I fancied that I hada pretty compete collection of punk albums ranging from the original 1977 version of Never Mind the Bollocks… through all the Clash albums and Stranglers and Damned albums, too. I had picked up a cutout copy of the Ramones Leave Home and a copy of Road to Ruin but I wasn’t a fan.
I used to read Jan Gradvall’s column i Swedish music magazines and in 1995 bought his essay anthology Artiklar, intervyuer, essäer 1981-1994 (in Swedish) and one of the first essays (on page 66 already) was about the Ramones. The essay started with a list of the timings of the 28 songs on the Ramones It’s Alive album. 1:57, 1:54, 1:56, 2:20, 1:49. 1:34, 2:24, 1:36, 2:15, 1:34, 1:35, 2:40, 2:19, 1:42, 1:40, 1:45, 1:35, 2:16, 1:40, 1:25, 2:40, 2:08, 1:14, 1:51, 2:05, 1:40, 1:20, 2:02. Gradvall used these timings to declare the Ramones as the perfect pop group. I was fascinated and started to listen to them.
A few weeks after reading Gradvall’s eulogy to the band I read in a local newspaper that the Ramones were no longer going to tour. I had sort of decided that I really wanted to see them live. Oh, well, thought I, that ain’t gonna happen. However, only a few weeks later I heard that Ramones were scheduled to play at Skellefteå festival a mere 133 kms south of Luleå, where I lived. Skellefteå festival was a fixture on the northern Swedish festival circuit and “happened” to always be on the same weekend as the huge Roskilde festival in Denmark. Thus Urkraft, the organisers of the Skellefteå festival managed to book artists appearing at Roskilde including Skunk Anansie, Suede, the Stooges alongside top Swedish bands.
So, I phoned Urkraft and simply asked which hotel the band would be staying at and was immediately told that they would be at the Scandic Hotel, so I booked myself in there for the duration of the festival.
So I drove down on the 24th June in the midsummer sunshine and went to check into the hotel. I was standing at the reception desk and asked if the Ramones had arrived just as a man emerged from the lifts behind me and heard my question. It turned out this was Monte Melnick, the legendry Ramones tour manager. He asked who I was and what I was doing there an I explained that I was from the town of Luleå where I worked as a doctor. Monte immediately asked me if I could help him. He had a chronic cough, he said, and doctors couldn’t find the cause. He wondered if I could help. I had to admit that I hadn’t brought my stethoscope with me… We chatted a bit and I showed him the records I had brought with me and asked if there was a chance I could get them signed. Monte said that the band would be in the hotel restaurant at six and that I should meet them there.
Said and done! I arrived at the restaurant on the dot of six and saw one band member sitting alone at a table and so I wandered over and, not knowing what to say, shyly asked “are you with the band?” It was, of course, Johnny. He looked at me and snarled “can’t you see I’m eating?” and he told me to come back when he’d finished.
I was hungry, too, and took a seat at a table almost as far away from Johnny as possible and ordered a hamburger and a beer and waited. No sign of Monte and the other three band members yet.
Johnny finished his meal and came over and joined me at my table and started asking questions about who I was and what I was doing in Skellefteå. He told me how many gigs the Ramones had played in their career (I think I remember he said 1200, but that can’t have been right) anyway we started talking and he told me about his autogrpah collection of over 14,000 signatures. He told me he collected photographs of sports personalities and B-movie stars and sent them to the artist to get them signed. I said I thought he got them back as he was a celebrity and I didn’t think I would be as lucky! We chatted for about 45 minutes while Monte, Marky and Joey arrived in the restaurant. Marky and Joey sat pasty-faced leafing through girly magazines and looking bored. They happily all signed my records though. CJ was already somewhere in the festival area so I had to catch up with him later. Monte gave me a backstage pass (I still have it somewhere, but can’t lay my hands on it) to get into the festival even though I had bought a ticket — so I was enrolled in the Ramones for the rest of the evening. I had to teach Joey how to pronounce Skellefteå (shell-eff-tio) before the gig. Monte invited me to watch from backstage, but I wanted to see the Ramones in action so went out front.
They came on stage at exactly on schedule and — “one, two, three, four” — played without a pause for 75 minutes — an utterly amazing experience! I felt I’d been run over by a steamroller. Hey Ho, Let’s go! These were the days before smartphones so I don’t have any pictures. But I treasure the experience.
In 2011, Swedish author Bengt Ohlsson published his book Rekviem för John Cummings a biography of Johnny Ramone, which I immediately bought and read. I recognised much of what Johnny had told me in Skellefteå.
Fast forward to today. In mid November 2022, I read a review of a new book Ramones i Sverige — världens första punkband skruvar upp tempot i folkhemmet (Ramones in Sweden — the World’s First punk Band Speed up the Welfare State) by Sven Lindström, Jan Lagerström, Petter Lönegård and Kjell Magnusson. The book catalogues the twenty Ramones gigs in Sweden between May 1977 and June 1995, plus a gig in Oslo, Norway in August 1980 and their concert at Roskilde festival, Denmark, in June 1985.
I was too shocked to try to time the songs and I didn’t/couldn’t make a set list either. I spent the rest of the evening in a daze wandering the festival site. A few years later, in 1999, I joined the Skellefteå festival crew as festival doctor looking after both the artists, the festival crew and memebrs of the public. I got quite a few autographs as well.