20 Years Later: Joey Ramone
"We stripped it (Rock n Roll) back down to the bone and reassembled it, put the excitement and fun and energy and attitude and spirit and fun back into what was no longer there. And in doing so, turned the world around, totally revolutionized rock & roll, and went to England, and that’s when the whole British thing kicked off, and then the world changed completely. And everybody basically was inspired by us to some degree."
-Joey Ramone during a 1990 Entertainment Weekly interview
I guess good news travels fast. Well not fast enough because, I was waiting over three years for any word of a biopic about one of my favorite Punk Bands- The Ramones!
Yeah, i'm not too crazy about Pete Davidson being cast as the band's lead vocalist front man and counterculture icon, Joey Ramone but at this point, beggars can't be choosers! Queen had Bohemian Rhapsody, Motley Crue dived into The Dirt and as for David Bowie..Stardust??? Ahem and now, it's The Ramones' turn! Gabba Gabba hey!
If someone were to ask, where was I when learned of Joey's passing?
It was around Easter April 2001, when I was driving my Girlfriend at the time, to her parents in Staten Island, and this is where I received the sobering news from the Car's radio-that, Joey Ramone has succumbed to his long battle with Lymphoma!
This was a gut punch as Joey was the Godfather of Punk, a subgenre of Rock known for its fast riffs, aggressive energy, and brutal angst against the system! Yes, this music spoke to me and spoke from me.
The Ramones, along with The Clash, The Damned, TSOL, Black Flag, Bad Brains, DOA and of course, The Misfits were the bands I often patronized and followed despite being unceremoniously being late to the movement. Sowwies, I'm a Gen Xer, so sue me. 😜
"..bands like Living Colour have made it possible and the Red Hots, everything is sort of a blend now. Blacks are into rock & roll and the whites are into funk; everything’s pretty cool. I think it’s great. It brings everybody together and relieves some of the racial tension and the bulls–t. In some ways, music really has saved the world."
My first introduction to the Ramones, was perhaps their lesser-known album Animal Boy and after listening to the first song "Somebody put something in my drink", they were a keeper. The song was comical in context but had a raw vibe courtesy of Joey's powerful vocals backed by Johnny Ramone's guitar. While most of the songs had a pop-esque feel, like "Animal Boy" the last title, "Something to believe in" a parody of Celebrity charitable causes i.e. We are the World. This song also falls within the veils of Pop but highly effective. This album was produced by Afropunk Jean Beauvoir and Dee Dee Ramone. From there, I collected other albums from their catalog. Judy is a Punk Rocker did not work for me, but Blitzkrieg Bop, the band's signature anthem was a banger!
Other songs of remembrance were Planet Earth 1988 from the Too Tough to Die album. This song gives a dystopian outlook of a perceived future, how War, fascism and unrest affects civilization with a modicum of irony via the song's foreshadowing lyrics: "I just saw filth to the max, a screaming Nation against the Blacks.."
Among a few other songs I enjoyed from the Ramones, were: I Know Better Now, Pet Semetary, Warthog and Poison Heart which both were used during the credits of Pet Semetary and Pet Semetary 2 respectively.One of my favorite albums would go to Halfway to Insanity which includes "I Know Better Now " "Worm Man" "Garden of Serenity" and "Bop till you drop" which my good friend Bop used as the outro for his first Bopcast!
I can recall the band making sporadic appearances on the syndicated Howard Stern show back in the early nineties. where they would participate in a couple of segments and skits, one being a spoof of George HW Bush with the band supporting his agenda possibly bombing Iraq since we were at war with them at the time. I also remembered how disgraced Comedienne Rosanne Barr said that Howard Stern is even uglier than Joey Ramone. Howard then quipped, "why is she attacking Joey Ramone?" Barr should talk. Nuff said!
Joey whose real name was Jeffry Ross Hyman, was born and raised in Queens NY. Diagnosed with OCD and Schizophrenia during his teens, Hyman being an outcast, co-founded The Ramones with his friends John Cummings (Johnny Ramone) and Douglas Covin aka Dee Dee Ramone, one of the very first Punk bands to enter the mainstream from their humble beginnings at CBGB's to tumultuous infighting, drug abuse, jealousy, betrayal and even being held at gunpoint by a notorious Record Producer! I am sure most of this will make it in the Netflix produced Biopic.
Regarding Joey's politics, he like many Jewish Americans, would be described as a Liberal Democrat. While his bandmate and antagonist Johnny Ramone was a staunch Conservative who idolized Nixon, do you know how the contrast between the two was so blatant! Joey was this romanticized poet who was taken for granted by his brutal taskmaster, Johnny who not only was responsible for stealing his Girlfriend, but went as far as demanding that Joey performs on stage even after being diagnosed with the horrible illness that eventually done him in. Rumor was at the time that the song “KKK Took my Baby Away” was about Johnny running off with his Girlfriend. “KKK” as in Johnny was perceived to be a racist as according to Marky Ramone, that he made several racist comments throughout the band’s tenure.
During Johnny's last days, he released his self-titled solo album with a great cover of Louis Armstrong's Wonderful World, then a song about his frustrations of being confined to a Hospital room when receiving treatment. His. what is seen as a swan song "Don't worry about me" was very sobering yet cathartic.
Fast forward to 2002, where I attended this huge gala at the infamous CBGB’s honoring the Joey Ramone Birthday Bash Tribute. If there are any pictures of me in the crowd, I was the tall guy wearing a Cobra T-shirt with a Misfits Cap.
After watching Jerry Only and his post Michaele Graves Misfits lineup, perform a set, I walked up to him and he was very cordial despite being exhausted from performing on stage and told me about his upcoming album Project 1950, a love letter to 50's rock music. Chopping it up with Jerry, was another highlight of the event but overall, it was a great party for a great iconic legend who left us way too soon. Joey may be gone, but far from forgotten. Rest in Power!