The drummer known as Tommy Ramone passed away on Friday due to bile duct cancer. Though he was only 65, he was the last living original member of the Ramones, and instrumental in the creation of punk rock as a musical genre.
Tommy was born Erdélyi Tamás in Budapest to two Holocaust survivors; the couple had hidden with neighbors for the duration of the war. The Erdélyi family immigrated to the United States when Tamás was four.
Two of the four Ramone boys from Queens were Jewish: in addition to Tommy, front-man Joey was born Jeffrey Hyman. The group formed at Forest Hills High School. Like later additions to the group, they all took on the last name Ramone, a name none of them had at birth, and one that certainly didn't sound typically Jewish.
As part of the band's early boundary-pushing that would become typical of punk, the Ramones often featured Nazi references and imagery in their music (think "Blitzkrieg Bop"). But here the difference between Tommy and Joey and the gentile half of the band Johnny and Dee-Dee became acute: the latter two were both obsessed with Nazi imagery and paraphernalia in a way that transcended the band's image; Johnny was even said to have a portrait of Hitler above his fireplace.
"Growing up with a fear of the Holocaust, being with Johnny and Dee Dee was like living with danger," Tommy once told author Steven Lee Beeber. "There might have been an element of that -- just as there was in my attraction to rock 'n' roll. It could have been that I was rebelling by hanging with them."
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