"Hey ho! Let’s go"’ – and so they did … Beginning in 2001, the cartoon men of punk-rock cool began shuffling off into the afterlife as quickly as one of those two-minute wonders that bewitched us all back in 1976. As The Ramones skulked off, the myth of the band was duly established: seen as something of a joke a quarter of a century back, the band are now looked upon as gods by the outsiders who followed their stumbling career.
First away was Joey, the man who perhaps most epitomized the ethic of The Ramones: awkward-looking, a skinny misfit – and at six foot six a target for the other kids at Forest Hills High School. The former Jeffrey Hyman grew up in the tough township near Queens, New York, a big fan of those original UK ‘punk rockers’ The Rolling Stones, The Who and, uh, Herman’s Hermits. A major hero was Keith Moon, this fact placing Hyman in the traps as The Ramones began to come together in 1974.
Since his height clearly made it impossible for Hyman – now Joey Ramone – to sit behind the drums, the budding musician was offered centre stage by school/bandmates Johnny Ramone (John Cummings, guitar), Dee Dee Ramone (Douglas Colvin, bass – originally the band’s studio manager) and Tommy Ramone (Thomas Erdelyi, drums – the second of many Ramones percussionists).
The group had really arrived once word escaped of their twenty-minute residency sets at New York’s legendary CBGB’s. Where longer shows were demanded, The Ramones would merely repeat the set. (Joey: "First time I went, there was sawdust over the floor and dogshit everywhere …") ‘If you’re not in it - you’re out of it.’ The wisdom of Joey Accompanying the punchy sets, the band’s leathers, ripped denims and sneakers made for a disquieting look, even among the likes of contemporaries David Byrne, Deborah Harry, Richard Hell, Patti Smith and Tom Verlaine.
Sire Records stepped in anyway and signed the band, who recorded their debut album, The Ramones, for just $6,000 early in 1976. The tunes were more ‘garage’ than ‘punk’, but the ethic was there in early standards like "Now I Wanna Sniff Some Glue" and "Beat on the Brat" (at 2’30”, the second-longest track on the album). Remarkably, the record made its way to US number 111! The band were nothing if not prolific: two further albums emerged in 1977, Ramones "Leave Home" and "Rocket To Russia", the latter containing a first UK Top Forty hit in "Sheena is a Punk Rocker" (the best they ever managed at home was sixty-six with "Rockaway Beach").
Joey, in particular, was a huge believer in pop, encouraging a more classic sound for "Road To Ruin" (1978) and the Phil Spector-produced "End of the Century" (1980), crystallized in the latter’s standout track "‘(Do You Remember) Rock ‘n’ Roll Radio?" (Indeed, Joey was the only Ramone to get along with the unpredictable producer – who was said to have pulled a gun on the band when they attempted to walk out!) Ramones records after this were far less essential, though "Too Tough to Die" (1984) showed a solid understanding of the USA’s new hardcore movement.
By now, a rift between longtime members Joey and Johnny had dampened matters more than they’d realized: it seems Johnny stole Joey’s girlfriend Linda in the early eighties – and then married her. This was not ‘brudderly love’, and the pair were never to make up. As though somehow emphasizing his standing as a ‘one-off’, Joey Ramone never married nor sired any children. Always of questionable health, he’d been born sterile and was also susceptible to many other ailments (the band’s "I Wanna be Sedated" (1978) was supposedly written after the singer’s collapse from exhaustion following a strenuous tour).
Joey’s idiosyncratic behaviour was later put down to obsessive-compulsive disorder, bandmates often remarking upon his many quirks and rituals. Then, as The Ramones wound down, Joey Ramone was diagnosed with lymphoma in 1994, treatment for which remained hidden from the public eye but hampered much of his planned solo work. (The album "Don’t Worry about Me" did emerge posthumously (2002), the bravery of its title enhanced by a touching version of Louis Armstrong’s "What a Wonderful World".)
Although known to have been a drug-user in his younger days, Joey’s unexpected death on Easter Sunday 2001 in a New York hospital (supposedly after listening to U2) made him punk’s first major casualty not to die from an overdose or commit suicide. ‘The closest I can describe is Jerry Lewis in The Nutty Professor.1 Mitchell ‘Mickey Leigh’ Hyman recalls watching his brother on stage for the first time
Between The Bowery and 2nd Street – just behind the venue that used to be CBGB’s – now lies "Joey Ramone Place", officially renamed in November 2003.
Source: The Encyclopedia of Dead Rock Stars - Jeremy Simmonds, 2nd Edition, Chicago Review Press, Incorporated, 2012, pages 378 - 379
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