If you lived in nyc in the late 1970s, early 1980s, the Ramones were an endless summer when you were a child: you thought it would never end, you thought that whenever you had nothing else to do, you'd go to CBs or Hurrahs and catch the Ramones and you'd get one of the greatest, most accessible rock and roll bands and you would be this close to them.
The reason is, over and above their speed rock pop riffs and Wilson inspired melodies, which would make them big, they also weren't all that big. The Ramones never really broke through, they felt major, they were major. But they weren't big. That kept them a local/world phenomena. Joy still living above Richard Hell on the Lower East Side.
It is eleven years since Joey Ramone died of cancer at the bafflingly young age of 49. And there is a new, not very good, album …Ya Know, just released.
I was discussing the album with Helen Bach, and while she dismissed the album out of hand, I really love Joey's voice and while the music added after the fact is all well and good, and the songs are obviously drafts and not really for released, still I am happy to hear that punk height voice of his again. The 2002 post-humous Don't Worry About Me was nearly completed before his death and while it isn't Rocket To Russia, it is a solid piece of work. …Ya Know, is underwritten and over played and still, it tugs at me. While you can hear the hooks in place hear and there., on "make Me Tremble" and "Life's A Blast" for two.
"Make Me Tremble' has the chorus ready but the bridge falls apart and he seems to be using dummy lyrics here and there. It has every potential to be a major song but it isn't. The playing is OK, and it would be sophistication to call it entirely overplayed with the likes of Joan Jett and Stevie Van Zandt on hand but it is overplayed and the songs don't stick.
Still, it is Joey.
I was friendly with Joey in the summer of 1979, hanging out at CBGB's every night (I lived in the same Hotel as Stiv Bators, the Paramount in midtown), drinking heavily, playing pinball. He was rock and roll royalty there but I got on quite well with him. Towards the end of the summer, he told me the Ramones were playing Canada and did I want to tag along. No money, and I was responsible for room and board, but I got to stay on the bus and go to all the shows. I had a job and said no, and man do I regret it.
By the time Joey got back, he barely recognized me when we saw him and we were never buddies again. Too many people wanted his attention, too many people fed off him. It was tough to be friends with a civilian.
I continued to see the Ramones on stage through the mid-1990s, and saw one of their last performances at the late lamented Academy. A terrific set, time hadn't touched them. It felt like the summer of 1979.
Losing Joey is ridiculous, the man was ageless, the man never changed from the day he hunched over his mic at CBGB's. But you can't recapture the past, everything is gone and only the music survives. Even this survives… ya know?.
Life's a blast and then you die