According to Wikipedia, Rock ‘n’ Roll High School – featuring The Ramones – was released on August 24th, 1979.
What Wikipedia DOESN’T say, however, is that the movie studio – New World Pictures – originally released the movie to debut in DRIVE-IN theaters ONLY the first weekend, if not the entire first week of the film. (I had rock & roll associates – including one local tastemaker/critic who shall remain nameless because he’s likely to get pissy if I call him out in print – who thought the Ramones movie was, and I quote, “going to be a serious dissection of the punk-rock oeuvre/art-house film that would play the Drexel.” My reply? “Curt, the movie is called Rock ‘n’ Roll High School. It contains The Ramones. It ain’t playin’ the Drexel.”)
Anyway, Friday night August 24th, 1979, me and three of my reprobate West Side rock & roll buddies hit the 3-C Drive-in to catch Rock & Roll High School. Actually, let me be perfectly honest: it was actually two of my buddies and we let a guy named Ellis that we worked with in the warehouse at Service Merchandise come along. Ellis was a Native American who bore a striking resemblance to the mute Indian character in One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest, and was only marginally smaller than that guy. Truthfully I wasn’t all that crazy about having Ellis along, as he had demonstrated a tendency to be – let’s put it kindly – “unstable” at parties after he got a few drinks in him.
It was a warm summer night in 1979, so I was still drinking, which means I was probably belting down Southern Comfort & cokes that we would’ve smuggled into the movie. Plus I’m absolutely certain we would’ve been smoking pot. We always brought along lawn chairs to the drive-in so we could sit outside the car, and by the middle of Rock ‘n’ Roll High School (I actually remember the exact line) – when Dey Young as Kate Rambeau says, “Isn’t it sad when a family has to suffer so much?” as she delivers Riff's second family death-note to principal Mary Woronov – I was laughing my drunk & stoned ass off when a full beer can slammed into the side of my face.
I stood up, kicked over the lawn chair and whirled around, yelling “WHO THREW THIS? WHO FUCKING THREW THIS?” to the cars around us. The guy in the car to our right – who was also smoking a joint at that moment, to be entirely accurate – pointed past me into our car. There Ellis sat, with a shit-eating grin on his face. “Did you throw this at me?” I said, furious. “Yeah,” he said. “WHY?” I asked. “You were laughing too loud,” was his stoned-faced reply, and he continued with, “You wanna do something about it?” I was pissed, but my friend Rob said, quietly, “Let it go, Ric, it’s not worth it.” Ellis was just too big and mean to fuck with in that state. I had personally witnessed him beat the shit out of guys FAR bigger than me, and I didn’t have my buddy Greg The Roadie along to do my fighting for me.
I sat back down, fuming, to watch the rest of the movie. About twenty minutes later Ellis left the car to go take a piss at the concession stand building in the center of the drive-in. And he never came back.
We watched the rest of Rock ‘n’ Roll High School and the first half-hour of the second movie before our third buddy, Bob, said, “Hey man, Ellis has been gone a long time. You think we should go look for him?” “You go fucking look for him,” I shot back, “he didn’t hit YOU in the face with a full beer can.”
Ellis still wasn’t back by time the second movie ended at 1 a.m. Rob & Bob looked around for him a little bit, at and around the concession building, but he was nowhere to be found, so we left and went to Western Pancake House for a bite.
Long story short: the next Monday Ellis was back at work with a black eye and cuts on his face. It turned out he got lost in a drunken stupor and couldn’t find his way back to our car after his piss. He wandered into the parking area on the OTHER side of the drive-in – which was showing a Disney cartoon movie, by the way, the icing on the cake – and finally just got into a random car and laid down on the back seat to sleep it off.
The problem was, that car was occupied by a nice West Side family of five: mom & dad and three kids under ten, and having a huge, drunken Indian get into their car, shove their kids aside and lay down on the back seat to pass out JUST DID NOT PLAY. The drive-in security guard couldn’t rouse Ellis to get him out of the family’s car, so he called the cops. In the process of being hauled out of the vehicle, Ellis started drunkenly fighting the cops and they quickly & efficiently beat him into submission. (It’s too easy, but in rock & roll terms: Ellis fought the law and the law won.) They tossed him in the drunk tank, kept him locked up for the weekend and turned him loose Monday morning, whereupon he came straight to work at Service Merchandise.
We never brought Ellis along to the drive-in ever again. – Ricki C. / March 31st, 2015
By the way, beer can to the face or not, I consider Rock 'n' Roll High School one of the five best rock & roll movies ever made, and a triumph in every way. (Although the scene where Joey Ramone sings to P.J. Soles in her bedroom would've made a lot more sense with Robin Zander of Cheap Trick.)