It’s possible that no band so beloved has been so taken for granted. After a full 20 years of commercial-flop albums, unrelenting touring, and, oh, yes, having forever changed the course of rock ‘n’ roll, the Ramones are threatening to hang it up: leader Joey Ramone says he’s exhausted, and to make the point plain, their new album is called Adios Amigos, complete with a drawing of some sombrero-clad dinosaurs on the cover. Sure the Ramones should be rich and famous; given that they’re not and won’t be anytime soon, perhaps it’s best that they call it quits. The boys do look a little dumb hitting 40 in their shaggy hair and leather jackets. Twenty years ago their unrelenting bop and studied antistar power was a powerful critique of the prevailing musical fashion; now they’re a cartoon. While they’ve never actually put out a worthless album, Dee Dee’s songwriting has never jelled; Joey’s can only occasionally rise to the heights needed to offset it. What may turn out to be the band’s last album follows that pattern nicely, with just a couple of curveballs. The first, the opening song, is a cover, somewhat touching in this context, of Tom Waits and Kathleen Brennan’s “I Don’t Want to Grow Up.” Fans, however, will dwell on one track–the plangent, defiant “Life’s a Gas.” On first listen, you think that Joey, his ludicrous lovely drawl all awail as it repeats the title phrase time after time, is merely reassuring himself in the face of artistic mortality. Listen closer and you hear the only other words of the song, directed not at himself but us: “Don’t be sad, ’cause I’ll be there / Don’t be sad at all.” With those graceful and strangely reassuring words I hear Joey forgive a generation that let him down: he knows that we needed him more than he needed us. The show is sold out. Friday, 7:30 PM, Riviera Theatre, 4746 N. Racine; 275-6800.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Michael Halsband.