Nineteen years ago today, I was still living in my parents’ house in Plainview, NY. It was sometime in the evening, and I was in the basement on the computer. My mother came downstairs to let me know that Joey Ramone had passed away after a long fight with Lymphoma. I remember stopping what I was doing, finding a place on the 2001 internet to leave a tribute, writing it, & then sobbing for the next several minutes. Joey Ramone – well, the Ramones in general – had a huge impact on my life. Discovering their music and style brought me out of my shell – a shell I didn’t really know I was even in.
I remember I was in 9th grade, and over a friend’s house. We were listening to music, and he threw on the CD Ramones Mania which kicked off with one of their biggest ever hits, I Wanna Be Sedated. “Oh, I know this song. Who is this?,” I remember saying. “It’s the Ramones,” my friend exclaimed. As if I should have known. To that point I think my favorite bands were Guns N Roses and Mötley Crüe. The G’N’R song Rocket Queen had been my main inspiration to start playing the bass. Duff McKagan is still one of my favorite bass players to this day. And Mötley Crüe is still one of the best concerts I’ve ever seen. But this was 1991/2. I was in 9th grade; a little shy, on the smaller side, had no sense of my own style, and just trying to figure out my place in the grand scheme of high school.
But I knew one thing – I wanted to be in a band. So, now I had instruments – the electric bass as well as my voice, and I had an influence. I bought my own copy of Ramones Mania and played it on repeat. I started buying more of their CD’s. I bought slim jeans and beat them to hell, and horizontal striped t-shirts, and a motorcycle jacket. I started letting my hair grow out. Sure, I took my share of shit from other kids, but I didn’t care. I watched a video the Ramones had put out called Lifestyles of the Ramones – again, on repeat. I started listening to the bands that influenced the Ramones – The Velvet Underground, T. Rex, The Stooges, and The New York Dolls, – and those influenced by the Ramones – The Clash, The Sex Pistols, & The Damned, etc.
The following school year, I finally started playing with a band. We called ourselves Unpretty, and were heavily influenced by the Ramones. I wrote a piece about this band for a site called For Those Who Tried to Rock several years back. It’s still there. We wrote our own songs – my contributions could have been Ramones songs. One which was called Sorry, Sorry, Sorry could have been mistaken at points for Wart Hog. And we covered Blitzkrieg Bop. It was around this time I started to become more familiar with the band members, and realized that my idol in the band, Dee Dee Ramone had left, and had been replaced by CJ Ramone. In the coming years, some of my favorite Ramones songs were written by Dee Dee such as Poison Heart and Strength To Endure, which happened to be sung by CJ.
But Johnny and Joey were always constants in the band. The two grew to hate each other for various reasons, but they were there. I saw them in concert for the first time when I was in 10th grade. I went with my girlfriend, Heather to see them at The Academy in New York City. It was a fantastic, small music venue that like many would ultimately close. One of the openers was Angelfish, Shirley Manson’s band prior to Garbage. I didn’t care – I was there for The Ramones. I would see them another five or six more times before they retired. My favorite was probably seeing them play in the gymnasium at Nassau Community College. It felt like there were maybe 80 people watching that show (though, it was probably a lot more.)
I continued playing in bands throughout high school, and for a few years after. We covered a lot of their songs in addition to Blitzkrieg Bop including I Wanna Be Sedated, Psycho Therapy, Judy is a Punk, and even their version of The Byrds – My Back Pages which appeared on their all-covers album, Acid Eaters.
Ultimately, I cut my hair and went to work in a preppy retail store. Today, as I write this I am dressed in tailored jeans and a pink oxford from Gant. I ended my punk fashion phase many years ago but never stopped listening to the music. I’m amused when I see young kids wearing Ramones t-shirts that may have been purchased at Urban Outfitters or Old Navy. Do they know the music? Maybe. Has it had the impact on them that it’s had on me? Probably not. Nineteen years after Joey’s death, all original Ramones have passed away. A little over a year after Joey’s death, Dee Dee was found dead of an apparent heroin overdose. The date was June 5, 2002. Johnny Ramone passed on September 15, 2004 from prostate cancer. And ten years later on July 11, 2014 Tommy Ramone also passed away from cancer. Surviving members include drummers Marky & Ritchie, and bassist CJ.
And I just found out a little while ago that my own Aunt Marcia Jacobs passed away this morning – the last of that generation from that part of my family. She was my grandmother’s younger sister. My grandmother passed last September. Due to the current situation surrounding COVID-19 I will not be able to travel home to New York for her funeral. But now I’ll have two influential people in my life to think about on this day. Strange how that works out.