The InsiderOne Daily Report

  Monday, April 16, 2001

I Wanna Be Your Joey Ramone

InsiderOne's Michael Goldberg writes: Once the Ramones were on the front lines of a revolution. Hell, they sparked the punk revolution, and Joey Ramone, who died of lymphatic cancer on Sunday afternoon, April 15, was right there, standing tall, front and center, delivering haiku-like lyrics, some of which he wrote, over the group's stripped-down punk rock roar. He was an original, a punk archetype. Ripped jeans, T-shirt, Converse shoes, black leather jacket, shades, long hair. Nowadays, "punk" calls to mind a cliché with spiked hair. In the mid- '70s, out here in California, when my friends and I started reading about this band the Ramones in the Village Voice, and saw pictures of Joey and Tommy and Johnny and Dee Dee, we didn't see a cliché. We saw something new under the sun. And then we heard the music. I remember getting a review copy of the first album, Ramones, in the mail. To me, that record — for it was a 12-inch vinyl album, not a CD — might as well have been a magical talisman. Certainly it had transformative powers. I played it again and again. Twenty-five years later, it remains an absolutely perfect album. In 1976, listening to the Ramones was like plugging yourself into a wall socket, connecting to the source of life itself. The music was so different from anything else. I loved Joey's voice! He sang the most minimal of lyrics with an appropriated British vocal style. While the group was known for its intense "loud, fast rules!" rockers like "Blitzkrieg Bop" and "Beat on the Brat," Joey also sang ballads, and "I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend," also on that debut, is a beautiful and heartfelt song. The thing about the Ramones was that they were funny as hell, and dead serious at the same time. They came to represent disenfranchised youth (and those who still felt young), all of us who felt we didn't fit in, and didn't wanna fit in. The Ramones said it was all right. That we were OK, and we had each other. The Ramones inspired thousands of bands to form, both directly and indirectly. It is a matter of public record that kids in England, after seeing the Ramones, formed the Sex Pistols and the Clash and a whole bunch of other English punk combos. Nirvana (and grunge) would not have existed without the Ramones. Joey Ramone was a friend of mine — not a close friend, but a friend all the same. As a young man I interviewed the group on their second trip to San Francisco, and saw them play a tiny room at the back of the Savoy Tivoli on upper Grant. I played Ramones songs to my baby son soon after we brought him home from the hospital, and when he was older, I took him to see the Ramones perform. Years later, shortly after I started Addicted To Noise, we asked Joey if he wanted to contribute what we called "Road Reports." One of the premises of Addicted To Noise was that we were going to tell the real story of rock 'n' roll. We weren't gonna pretend that bands like Journey were worth a shit. We were going to treat the Ramones as they deserved to be treated. The Ramones were as important as Elvis and the Beatles and the Rolling Stones and we treated them that way. It mattered not that they'd never sold many records. Like the Velvet Underground and the Stooges and the MC5 and, later, Sonic Youth, they were the real thing. As it turned out, Joey was into writing for Addicted to Noise — he was a contributing editor — and with the help of writer Jaan Uhelszki (who acted as Joey's editor) we ran numerous road reports, and presented one audio Internet radio show hosted by Joey, "Joey Ramone's Radio Coup." For a time, Joey and I talked often on the phone. It was hard, actually, to get Joey off the phone, which became something of a problem for me. I loved talking to him — it was an honor. But Addicted To Noise was an Internet business that was exploding — I was working 14 hour days, seven days a week and not getting half of what needed to be completed done — and I didn't have the hours to spend on the phone with anyone, not even Joey. I still feel bad about that — instead Jaan, and later Gil Kaufman, would talk to him. Occasionally, even before the Ramones disbanded, he spoke to me of recording a solo album — and both Reprise and Epitaph were interested. But being in the Ramones for all those years had worn him out. Then there was his illness, which he was very private about. I wish he had released a solo album. I think it could have been a good thing for him — and for us. Certainly, he was writing some amazing songs in the latter part of his life. A great one is "She Talks to Rainbows," a song that first appeared on the Ramones' Adios Amigos! and that Joey later co- produced for a Ronnie Spector EP. Neither Joey nor the Ramones experienced the success that they deserved. Then again, maybe that was the way it had to be. Real rock 'n' roll is rarely establishment music. It's not Burger King or "Friends." It's like that line in "The Wild One," where Brando's character is asked, "What are you rebelling against?" His reply: "Whaddaya got?" For as long as they existed, the Ramones could be ours — a kind of public secret that only real rock fans understood. Joey dug the fact that so many bands were inspired by the Ramones, and that decades after they'd formed, new Ramones-style bands were still forming. And what could be more of a compliment than Sleater-Kinney singing "I Wanna Be Your Joey Ramone"?

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Michael Goldberg is the president of He founded Addicted To Noise in 1994.

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