Joey Ramone, 1951-2001


April 17, 2001, New York City. I haven’t gone home yet, and it’s after eight at night. I’ve been listening to The Ramones’ greatest hits collection Ramones Mania_for the last two days straight. I might as well get this out of my system… I’m pretty down, it’s as though I’ve lost a serious piece of _something.

I’ve read many excellent good-byes to Joey, the best of which is Lenny Kaye’s in The Village Voice. Most were from people who knew the man; some were from professional writers who reflected on Joey’s contribution to rock and roll, etc. And all of them, of course, gave away that his real name was Jeff Hyman. And one of them mentioned his stock portfolio. (Want to make your own? Check out this link.)

Well, I never knew “Jeff,” and owning stocks is punk. I guess.

The fact that I never knew Joey has meaning to me. I sure had my chances. I have met him on several occasions over the years; I even had the honor of working stage security at the WFIT-sponsored Ramones show in Melbourne a million years ago. You want to talk about a brush with fame? I helped set up the show, and even opened the crate containing their four leather jackets! After their set (and the show) ended and I was escorting them back to the dressing room, a fan ran towards Joey. Lo! The Power Station’s bouncer tackled him! Joey turned to me and said, “that was pretty good!”

Over the next ten years (1990s), I had the opportunity to shake his hand during a midnight autograph session for Mondo Bizarro in New York, and I ran into him several times on the street and in clubs in New York City’s East Village. I may have said “hello” or yelled “Joey!” or handed him an issue of Ink 19 that he gladly took (I even saw him read it!).

But I never invited myself or made an effort to get to know him.

What was more important to me – way more important – was simply listening to The Ramones! (An interesting aside: one night at Coney Island High I spotted a dude with a Ramones tattoo: a huge piece that looked like it was taken from a promo shot. I asked if the band knew about it, the guy replied, “yeah, Johnny took one look, shook his head and said ‘we’re just a band’.”) I love the fact that I am among the millions of sincere Ramones fans, that’s enough for me.

Though I live in New York City, I don’t consider myself a “fixture” in the punk scene at all – hey, I write for a Florida-based magazine, right? I’m kind of an outsider: I have a non-music related day job and don’t give a shit about style and all the other bullshit that goes along with the punk scene. I don’t dye my hair. I have no tattoos. I don’t smoke. I don’t have any piercings. I wear a leather jacket and I look like a biker, not a homeless junkie (very chic, especially if you’re an NYU film student). And I generally vote Republican.

Thusly, I am a punk to the punk scene.

See, punk rock is not about “making the scene.” In fact, “making the scene” is totally un-Ramonelike. What fun is it going to a “punk” show where most of those in attendance are “old,” who’ve shown up in their work clothes (tie and jacket) – that they endeavor to keep clean during the show, and who drink snob drinks? What fun is it if these “scensters” sneer at you if you’re acting like a “little kid” at a punk show? Screw that. Who could go to a Ramones show and sit it out? I ask you, who? I attended twelve Ramones shows in my lifetime, and I took to the pit at every one, minus that Melbourne show I mentioned. (When I listen to their live albums, I have difficulty not joyfully smashing my body into the walls…)

Punk rock, how to put it…, ah! George Tabb said it best in critiquing a “punk” band who claimed that punk rock wasn’t about how the music sounded, but about an attitude. “Bullshit!” declared George; it is exactly about how the music sounds. And frankly, if it doesn’t sound like The Ramones, it ain’t punk rock.

The Ramones sound like a Patriot missile on crank flying through an airplane hanger. That’s what punk rock is supposed to sound like and it is supposed to make you want to hit the pit and thrash around like a maniac – all in good fun, mind you. Listening to The Ramones gets my blood flowing, it sends jolts of electricity down my spine and makes my head bang.

Punk rock is about not standing for what’s on the radio – and thusly, not standing for what a bunch of “industry” sluts – no matter how old they are at the time – are telling you is “rock and roll” or what you’re supposed to listen to. (And though I might point a finger at the commercial radio stations for not playing The Ramones enough – if at all – I really don’t care. I have my recordings and can get a Ramones fix any time of day.) Let me tell you: the whores in the record biz are selling “youthful rebellion,” also known as conformity. The Ramones never conformed, and I maintain that if anything, they were counter-rebellious. Sure, they sold a song to the beer companies – hey, if you can’t enjoy a beer while listening to The Ramones, something’s wrong with you. But otherwise, how marketable were The Ramones? If you’d ask me, I’d buy anything endorsed by Joey Ramone. Heck, I went to the shows he lent his name to, and I sure felt cool being in the same room with him… Truthfully, though, I don’t think the record establishment knew what to do with The Ramones; they weren’t snappy dressers, they didn’t really have much to say to “the kids” other than “1-2-3-4,” and their songs all sounded the same! Yet millions and millions of fans, all across the planet, loved them. You don’t perform more than 2,000 shows without some sort of decent fan base.

I will wager that I’ve heard a Ramones song every week since 1985 (long story, bad radio access, living in different places, etc.). A search of Ink 19’s Web site will yield more than ten pages of links to Ramones’ references. Most of which have to do with reviewers comparing this or that band to The Ramones.

The Ramones are the benchmark of punk rock, and losing Joey this early takes a massive bite out of all that will be punk rock in the future. He’s owed enormous debts of gratitude from every single band that’s come on the scene in the last twenty-five years. I know that I owe him more than a few tips of the Viking helmet simply for the soundtrack to most of my life. ◼

Recently on Ink 19...