Mortality is a funny thing.
We follow a subculture that frowns on celebrity in a culture that adores it. Even the fathers of our genre are not safe from our ever-cynical opinion. Fame and respect have proven to be different things, nowhere is this more evident then this generations’ criticism of John Lydon or Jello Biafra. I’m hard pressed to find a personality from punk’s past who embodies the mutual respect of the crowd, with the exception of Joey Ramone of course.
The Ramones were a fun band; they had a way of spinning social issues into absurdity and never took themselves too seriously. They retired after 23 releases in 1996 and went to work on various projects. Joey had a backlog of material going back to 1985 that he never recorded with the Ramones, much of this shows up on this release.
With good friend Daniel Rey producing and playing guitar, Joey set out to record what initially seemed like the typical solo record. However Joey was sick with lymphoma, he had been for a while and was in an out of hospitals during the three-year period when this was being made. Lymphoma is particularly deadly form of cancer; Joey knew this. As he recorded the joyous vocals for his cover of “What a Wonderful World,” he knew this. How does a man so frequently characterized as light-hearted and carefree deal with his own fate?
There is more emotion underlying this release then anything I’ve heard this year, more then the loneliest emo band crying into their sweater sleeves, more then the angriest hardcore unit screaming the ills of society. Joey spends these eleven tracks tying up some loose ends and paying his respects. His influences are given a nod with his cover of the Stooges’ “1969” and the simplistic Who inspired “Mr. Punchy.” The Ramones were never a political band, but Joey (wearing a Jello Biafra shirt on the album art) firmly makes his case here. The song “Venting” addresses the ills of today’s world, from the lying politicians to school shootings. Joey reflects on his age, saying he doesn’t understand the way the world has changed. Despite this however, Joey was happy at the end of his life, “What A Wonderful World” and a number of fun Ramones-style songs display this.
However the most poignant songs here address his cancer, his realization that there isn’t much time left. “I Got Knocked Down (But I’ll Get Up),” “Stop Thinking About It,” and the title track are straight ahead rockers akin to later day Ramones, but there’s something subtle in Joey’s voice… fear. He sings “Sitting in a hospital bed… I want my life… It really sucks,” words simple enough to make light of the situation, but you can hear his uncertainty.
Daniel Ray is Joey's guitarist. Andy Shernoff of The Dictators plays bass and the drumming is split between Frank Funaro (Cracker and Del Lords) and Marky Ramone. Joe McGinty of the The Psychedelic Furs provides some keyboards on a few tracks. A list of guests provided instrumentation or backing vocals, including Captain Sensible of the Damned and Jerry Only of the Misfits. Of course the album is not perfect, but the Ramones were never about achieving musical perfection…
Its funny however that reviewers have been mutually agreeing that their favorite song is “Maria Bartiromo,” a humorously absurd song about Joey’s infatuation with the CNBC financial reporter… It’s just the type of song that seems so out of place in a man’s epitaph, but so perfect if that man is Joey Ramone.
Joey died April 15, 2001 in New York
The Ramones were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame on March 18, 2002