Monte A. Melnick lived the rock n’ roll lifestyle. From Queens obscurity to Manhattan celebrity to Los Angeles finality – the tour manager guided a group of punk pioneering misfits called The Ramones through 2,263 live shows over the course of 22 exhaustive and volatile years.
The affable guy with a curiously alliterative name grew up in Forest Hills with an ear for music, playing bass in a couple of bands with childhood friend Tommy Ramone. They enjoyed varying success, but everything changed when he and Tommy had the opportunity to manage a rehearsal/recording studio.
“Someone asked me to build a rehearsal/recording studio and I got Tommy to help. While we were there, we got free time to manage our own projects,” said Melnick. “One of the projects was The Ramones.”
At that time, The Ramones was a three-piece band – Johnny on guitar, Joey on drums and Dee Dee on bass and vocals.
“Dee Dee was having trouble singing and playing bass at the same time, so they pulled Joey off drums and made him the singer. Then they started looking for a drummer,” he said. “The problem was they were so raw at the time that nobody could play with them. Nobody got it. So Tommy took over on drums.”
This kicked off a 22-year span of nonstop touring, arrests, overdoses, fights, breakups, makeups and an insane cult status mixed with a touch of billboard success.
Melnick’s career with the band consisted of driving vans, playing band psychologist and lugging equipment in countries all over the world. But those days are long gone and now Melnick is busy working for another city institution, the New York Hall of Science (NYSCI). This fall, the Hall will open a new 3D theatre, which Melnick will run.
“People ask me if I miss it [working for The Ramones]. I miss the good parts of it, mainly the later years when we had a certain status,” he said, perched high above NYSCI theater where he works as an audio/visual associate. “Tour manager is the jack of all trades. You book hotels, get payroll, pick up the money and take care of the group. You’ve also got to be diplomatic because you’re not only dealing with a crazy band; you’ve also got a crazy crew.”
Late in 2003, Melnick released the book On the Road with The Ramones with journalist Frank Meyer. The book, now in its third updated edition, is an oral history of the band’s legacy and features unfiltered commentary from friends, acquaintances, crew, musicians and the band itself.
“Writing the book was a catharsis for me,” he said. “It ended up being like a psychotherapy session.”
The book is filled with confessions from the road and tales of the long-haired, leather jacket-clad miscreants driving everyone, including themselves, crazy. There is also the comically improbable string of van and equipment thefts the band and crew endured through their lives on the road.
Melnick also reveals the fractures within the band, especially between Joey and Johnny, which cast a shadow over their later years. The two lead Ramones were polar opposites and it was only a matter of time before something drove a permanent wedge between them. And that wedge turned out to be a woman.
Johnny fell in love with Joey’s girlfriend Linda, eventually marrying her. Joey never recovered, which caused them to spend much of their last few years keeping strictly a business relationship.
“They stuck together, for the most part. People say they hated each other and that they were going to kill each other. That wasn’t true. If they hated each other they would have broken up,” he said. “They realized that the music was bigger than any of their stupid arguments. The minute they walked on stage they got a musical high and they realized they needed that high, that adrenaline rush.”
Of course, even leather fades and in 1996 The Ramones retired from the road. On tail end of their career The Ramones played on the Lollapalooza Tour, hitting the stage after Metallica, Soundgarden and Rancid. Those bands, who were some of the biggest names in music at the time, sat stage side and rocked out like crazed fans while The Ramones sped through classics “Blitzkrieg Bop” and “Teenage Lobotomy.”
“A lot of people reference to The Ramones as the reason why they started a band,” said Melnick. “Musicians like Bono and Eddie Vedder – they were greatly influenced.”
In 2001, Joey Ramone died of lymphoma. His death was followed by Dee Dee of a heroin overdose in 2002 and Johnny of prostate cancer in 2004. The Ramones were inducted into the Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame in 2001, with Joey just missing the ceremony. Melnick remembers the entire band fondly, as friends – but he remembers Joey as family.
“I decided to write the book after Joey died. I felt better about it after he passed because there were certain things I had to say and I didn’t feel comfortable saying. Joey was a very good friend, like family,” he said. “He was a very generous nice guy. We would have problems walking around with him after gigs because he would stop and talk to everybody. We’d yell, ‘Come on, Joey! Let’s go!’”
The Ramones legacy is one of music – impossibly fast, two-minute songs about adolescence that have remained universally relatable to any punk kid who listens. Melnick, with his wealth of knowledge and raconteur nature, is a great reason to visit the Hall of Science – he is also, like The Ramones, a Queens original.
“I stuck with The Ramones for 2,263 shows because I loved it,” he said, remembering their last show in Los Angeles. “Now I’m here at NYSCI and loving this job.”