Too Tough to Die
Though fans must have been happy to see the Ramones finally get the biopic treatment in the 2003 documentary End of the Century, the film arguably left its audience wanting more, particularly in the live-footage department. If you've been waiting patiently for the opportunity to scrutinize some of the live material touched on in the film, then your prayers have been answered in the form of It's Alive: 1974-1996, a DVD set that packs a whopping four hours' worth of concert video onto two discs. The sheer volume of the footage — and the fact that music supervisor Tommy Ramone and producer/director George Seminara wisely chose to concentrate on concerts before 1982 yet don't ignore later lineups, including the Richie Ramone era — make this an essential purchase.
Interestingly, however, the overall value of the package would have been greatly enhanced with more bonus material, specifically interviews, which are sorely lacking. In one of the extras, Joey and Dee Dee give a fresh, exciting, and strangely lucid interview after the band's career had started to pick up steam. But for all its charm, the clip is way too short, and one has to wonder how much more of this type of footage is still out there somewhere. Manager Danny Fields is captured in the late '70s offering some excellent (if a bit high-brow) insight into the band, describing its music as "architectural" and also addressing the oft-proposed question "What is punk?" But, again, his commentary is too short-lived.
And don't get your hopes up for the "super-rare" videos, which though they fall in the category of so-bad-they're-good, essentially qualify as throwaways. Two clips from the band's visits to Argentina and Sweden highlight the awkward beauty of foreign interviewers trying to engage the Ramones, who clearly were not the most worldly of men. But a story that road manager Monte Melnick tells of the band's fascination with a stuffed armadillo while playing a club in Texas suggests how alien the Ramones must have seemed, even right here on American soil, anywhere outside of New York City. It's a great touch — but you get it only if you visit the website www.ramonesitsalivedvd.com, which contains extensive text to accompany each show featured on the DVD. But why not include that text in the actual liner notes?
It's Alive: 1974-1996
Still, despite any flaws, It's Alive gives viewers more than enough to sink their teeth into and even conveys a sense of the band's grueling history. You can actually get tired trying to take it all in, but perhaps that's fitting. Now that they aren't around to take for granted anymore, the tireless sacrifice the Ramones made to crank out such jubilant music only seems more striking.
Get the Music Newsletter