Goodbye, Joey Ramone

In memories from readers, the late punk rocker is many things: a hero, a friend -- even the spirit of Christmas!

By Salon Staff
Published April 18, 2001 6:17PM (EDT)

Read the stories:

"Johnny Ramone, R.I.P." by Bill Wyman
"The late, great Joey Ramone," remembrances by friends, musicians and journalists

- - - - - - - - - - - -

Joey's ... dead? It's gonna be a gray day today ...

But punk's not dead. It's just as sick as it ever was.

-- Jimmy Havok

I remember sitting in a movie theater when the Ramones (for good or ill) changed my life. The movie was "Times Square" (1980) and it was the first time a rural-suburban/pre-MTV-era kid (me) had ever heard music that didn't sound like Skynyrd, Led Zep or the like ... The first time I ever heard P. Smith, the Cure, etc. and especially THE RAMONES. The next day I bought all the Ramones albums I could find (two) at the local department store's pathetic music section, and a few weeks after that, I bought a guitar.

-- T. O'C.

After catching the Ramones at the Roxy in Hollywood, I was able to meet Joey with Rodney Bingenheimer at the Rainbow Grill after the show. After being introduced, I told Joey, "Thanks for saving me from disco." He replied back, "I hear that a lot." Joey will live forever. He made us feel good about being D-U-M-B.

-- Marc Sweeney

The news of Joey Ramone's passing saddened me today.

Callously, I'll admit I was not saddened so much by the news of his death itself (deep down, we all expect rock stars to die "early" -- it's in the job description) but rather by a wistful longing for my own halcyon days as a skinny teenage punk in the late '70s.

Now that I'm in the wrong half of the 30-somethings, I think I've earned the right to look back on my youth misspent in the late '70s and canonize it the way that all those blathering baby boomers automatically elevate any '60s personage/event/movement to divine status.

Growing up in a staid, working-class southern suburb of Brisbane, Australia (it was and mostly still is as big a cultural backwater as it sounds), and being "educated" from age 10 in the brutally Darwinian environment of a Catholic all-boys school, my small group of aberrant friends and I had little cause for hope. Culturally and intellectually our lives were destined to be violent, poor, nasty, brutish and short. There was no one to speak for us, no voice for our lost and forgotten fragment of a generation.

And then we found the Ramones. Here was music that spoke to us and about us, music that captured and expressed not just our feelings but our inner beings, music for our souls.

Their songs were, well, violent, poor, nasty, brutish and short. The Ramones were just like us -- skinny, ugly, untalented. Sure we were angry, alienated and sexually frustrated too, but that sure wasn't something worth protesting about -- it was just how things were.

All we ever really wanted was someone to say out loud, really, really loud, how we felt, and now we had that someone. The best thing was, apart from us, the selected few, no one else at our school or in our neighborhood liked them or understood them.

I'll never forget the time they came to Brisbane. There were about 4,000 other people there, probably just like us I guess. (I was too obsessed with getting close to the band to really notice the other people -- I think we believed that they were performing just for us.)

Yes, I remember seeing Joey, up real close. My friend Mark probably still has (somewhere) the couple of snaps that he took while we all jumped up and down on the spot, blitzkrieg bopping in lieu of dancing. (And who wanted to dance, anyway?)

Of course we talked about it incessantly at school for months after the concert -- even in the days immediately following when we couldn't hear anything. Fifty-five minutes, 28 songs, with no encore, of raw, tuneless, unmelodic magic.

Looking back, I guess you'd call us punks, but, unlike the kids I see today, for us it wasn't about making a fashion statement or carefully adopting an "alternative" image; we didn't even know what "fashion" or "image" was. For us it really was just about finding a way of expressing who we were and what we felt during our tormented and pointless adolescence.

My Ramones friends and I have long since moved on to the comfortable middle class -- one runs his own business and another is a doctor. The wildest music played in my apartment these days is Mozart, which I religiously play to my 9-month-old daughter each morning.

I now teach high school English, always fiercely resisting the urge to tell my students about the "good old days" of the punk era of the late '70s and how I was there and how I lived through the revolution, yada yada yada.

Honestly, I couldn't be bothered, and it really didn't mean that much anyway ... but that's the difference between growing up in the '70s and in the '60s, I guess. We children of the punk '70s know that it didn't matter.

-- Steve Uscinski

Bill Wyman's eulogy has way too much talking about this and that. The Ramones were never about analysis, but about rock, pure and simple. I had the good fortune to see them many times, from 1979 to the early '80s, and the simple fact of the matter is that they rocked, and they rocked hard. I was convinced that they must be speed freaks because of the insane velocity at which they played their live shows, but once, when I was working security at a Ramones show, I asked Johnny Ramone if they did speed, and he said no, it was real energy.

And that's what they delivered, pure and simple. That was the message that catalyzed the punk movement, and that was what every young punk heard that had been missing from the Eagles, Pink Floyd and the rest of the '70s groups. The Ramones put the rock back into rock 'n' roll, and for that I will always be grateful.

-- Harald Hope

Remind me never to have Bill Wyman do a eulogy for anyone I know. He worries more about how the person who died, in this case Joey Ramone, affects him rather than how that person made a difference in the world. I'm not finding fault with his seeming encyclopedic knowledge of the rocker, but his insensitive tribute to him in such sentences as "The Ramones were never as dumb as they looked, but they weren't geniuses either. But listening to Joey think his way through that particular political act in that particular song is a lesson in moral education that any of us can learn from" really serves little purpose other than to incite. Perhaps he studied in the Sid Vicious school of Journalism and can only pretend to report, not actually do so.

-- A. Joyce

Of all the remembrances printed here about the sadly departed Joey Ramone, Jim Testa and Freddie Patterson are the only ones who seem to get it. The other two just sound so damn condescending towards Joey. If they measured the smarts of the band or, more importantly, the man by the face value of the lyrics (which they sound like they are) then they really have missed the point. For those of us who discovered punk in high school and have Joey and the boys to thank for it, it really doesn't matter. The rest of the world obviously didn't get it to begin with. Howsabout some more-a that-there shock treatment?!!!

So long, funny man!

-- Vince Grogan

In the summer of 1983, just before I turned 11, my parents finally bought a VCR. One of the first films that I picked out on a family trip to the video store was "Rock 'n' Roll High School." My friend Kathi and I watched it on an afternoon when we should've been swimming or playing tennis at the club. Kathi had older brothers and sisters, but I didn't know from punk rock. When Riff Randle sat daydreaming on her bed and that adenoidal voice began "Ahwanchoorarayownd," I was utterly mesmerized by the gangly, oddly coifed romantic antihero in Chuck Taylors that was Joey Ramone. I have seen and heard the world differently since that day. May he rest in peace.

-- Mia Guizzetti

One of the joys of paying attention to the world around us is having the chance, every once in a while, to become aware of something great when most people around you cannot, or will not, appreciate its greatness. The Ramones did that for me.

One of my favorite Ramones memories is from a concert in '81 at the University of Maryland. I brought some friends with me who were just beginning to (reluctantly) open their minds to something beyond what they heard on the radio. Going in, I headed to a spot that would put us right in front of Johnny. They were either going to "get it" or be scarred for life. The band came out, Dee Dee counted off and off they went. I will never forget the looks on my friends' faces. At first, shock and disbelief at the speed and power of it. By about the third song ("California Sun" comes to mind), they had joined the rest of us in bliss. They have all told me many times since that that was a moment of revelation.

It's been a long time since I've even listened to the Ramones. Or Minor Threat. Or the Clash. Or the Dickies. (OK, so I still queue up Joy Division from time to time.) But I'm still a punk rocker and always will be. I thank Joey for that.

-- P.E. Preston

Bono couldn't deliver Joey Ramone's pizza.

-- Victoria Joyce

About five or six years ago New York had its worst blizzard in years. It was something like 22 inches of snow. After the storm there were giant mounds of snow everywhere.

Three days later, on Christmas Eve, I am helping a friend do his last-minute shopping, when out of the record store walks Joey Ramone with a bunch of friends.

He was about half a block away from us. "There's Joey Ramone!" I say. I start having that debate within myself about do I say something, do I just let him go? I turn to my friend and figure it's up to him. He was from Queens, after all.

I could see him visibly struggling about what to do. By this point Joey's getting away. He's already in the middle of the next street. Finally my friend screams, "Hey, Joey!" and raises his arms over his head and shouts "Merry Christmas!"

Joey Ramone turns around and walks the block and a half back to us, climbing over a mountain of snow at the curb that had to be 8 feet high. He shakes our hands and says, "Hey, man, Merry Christmas."

It felt like we had met Santa Claus. Now we tell people that that snowy Christmas Eve was when we realized that Joey Ramone was the spirit of Christmas.

I love that guy.

-- Kevin Whelan

Like Ira Robbins (who I unknowingly stood beside at CBGB) I didn't get the Ramones at first. I liked them, but they didn't seem as "serious" as Television, Talking Heads or even Blondie to my teenage sensibilites. But I quickly warmed up to them -- the band's unpretentious energy and humor made resistance impossible.

I even remained a fan after my girlfriend at the time abandoned me at CBGB to go home with Joey. Given the times, the three of us hung out a few days later and I found Joey to be a sweet guy, who seemed a little uncomfortable with the Noel Coward dynamics of our relationship. (It wasn't necessary: This was a girl who later asked me if she should include "gave an onstage blow job to Stiv Bators" on her résumé.)

My favorite Ramones memory has nothing to do with Joey, though. I wasn't published when their first album came out, so I had to go out and buy the album, and went down to the Discomat store by Madison Square Garden. When I walked up to the cashier, the girl behind the counter was scandalized.

"Do you know what that sounds like?" she asked, a little unnerved. When I assured her I did, she called her supervisor, telling him, on the verge of tears, that "I can't sell this."

Not that I needed much convincing, but after that I was sure I was on the right musical track.

-- Steven Mirkin

I was lucky enough to grow up in the borough of Queens in the 1970s.

I stumbled upon the Ramones, by chance, at a bar on Queens Boulevard called the Coventry in or around 1974. They were the support group for one of the very early gigs by Johnny Thunder's Heartbreakers.

I was 17. There were no more than 30 people there. The Ramones blew me away. I started going to see them every chance I could. They represented everything that I identified with and they captured the essence of what NYC was all about at the time.

They sang about places I knew well: Coney Island, Rockaway Beach, the dirty streets of the Lower East Side. They spoke the truth. They had more power and energy than any band I had seen since the Stooges. And most important, they gave us hope, hope that there was a way out of the dead-end borough.

Thanks to their inspiration, I got out. I played bass in a million groups, most notably the Fuzztones, Syl Sylvain's band. I've put out records and I toured the world. I don't think I'd have had the guts to do it if it wasn't for the Ramones. I'd probably have ended up like my buddies from high school, still in Queens, in dead-end jobs, with four kids. Thanks Joey. You'll be missed.

-- John Carlucci

I was not prepared for Joey Ramone. His voice shook me to my core. I couldn't feel my body when the band blew like a hurricane through those dusty, tired clubs. What a fantastic disaster he created!

The Ramones songs were my mantras, and Joey sang them with grace. I knew him a little. He was kind and decent, and looked beautiful with his hands dyed blue from sweating through his fingerless gloves.

Gabba gabba hey! Forever.

-- Jenine de Shazer

I was working for a real-estate partnership in San Francisco in the summer of 1976 that employed cheap hippie labor to fix up old Victorian houses. Nick, a fellow house painter (that week), asked me to wait in his VW van while he scored some grass during one of our many breaks. "Check out this tape while I'm gone," he said.

For 20 minutes I rocked out to the liberating anarchy of Joey Ramone's firecracker songs. "So, did you like it?" asked Nick as he swung back behind the wheel. "Yeah, it was OK," I muttered with feigned boredom.

I read somewhere that Joey Ramone thought his accomplishments were largely ignored. Those three-minute songs were anthems for losers like me and Nick. If Joey felt any different he wouldn't have surfaced and we would never have escaped the '70s.

-- Anonymous

Back in 1985, I first heard the Ramones while living in Dayton, Ohio. It was their first album ("Ramones"). I was cranking them in my '74 Chevy Vega while working on the car in a garage in east Dayton and an older guy (I was 17) walked up to me and told me that he and his friends grew up on them. It made me think, What kind of band was this?

I was friends with an elderly lady in her 60s; she owned the garage. I was listening to it while playing cards with her and asked her opinion of them. She said, "Why does he sing like he has a mouth full of shit?" It didn't stop me, though. I saw them years later in St. Pete, and in Ohio on the Escape From New York tour.

The real thing is that though they were coarse, they lifted me up many times from the depths of depression. I am sad that Joey is gone because they never got the recognition they deserved.

Sure, they played three chords. (How many times did I hear that growing up?) It didn't matter. It wasn't that they played three chords, it was how they played them. And without Joey, those three chords will never sound the same.

-- Dave Money

Congratulations, you did it right. You let the people who mattered and know have the last and possibly the best word on Joey Ramone and what he meant to many. The first song I learned to play on the bass was the Ramones. My (ex-)wife and I danced to them at our wedding and the proudest thing I did was to give my nephew a Ramones tape to nurture his inner rock 'n' roller. Godspeed Joey, and thank you Salon.

-- Larry Higgs

I first heard of the Ramones when I read a review of their debut album in Creem magazine. My curiosity piqued, I went to one of the local record shops here in Orange County, Calif., whereupon I grabbed a copy (one that I still have, btw) and took it to the counter. The clerk there asked, "Do you really like this crap?"

I could only reply that I would know when I listened to it. Like some others Salon quoted in the article, it took me a few listens to figure out, but the humor and the driving melodiousness of it all eventually hooked me.

Ironically, the only time I saw the Ramones play was when they opened for Black Sabbath at Long Beach Arena in 1978, the last tour with Ozzy. I was a huge Sabbath fan, but they were awful that night, while Joey and the boys played brilliantly before an unfortunately very unappreciative crowd.

Those first three Ramones albums are some of the greatest rock records of all time. There were perhaps only about half a dozen groups that came out of the whole punk/new wave thing that were truly great, and "Ramones," "Leave Home" and "Rocket to Russia" were the ultimate in that style of music.

-- Gary Garland

Joey Ramone's death is to me what Frank Sinatra's and John Lennon's deaths were to other generations. The Ramones forever changed my life and my outlook on art and music. Seems silly when you're talking about four leather-clad guys who played noisy, seemingly simplistic rock songs. But as many others have mentioned, their DIY aesthetic inspired me to take risks, not succumb to the mainstream, and to not be afraid to express myself creatively. And, oh yeah -- they flat-out rocked!

So thank you, Salon, for your funny and poignant tribute to Joey. Whatever small part I can play in keeping you in business, I'll be happy to do. Gabba gabba hey!

-- Craig Dominey

Thanks to Bill Wyman for his nice piece on Joey Ramone. I hate to think that the guy is gone. I bought the Ramones' first album when it first came out, after reading some rumor bits about it in the rock press; I loved it, and still listen to it, along with much of the rest of the Ramones' work.

I saw the band twice at a small club in Ann Arbor, Mich., in 1975 and '76, and on the second date had the wonderful experience of sitting on the bench next to their sound man during the performance. The '75 gig was memorable for the band's crazy good humor and their blistering, no-let-up attack. They raced through all the songs in their repertoire, and when they ran out of the ones they knew, they started over again from the beginning! Play it again, Joey!

Joey, weird-looking, menacing, but somehow also like a stray pup you'd want to take home and feed, wrapped himself around the microphone stand and delivered the lyrics with that inimitable wry demeanor. What a great band, and what a blessed antidote they were, not only to the bloated arena rock of the era but to the political bloat of Nixon, Ford, Carter et al.

I hate to think that Joey is gone, but his music is still here, and it's still good. Gabba gabba hey!

-- Grant Burns

Thanks for the moving tributes to Joey Ramone. I would say that it is impossible to overstate how influential the Ramones were to contemporary rock music. Were it not for Joey's belief in keeping it "short, fast and simple" there would have been no Clash, no Sex Pistols, no X, etc.

Most of the bands who received their original inspiration from the Ramones ventured away from the formula at one time or another, but the Ramones are not to be judged less imaginative for not doing so. It's just that they were fundamentalists for the religion known as "rock 'n' roll" (not "rock," which was the very thing they were trying to get away from).

They were the godfathers of punk, but they were never really "punk" as it came to be narrowly defined. Their music was meant to elicit a smile and a joyous bounce from the listener, not a snarl and scowl like most of the spiked-haired one-note angst merchants. And they were reverent of the past -- if by the past you mean the Ronettes, the Crystals and the Shangri-Las, unlike the rest of the punk herd, who seemed unaware that any music ever existed before they first plugged in their amps.

So celebrate the short but important life of Joey by putting on one of the records (the early albums would be among my preferences, particularly "Ramones" -- a pure, beautiful 23-minute pop masterpiece) and bopping around your room as if it was a packed CBGB on a sweaty Saturday night in 1975.

-- Ken Munch

Several months ago I was at the Exit in Chicago (an "underground" institution that managed to survive the post-Dennis Rodman fallout). As soon as I walked through the door, the first thing I saw was a heavily tattooed biker, a saucy little drag queen and an Ambercrombie & Fitch suburbanite, all sitting next to one another, singing along to "The KKK Took My Baby Away."

It was one of the few times in my life that I felt genuine hope and optimism for the human society.

-- Pete Sopko

R.I.P. Joey Ramone:

I adored your first gig in August 1976 at the Savoy Tivoli in San Francisco. Your very kind tour manager, Monte Melnick, arranged tickets for me and V. Vale that night. I clearly recall how amazing it was to see your huge white gear trucks in narrow Grant Avenue in North Beach. I remember wearing a blue and white frock with my leather jacket and standing in a small crowd of around 30 people near the back of the hall! Wow! I so was excited to see a new band from New York! It was like watching brilliant rock 'n roll windup dolls onstage! That night completely changed my life!

I saw many, many gigs after that, mostly in London, England. I was also lucky enough to catch you in Paris, New Jersey, New York and California, and each time the Ramones vibe just got better and better.

I'll never, ever forget you ...

With love always from an original Ramones fan,

-- Vermilion Sands

The Ramones for me and many of my friends were our rock 'n' roll ground zero. Out on the road, out on the street, whenever you met up with some musicians and you wanted to know what you might have in common -- and whether they were cool -- you'd measure their love of the Ramones (or lack of). The answer usually said something about why they played music in the first place and what they wanted out of it, and what they hoped to give back.

In college, I shared a house with a bunch of misfit pickers. We shared a car as well that had one cassette stuck in the player -- "Rocket to Russia." Over and over again it played. Day after day, anyone who came in the house was singing the Ramones, usually unaware that it was drifting off their lips. I don't recall anyone complaining, nor did the car's owner make any effort to unstick the cassette.

Those same folks reunited for a Fourth of July in Hoboken a few years ago to see Marshall Crenshaw, who for the occasion performed three Ramones songs. It was Independence Day, after all.

When Lambchop, my band, toured a few years ago with Yo La Tengo, there were a number of shared encores but none quite as frenetic or as free as when we did "Sheena Is a Punk Rocker," 18 people strong. That's rock 'n' roll, and I want some. Apple pie. Chevrolet. Gabba gabba hey.

-- Paul Burch

Salon Staff

MORE FROM Salon Staff

Related Topics ------------------------------------------