Doc Double Feature: Too Tough To Die (2006) & Conan O’Brien Can’t Stop (2011)

After watching roughly a metric butt-ton of horror movies and almost nothing else in the month of October, I was looking forward to watching something a little different. While scanning my Netflix Instant queue I came across a movie that caught my attention: Too Tough To Die: A Tribute To Johnny Ramone. The second part of the title didn’t come through on my screen or maybe I just missed it, but I was sold anyway. You could show me pretty much any picture of Johnny playing guitar in one of his awesome stances and I’d bite. As it turns out, TTTD is equal parts tribute concert for a man about to pass away and brief biography of one of the greatest bands of all time as told by famous fans and the people who were there to see it happen.

Basically, before passing away from pancreatic cancer in 2004, Johnny Ramone planned a tribute concert to his already fallen bandmates Johnny and Dee Dee to celebrate the band’s 30th anniversary. He himself couldn’t make it, but he had a hand in nearly every detail from asking his pal Rob Zombie to MC the whole thing to getting bands like The Red Hot Chili Peppers, The Dickies and X to perform and even guys like Henry Rollins, Steve Jones, Eddie Vedder, Pete Yorn and others to get together and play some of the Ramones greatest hits along with some deep cuts. The concert was a lot of fun, though I don’t see the appeal of X (maybe they didn’t age well) and I’m always a huge fan of seeing seemingly disparate musicians coming together to share their influences. Would you have thought Yorn was a fan? Maybe not, but hearing him sing “I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend” made perfect sense (though he looked a little funny playing one of the Ramones signature style guitars).

Between songs, the performers along with others like Debbie Harry and the Ramones’ original managers talked about the band coming together and the impact they had on music. I’m by no means a Ramones expert, but the movie does a good job of filling in the basic details. I knew most of them going in, so I followed along nicely, but I’m not sure if the same could be said for someone completely unfamiliar with the band. Still, you should watch this flick to get an idea.

Johnny passed away two days after the tribute concert and many of the people interviewed think he hung on just to make sure the show went off without a hitch. It was really touching seeing many of the people interviewed in the movie eulogize Johnny. It wound up being an interesting doc because, even though he was the main focus of the discussion, Johnny only showed up in archival interviews and recordings, so you wind up completely seeing this man through the eyes of his friends and family, even though he was alive for at least part of the filming.

After being really bummed out all over again by Johnny’s passing, I grabbed my electric guitar and started wailing on it. I played a few songs that I’ve had in my head forever in a power chord, punk rock tempo and by the end of a quick session my hands hurt, I was sweating and my heart was racing. It felt good. I imagine Johnny and the Ramones felt something similar but magnified a million times on stage. That’s why punk rock is awesome, anyone can do it with a guitar and a few chords.

Moving from the Ramones to Conan O’Brien might seem kind of strange, but the two movies shared not only a thematic relationship, but also a common guest in the form of Eddie Vedder. Basically, Conan was totally punk rock last year. He not only turned down a multimillion dollar deal to move his show back an hour, but after he did so, he went on a DIY tour of the country with a band, skits and guest spots. Sure, he had a team behind him, but he was loyal to them throughout the entire thing and vice versa. It’s not exactly the same as The Ramones slogging through the mean streets of NYC, but it took a lot of integrity and hard work to make it happen.

Can’t Stop follows Conan from the end of his stint on the Tonight Show through the announcement of his Legally Prohibited From Being Funny On Television Tour and all the dates. You actually get to see the moment he sent out the tweet announcing the tour, which was pretty cool to see from the opposite end of things. I followed Conan throughout these days, so now I feel like I know what was going on on his end but also what he was going through.

The real meat of the documentary isn’t seeing Conan and his crew of writers figure out the jokes or him working out and playing songs with the band, but what the tour, being funny and leaving the Tonight Show really mean to the funny man. I heard Conan interviewed by Marc Maron on his wonderful WTF Podcast, so I kind of had a preview of the man behind the smile on TV, so it wasn’t as much of a surprise to see him freaked out after a show or having trouble with certain members of his staff. You tend to think of Conan as a guy who’s always smiling and making jokes, but that’s not the case. If you want to get a real look at the man, watch this movie and then check out the WTF episode…and then all the others, that’s the best damn podcast around.

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