Yesterday marked 19 years since Joey Ramone, the lead singer of the legendary punk band The Ramones, passed away. He died at the much too young age of 49 after valiantly battling lymphoma for several years.
At the time the passing of Joey Ramone hit me pretty hard. I was (and still am) a huge fan of the band. When people ask my top five favorite bands, The Ramones is always near the top of the list. Even though they had broken up in 1996, there was always a faint hope of a reunion down the road and maybe a new album. But with Joey dead, that wasn’t going to happen. The Ramones were really, truly gone for good.
The day after Joey died I clearly remember playing Ramones CDs practically nonstop at work and my wife went out and bought me a bootleg live CD from a store in New Hope hoping it would cheer me up. That’s how bummed I was about the loss of one of my musical heroes.
The funny part is that if it wasn’t for Stephen King and a trip to the Jersey Shore, I never would have fallen in love with the band in the first place.
My indoctrination into the world of the Ramones came in the form of 1989’s Brain Drain, the band’s eleventh album. On that record is the track “Pet Sematary” which was featured in the film of the same name. Based on the bestselling novel, the track was included thanks to King having been a huge Ramones fan for a number of years. It was written by Dee Dee Ramone and became one of the band’s only radio hits.
I had gone to see the movie with some friends when it hit theaters and remember enjoying the song a lot, more than the actual movie if I’m being honest. One trip to Wall to Wall Sound and Video later and I was the proud owner of the cassette version of Brain Drain. I listened to it a couple times and promptly put it on the pile with all my other cassettes, forgotten.
Flash forward a few months and my family was heading down to Ocean City, New Jersey for a long weekend at the shore. While my mother and sister had each brought a friend with them to hang out, I was going solo. The person I had asked to go had backed out at the last minute so the weekend turned into a party of one.
Luckily I had my Sony Walkman with me (ask your parents if you have no clue what a Walkman is kids.) and I had grabbed a couple cassettes to take with me. One was a Bon Jovi album and the other was Brain Drain.
I must have listened to that cassette 20 times over the course of that weekend. Each of the 12 tracks became permanently burned into my memory. “Learn to Listen”, “Palisades Park” and “Don’t Bust My Chops” are all songs I can recite the lyrics to from heart. I fell in love with the band that weekend and what followed was a binge of Ramones music the likes of which few had seen. In the span of a little over a year I would own most their discography as well as a few bootleg live shows.
In 1992 the band released Mondo Bizarro, the follow-up to Brain Drain and I had it the day it arrived in stores. Two years later I would finally get to see my heroes live when they played the Tower Theater in Philadelphia. I went to the show with some guys from my job and it was everything I tought it would be and more. I still vividly recall when the band broke into “Pet Sematary” and how I completely lost it.
Once Joey was gone, it made me really appreciate the fact I got to see them live that much more. If the end had come for The Ramones and I had not had the chance to see them live, it would have been a regret I would have had to live with the rest of my life.
Last December I had the chance to see the band’s drummer Marky Ramone play Ardmore Music Hall with his group Marky Ramone’s Blitzkrieg. It was a great show and they played Ramones classics for almost two hours straight without taking a break. But it wasn’t quite the same as seeing the genuine article all those years ago.
It’s still hard to comprehend that next year it will be 20 years since the world lost Joey Ramone. It feels like just yesterday when I popped that cassette into my Walkman and really got to know a band like few others.
Rest in peace Joey. Gabba Gabba Hey.