Saturday, June 1, 2013

1983: When The Ramones Conquered Des Moines

Thirty years ago today (June 1, 1983) the Ramones rocked the revolving banquet room atop the Holiday Inn in downtown Des Moines. As one might expect, it was a concert that would be talked about years afterward, and it was the initial footprint of punk rock's influence in Des Moines.

The band was on the back end of a rigorous eight day run. Having played Omaha the night before, they stormed into Des Moines early and booked a room at the Holiday Inn on the corner of N.E. 14th Street and Euclid Avenue (now where Community State Bank sits). Ironically, it was there they stayed, several miles away from the Holiday Inn that was housing their gig. The band was just a few months out from having fired drummer Marky Ramone because of alcohol abuse. Richie Ramone  joined the group for this tour and subsequently stayed with the Ramones until 1987 when Clem Burke (Blondie) intermittently joined the band as Elvis Ramone.

After checking into the Holiday Inn, the band made an appearance at Music Circuit, a local record store that moonlighted as a concert promotion company. Hundreds of people lined up to meet these punk rock legends, and asked them to sign everything from record albums to baseballs.

A number of the people that would later shape the Des Moines underground scene were there. The following are accounts of that day from people who attended the show, including two members of Universal Will To Become, the local band that opened for the Ramones. It's interesting how starkly contrasted their experiences were.  One thing is for certain, however... After this show, punk rock finally had a foothold in Des Moines, Iowa.

Johnny and Joey Ramone 
Eric Coleman: They did a record signing at Music Circuit that afternoon. It was nice to get It's Alive signed. Mostly I remember that was when they started playing everything too fast, started to lose all definition in their songs. Richie was an OK drummer, but didn't quite have the chops to hold them together. Joey couldn't read the note on his monitor so he didn't know where he was or what the name of the records store was.

It was nice to see them, I wish I had seen them in their prime though.

Local band Universal Will To Become opened. One of the Ames punks talked about them getting booed, not realizing that he and his friends were the only people booing them.

Tim Johnson: My band's name was "Universal Will To Become". I worked for a record store called Music Circuit. The store's owner, Steve White, had a production company that brought the Ramones to Des Moines. I was honored that he allowed my band to open. We had been a 4 piece until the other guitarist quit the band unexpectedly some weeks before the gig. We had to scramble to come up with other ways to play our music with just drums, bass guitar and guitar. Maybe it wasn't that successful as we were not well received! I think that people just really wanted to see the Ramones and didn't care about the opening act. 

The sound man also treated us abominably. I couldn't hear myself in the monitors and when I asked him from the stage about it he just blew me off! Our set was short as the crowd just seemed to get ugly. The place was absolutely packed.

You have to understand: The Ramones were heroes to me. In fact I wouldn't have gotten into music if it wasn't for them. So this was quite a thrill to be given the opportunity to open for them. Unfortunately, I came away from that experience very humbled. They say never meet your heroes; well, if I had actually been able to meet the Ramones I'm sure I would have hated them. They didn't even invite us backstage or said a single word to us. But hey, they played great, at least what I can remember of the show! I hit the bar after my awful experience onstage and proceeded to get quite drunk, so my memory of the rest of the night is hazy.

In 1983 the Ramones toured in support of Subterranean Jungle
Notice Marky sitting alone isolated from rest of band.
Mark Penner: I was in Tim Johnson's (guitarist for The Law and owner of Vinyl Fetish) ever-changing band called Universal Will to Become. I played bass in the in the 3 piece rock band incarnation and Tony McKendry played drums. We opened for The Ramones at that show. Earlier in the day they did an in-store autograph session at Music Circuit. I remember they were very friendly and much larger and uglier in person. I talked with Johnny for awhile and tried to get him to go to George the Chili King with us, but he declined. I also remember that somebody brought a baseball for them to sign, which they really got a kick out of.

The show itself was a lot of fun. We didn't get a great response, but contrary to some accounts I've read, we didn't get booed. The Ramones were really on that night. I've seen them since this was easily the best of the shows I'd seen. I also remember them being very loud. The only band I'd seen up to that point that were louder was Husker Du, and I'd been in ATOY and we were definitely loud. (Big Black was the loudest I'd seen but that was a couple years later) Looking back, that show was when the scene in Des Moines changed. Before that show the "punk" scene was very small, very diverse and very tight knit. Afterwards a lot more people arrived and the scene began to splinter into cliques. At least that was how I saw it. I left Des Moines a few months later, so my impressions might not be 100% correct.

Dirk William Newton:  I almost hit Joey with my car as he walked across Euclid going to Village Inn. My wife couldn't believe how tall he was. Typical New Yorker! He dodged me and cussed. He made it to the median in like two steps. They played at Top of the Tower and stayed at the Holiday Inn on East 14th. 


Anonymous said...

I'm getting ready to interview Marky Ramone on my radio show today. Of course he had been kicked out of the band right before they played Death Moans. You might recall that when the Ramones signed autographs at the record store that Tim and I were right there.... Vick

Paul said...

At the time I was a reporter and weekend anchor at WHO-TV. It was so totally bazaar to have the Ramones playing a Holiday Inn (where was Nick the Lounge Singer?) and in Des Moines. Not exactly CBGB's but certainly more surreal. And standing off to the side in her skirt...turtle neck and sensible handbag was my beautiful companion now wife trying to figure it all out. Just having the proximity to them without physical damage from the mosh pit made it a truly memorable experience. Cue Rod Serling.

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Unknown said...

Remember how low the ceiling on the stage was and Joey gouging the ceiling with his mic stand. Good fun!