You might be surprised to learn that the late Johnny Ramone of the legendary band the Ramones was a raving Republican*. You might also be surprised to learn that Johnny preferred milk and cookies to drugs and alcohol, and watching ESPN SportsCenter to cavorting with groupies. Not to mention that he was responsible for carefully crafting the Ramones' stripped-down image, and that the leather-jacket-and-ripped-jeans-wearing ex-punk rocker has much to teach the buttoned-up set when it comes to the art of the interview.
Earlier this year, Johnny's posthumous autobiography, Commando: The Autobiography of Johnny Ramon, was published by Abrams Image. Below are three interview tips gleaned from Commando (excerpts of which appeared in New York Magazine a few weeks before the book's release).
1. What you wear matters. Immensely.
When I hear the name the Ramones, almost immediately a vision of black leather and torn denim comes to mind. This is no accident. That is, the Ramones's uniform of leather and denim was carefully designed. By Johnny Ramone. Ramone had been a glam rocker before he became a punk rocker. But he didn't believe the glam rock aesthetic would sell albums. Here's Johnny, in Commando, talking jackets and jeans:
It was a slow process, over a period of six months or so, but we got the uniform defined. We figured out that it would be jeans, T-shirts, leather jackets, and the tennis shoes, Keds. We wanted every kid to be able to identify with our image.
Likewise, what you wear into an interview will not only be included in the all-important first impression you make, but it will also stay in the minds of your interviewer long after you exit the building (on the day of your interview). So, make sure you wear smart clothing that doesn't overpower (no hot pink or bright purple ties, pants, or dresses). And don't sport anything that screams informal (leave the bow ties, low-cut blouses, Keds, and leather jacket at home). Like Johnny, plan what you're going to wear far in advance. The night before. Two days before. One week before if you can. Make sure your suit's clean, shoes are polished, socks match, skirt and shirt are wrinkle-free.
2. The Interview starts the second you walk into the building. Not a moment later.
In addition to costume, Johnny knew that stage presence was essential to selling the Ramones. At length, he studied how other bands went about their gigs. And he knew that gigs started long before the music did. Here's Johnny on performance etiquette:
Some bands blow it before they even play. The most important moment of any show is when a band walks out with the red amp lights glowing, the flashlight that shows each performer the way to his spot on the stage. It’s crucial not to blow it. It sets the tempo of the show; it affects everyone’s perception of the band.
Now all the mental notes I had been taking over the years came into play. No tuning up onstage. Synchronized walk to the front of the stage and back again. Joey standing up straight, glued to the mike stand—for the whole set. Keeping it really symmetrical. It was a requirement we adopted, a regimen that started immediately when we’d hit the stage, to make sure you immediately go into the song and not lose that excitement before you even start.
Indeed, image is, if not everything, a heck of a lot. And the way you carry yourself even before you open your mouth is extremely important. In other words, how you act, how you walk, sit, stand, shake a hand all matter. Are you smiling or frowning? Are you looking like you're ready to go into an important meeting or on a cigarette break? Don't forget that it's very possible you could run into someone who might have a say in whether you get hired or not anywhere in the building where your interview takes place. And so play the part of the sharp interviewee as soon as you step inside. Maybe even begin to play it a block or two away.
3. Answer succinctly. Don't waste your breath. Use as few words as possible to get your point across.
The Ramones are NOT known for their "smoke songs" (songs so long that a DJ has time to go outside and have a cigarette before having to spin the next record). And, in fact, the longest song on their first record is just over two-and-a-half-minutes long. Likewise, Ramones' shows were short. And this, according to Johnny, was most definitely on purpose:
I’ve always thought you’re better off playing shorter. Ramones songs were basically structured the same as regular songs, but played fast, so they became short. When I saw the Beatles at Shea Stadium, they played a half-hour show. I figured that if the Beatles played a half-hour at Shea Stadium, the Ramones should only do about fifteen minutes. You get in your best material, and leave them wanting more. I don’t think anyone should play for more than an hour.
The takeaway here isn't to talk fast but to pack a punk-rock punch with each question you answer. That is, when fielding an interview question, answer it with as few words as possible. Answer clearly and concisely. Long-windedness will irritate your interviewer. Remember, interviewers want to learn as much about you as possible (that is, get in as many questions as possible) in just about the time it took the Ramones to play an entire set.
*Here's Johnny on how he became a Republican: "I've always been a Republican, since the 1960 election with Nixon against Kennedy. At that point, I was basically just sick of people sitting there going, 'Oh, I like this guy. He’s so good-looking.' I’m thinking, 'This is sick. They all like Kennedy because he’s good-looking?' And I started rooting for Nixon just because people thought he wasn’t good-looking. And then by the time Goldwater ran and he starts talking about bombing Vietnam, I said, 'This sounds right to me.' I was in favor of bombing the enemy into oblivion. Same as any war: If you want to be in it, win it. I didn’t understand why we didn’t just bomb the place out of existence."
Image: Rolling Stone
Becoming Johnny Ramone (NYMag)
Commando: The Autobiography of Johnny Ramone (Amazon)