BP Fallon remembers Joey Ramone
Joey Ramone by & © BP Fallon
Letter from America: Sunday April 15th 2001
Reprinted from The Irish Times April 24th 2001
I’m sorry to have to tell you that the Mayor Of The East Village Joey Ramone died this afternoon. He died from lymphatic cancer. His mum Charlotte said he was listening to U2′s In A Little While in his room at New York Presbyterian Hospital when he died. “Just as the song finished, Joey finished,” Charlotte said. He was 49.
Only a month or so ago I saw him on his perambulations, gangling down St. Mark’s Place, this rubbery creature who towered giraffe-like above the gaggle of excited Japanese girls who formed a moving clucking mass around him as he walked. And as he walked his neck craned down to meet their smiling upturned faces, this most unlikely – and enormously likeable – apostle of cool, mane of black hair blowing this way and that, automatic hand tugging it back, those yellowy-orange prescription shades like the bottoms of milkbottles that when the light hit them in a certain way you would see those bulbous eyes that he hid from the world, these eyes still excited by the quest but equally – more? – still shy and self-effacing.
Just a pop singer…
Just the singer in the fastest, blastest, tightest, rockin’est, coolest band of their magic moments.
Just fucking Joey Ramone.
First time I saw Joey was at the Roundhouse in 1976 when the Ramones blitzkrieg bopped into London for the very first time, waving a ‘Gabba Gabba Hey!’ placard and taking no prisoners. It was the Bicentennial Fourth Of July, a fact trumpeted by these feisty young American invaders from Queens, New York. Bloody hell.
The Ramones nailed ev’ryone to the wall.
Johnny’s chainsaw guitar, legs apart, moptop flying. Dee Dee’s barked exhortations of “1,2,3,4!” Tommy attacking the drums like the bloke from Black Sabbath on Lemmy-quality speed.
And in the middle at the front at the mic stand stands the human stick insect Joey Ramone, a mess of hippy hair at British punkdom’s Damascus, the hand holding the mic drowned by this scraggly waterfall of Woodstock visual, the face virtually absent, this humanoid freak looking like a geek and singing like Adonis.
Make no mistake, Joey was a romantic.
The Ramones sound, it was like a stripped-down Phil Spector record, speeded up and the sweetening gone and the naked engine snarling, heavenly choir transformed into gutter-gaunt revving roadster, this little monster hot-rod racing, rockin’ tough and hard. Hoodlum music with a smile, delinquent teen vignettes like Teenage Lobotomy and Beat On The Brat and Cretin Hop and Gimme Gimme Shock Treatment. Gene Vincent, the punk from Norfolk, Virginia who’d scored with Be Bop A Lula twenty years earlier, even Gene Vincent couldn’t have said it better. Really, the titles say it all, fast and funny and to the point. I Wanna Be Sedated. Sheena Is A Punk Rocker. Now I Wanna Sniff Some Glue. Classics…
And on top of this full-speed full-tilt amped-up electric mayhem there’s this voice of pop that when Phil Spector finally got to produce the Ramones – ‘cos he did and even if it was mad and even if it was crazy which of course it was because that’s just the way it is sometimes with ol’ Uncle Phil, well it was fated and that’s it. Anyways… down the line Phil gets to produce the Ramones and he takes this Joey voice,
this perfect pop voice for today people and he melds it to Baby, I Love You and God forgive me but it’s as good as Ronnie Spector’s immaculate vocal on the Phil Spector-produced original by The Ronettes. But while Mrs. Spector had sang it with wet-lipped joy and celebration, in Joey’s reading it was as if he was pleading his love. It was beautiful.
Last time I saw Joey sing was with Ronnie Spector. Ronnie sang Don’t Worry Baby and then they did a song written by one of Joey’s peers, Johnny Thunders, a song Joey had produced for Ronnie Spector’s new EP, Johnny’s song You Can’t Put Your Arms Around A Memory…
There on St. Mark’s Place we nodded greetings at each other.
Joey had always been one of those characters who you weren’t really sure if they actually remembered you or not, he seemed so gently affable but kinda out there at the same time.
The Boomtown Rats did a tour, their first tour of England proper, supporting Talking Heads and the headliners the Ramones, in 1977. Joey was the same then, Mr. Vagueout dreamin’ his dreams, charismatically freakish on stage and genuinely sweet to the ever-awed fans who crowded into the dressing-rooms after ev’ry show.
Then another BP charge with the unlikely name of Snips, a mate of Chris Spedding who’d sung with Ginger Baker, Snips landed the support on the latest Ramones tour. This is ’78. On the plane to Belfast I find myself sitting next to Johnny Ramone, Mike Clark Byrds hair framing a tight face. “How old are you?” I say idly (as one does…). Johnny thinks about this for a while, then ponders the question a bit more, then drifts into further cogitation. Finally, he takes in air and says, with great consideration, “Mid twenties”.
Dee Dee was another story altogether (see BP Moves Into Chelsea Hotel, Dee Dee Visits. Weird scenes from inside the goldmine vol. 69).
Anyways, when the plane gets to Belfast – this is the gig before the epochal Dublin gig at the State Cinema in Phibsboro – when the plane gets to Belfast all the Ramones, this cartoon rock’n'roll band of hair and leather jackets and ripped jeans, they scruff into a scruffy van and their manager Linda Stein, she swans into a flash limo. Ah, rock’n'roll high school…
After that Ronnie Spector gig here in New York at Life in the West Village a year and a bit ago, Arturo Vega the Ramones lighting guy from the year zero, he does all their graphics and stuff, he’s introducing me to Joey yet again,”Uh, you know BP Fallon?” “Yeah, you were on the tour we did with Snips,” Joey deadpans back drily, quick as a button and on the button too, memory sharp as an owl’s. “You used to wear a short green velvet robe, didn’t you?”
So on St Mark’s Place a few weeks back, we nod our greetings and amble on by.
I never thought I’d never see him again. God bless Joey Ramone. Gabba Gabba Hey!
- BP Fallon, East Village NYC April 15th 2001.
Joey Ramone and fan at CBGB by & © BP Fallon 2000
Ronnie Spector & Joey Ramone by & © BP Fallon 1999
Debbie Harry & Joey Ramone from Punk Magazine 1976
Just kids: Dee Dee & Joey via Phyllis Stein’s Facebook
Not kids anymore: Joey, Ronnie, Keith & Dee Dee
Joey Ramone May 19th 1951 – April 15th 2001
Dee Dee Ramone September 18th 1951 – June 5th 2002
Johnny Ramone October 8th 1948 – September 15th 2004
God Bless Da Brudders x
and Linda Stein April 24th 1945 – October 30th 2007