I love the Ramones. And I love bluegrass. So the idea of one of The Ramones playing bluegrass was impossible to pass up. (Plus, my brother had seen Uncle Monk in New York. "Isn't this kind of a nexus for you?" he said. "You need to go.")
You might remember Tommy as The Sane Ramone, if you watched the documentary on the group, which I did. Sort of. I had to turn it off half way through because I was afraid too much information would ruin my fantasy about these guys and things turned dicey fast. You also might remember him as The Living Ramone, as he's the only remember of the original four who's still alive today (though later Ramones, including Marky, who replaced Tommy as drummer and was around circa Rocket to Russia days, are still kicking, too.)
Tommy does not show up for performances in a leather jacket. His hair is still long, but it's gray now, pulled back in a ponytail. He wears suspenders. He looks like a guy you might see sitting outside a vegetarian restaurant reading Mother Jones Magazine. He plays mandolin pretty well. Not well like Ricky Skaggs or Dave Grisman or Ronnie McCoury, but he doesn't have anything to be embarrassed about. He also sings. His voice isn't high and lonesome. It is simply his voice, on key, honest, singing the songs that speak to him now, like "Working on a Building" and "Long Journey Home" or any of the roots-inspired tunes he made up.
His partner, Claudia Tienan, has a voice built for bluegrass and old-time. She sings the way the old folks do, like a ventriloquist, with her mouth hardly opening at all. She plucks a steady rhythm on the guitar but I didn't see her try so much as a G-run. Her last band was called "The Simplistics," if that serves as explanation. And perhaps it does. You don't need to be Mozart to make good music. You just need guts.
In the 1970s, Tommy Ramone knew enough about music to help change it. I wouldn't say that he's changing music now. But he's making music. He still has something to contribute so he's doing it. That's punk. And that's what counts.