chief Executive heads the list of his ten favorite Republicans.
His second favorite GOP member was Richard Nixon. In the book John adds a paragraph about this choice, which in its wording is similar to these remarks, from a 2003 interview with Sgt. Robert Jones (conducted by phone between John’s Los Angeles home and Fort Dix where Sgt. Jones was stationed):
[Ramone]:I’ve voted Republican ever since 1960 when Kennedy ran against Nixon. I’ve been with the conservative Republicans since I was eleven years old.
Jones: Oh really? So you were for Nixon in 60’? That’s really amazing, you know, being from Queens. [John, like most of his bandmates, came from Forest Hills.]
Ramone: People back then were going on about Kennedy: “Oh, I really like this guy. He’s so good looking.” This is how we’re picking a President? If he’s good looking? And I was thinking this since I was 11 years old. Nixon beat Kennedy in the polls for the people who only heard them debate on the radio.
A few moments later, John observes:
Ramone: [Then Nixon] opened us up to China later on. Trade, culture, even an alliance, though that was shaky at times. He wasn’t so hot for the communist Chinese, but it was great trump card against the Russians.
Jones: On foreign policy, to a lot of people he was a visionary. Even Democrats will admit that.
Ramone: Yeah, well I think that Reagan was the best President in my life. A real Republican. And Nixon is number two.
Commando is now available at your nearest bookstore or online vendor….and the music of the Ramones, of course, is available everywhere.
Robert Nedelkoff is a writer for the Richard Nixon Foundation.