Joey Ramone (1951-2001) would have been 70 years old on May 19. In light of this fact, we’re republishing Steven Wishnia’s tribute from the August, 2001 issue of High Times.
A Tribute To Joey Ramone
I first heard the Ramones in the summer of 1976. Their radical simplicity was a revelation, rock ‘n’ roll stripped down to eighth-note guitar downstrokes and bass hammer-ons. Two months later, I saw them open for Talking Heads at Max’s Kansas City. Lead singer Joey Ramone came out in a leather jacket and ripped jeans, wrapped a long, skinny leg around the mike stand, and declared, “Hi, we’re the Ramones. And you’re a loudmouth, baby.”
Joey’s death of lymphoma on April 15—he was 49—was “like John Lennon’s,” reflects Punk magazine publisher John Holmstrom. People have been arguing for decades about where punk started, but the Ramones more than any other band gave it a name, a sound and an identity, inspiring others from U2 to Nirvana.
In the mid-’70s there were thousands of what Ramones bassist Dee Dee Ramone calls “angry kids who want to be creative,” who found that the most fun outlet for their rage was blasting loud, fast, simple rock ‘n’ roll. And when they first heard the Ramones or the Sex Pistols or whoever, at CBGB or Max’s or the Ramones’ legendary July 4, 1976 show at London’s Roundhouse, they discovered there were others like them.
Few would care at this late date, except that punk revitalized rock ‘n’ roll, which was becoming a stale, bloated, corporate beast. And for that it was harshly reviled, especially by the erstwhile rebels of the post-hippie rock scene.
In a more perfect world the Ramones would have a place equal to Chuck Berry or the Beatles. Beneath all the hype about punk being a lot of negative, destructive, no-talent junk, they were brilliant songwriters. From the “Hey! Ho! Let’s Go!” and chainsaw-guitar intro of “Blitzkrieg Bop” to “Rock-away Beach,” perhaps the best rock ‘n’ roll summer song of all time, from the sweet three-chord crunch of “I Wanna Be Sedated” to demented laments like “Every Time I Eat Vegetables It Makes Me Think of You,” Ramones tunes were both raging and romantic, hard and melodic, easily playable and accessible.
They never saw much commercial success, but they far outlasted any of their ’70s contemporaries, surviving into the mid-’90s and playing football stadiums in Argentina and Brazil.
Holmstrom says [Joey Ramone] was never much of a pot advocate, despite his teenage-burnout past and telling High Times that the pot laws were “totally fucked up.” “The Ramones’ song ‘Pinhead’ was the ultimate message of tolerance and acceptance,” Holmstrom summarizes, “because the Ramones were so whacked out from taking every drug in the world that they’d never turn their back on a fellow mental defective.” I remember being in the subway after the Ramones’ Central Park show in 1980, one of us yelling, “ONE-TW0-THREE-FOUR!” and somebody on the opposite platform shouting back, “CRETINS WANNA HOP SOME MORE!”
In his last years, Joey was often seen onstage with local bands at New York clubs like CBGB, Coney Island High and the Continental, joining them for encores of “Blitzkrieg Bop” and the like, carrying on the spirit passed down from the Ronettes and the New York Dolls. The Continental now has a plaque on the wall which says, “No one supported the local scene as much as him.”