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‘I Want You Around: The Ramones and the Making of Rock ‘n Roll High School’ (review)

By Stephen B. Armstrong
Published by Backbeat Books

 

Whether or not you like the new book I Want You Around: The Ramones and the Making of Rock ‘n Roll High School depends 100% on whether or not you like the movie, itself, Rock ‘n’ Roll High School.

Me? Well, personally, I think it’s an amazing and hilarious film. I first saw it in revival a couple years after it was initially—and barely— released and have probably watched it a dozen times since then. That goes a long way toward explaining why I also find this an amazing (and often hilarious) book.

It’s a breezy book you just don’t want to put down but it also offers a wealth of information not just about the movie or the Ramones but also about Death Sport and Hollywood Boulevard, about Girls’ Gym and Disco High, and about how all of them and more converged to lead directly to Rock ‘n’ Roll High School.

The author’s account is so detailed it’s almost as if he was just copying the dairies and journals of those who were present at the time.

There’s so much trivia—such as star P.J. Soles was 28 years old and freshly married to Dennis Quaid. She had been born in Germany, educated in Belgium, was an excellent student, had never heard of the Ramones and at first wasn’t particularly fond of the band members themselves nor their crazy-fast music.

So, of course, she was the perfect choice to play the 17-year-old high school rebel who was the world’s most ardent fan of The Ramones!

The book gives all sorts of background on the habits and foibles of the band and how Joey, Johnny, Dee Dee, and Marky Ramone (“Do your mothers know you’re Ramones?”) came to be the group in the picture when even producer Roger Corman had never heard of them. We even find out how Marky got there in the first place and what happened to Tommy Ramone!

The movie’s humor is Mad-magazine style and works almost completely in my opinion and we’re told in the book how director Allen Arkush slowly came to piece it all together, and how the great cast was hired—Vince Van Patten (son of Dick), Dey Young, Clint Howard (instead of original choice Eddie Deezen, who turned it down in favor of Spielberg’s 1941…which I guess made sense at the time.) and best of all the delightful Mary Woronov and Paul Bartel.

Mary Woronov was originally cast as the butch gym teacher but in the end played Principal Togar, the film’s Big Bad who gets many of the best lines. Director/actor Paul Bartel (Death Race 2000) plays the type of soft-spoken character he was so good at as Mr. McGree, the music teacher. Woronov and Bartel (who was openly gay) worked together so often that fans questioned if they were an actual couple, especially after their cult favorite black comedy Eating Raoul came out a couple years later.

In the end, I Want You Around is the story of Allen Arkush’s struggle to make the PG-rated picture he wanted to make as opposed to what everyone else seemed to want him to make. But then there are another 40 pages or so that go into depth about the marketing and reception to the picture. (At one point, Corman wanted to recut it—eliminating much of The Ramones—and give it the druggie title Rock ‘n’ Roll High.) There’s also discussion of the unfortunate sequel-in-name-only and speculation as to why the original movie is now more popular than ever.

As making of books go, author Stephen B. Armstrong has given fans of Rock ‘n Roll High School the exact book they’ve always needed, whether they knew it or not. I see he also has a book out on Paul Bartel. I definitely will be looking for that!

 

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