Joey Ramone Leaves Home

Paying respects to the man who unwittingly threw me a life raft as a kid

The Ramones hit the stage in a brotherhood of ripped jeans, leather jackets and untold unity. Guitars slung low, out-scissored legs, chins high. They came on with the stamp of marching men. But 10,000 heads of hatred aimed at four young men can wreak unknown havoc. Within a minute, a half-full beer cup tagged Joey in the face, frothy liquid spilling over his leather jacket. He shook it off. That kick-started it. Suddenly the band was lost in a downpour of cups, bottles, loogies and unidentifiable liquid. The scene bordered on a riot.

Yet the Ramones played on, bravely, for the next 25 minutes. Joey perched unmoving at the bow of the stage, the front line, one fist in the air, the other clutching the mike stand. I took Joey's gestures as symbolic. Joey Ramone was standing tall according to the values in which he believed. It was real virtue. The band finished its set in a hideous torrent of debris and a gut-wrenching chorus of boos. But the band finished its set. To this day, I have never seen anything like it.

Rock 'n' roll, like any cultural force, works best when it's rooted in some form of authentic rage. The Ramones had that and intelligence; yet the band was brilliant at false fronts, showing themselves as cartoon characters while sending the message that boredom is a dividend paid to those too lazy to engage in the use of their intellect. The band's mascot, the pinhead, was symbolic of this; the Ramones were anti-stupid. The irony of the pinhead coming out on stage with the Ramones that night at Veterans' Memorial was lost on the 10,000 Sabbath Neanderthals.

Joey Ramone: The spindly limbed punk who kicked rock 'n' roll's ass.
Danny Fields/Courtesy of Rhino Records
Joey Ramone: The spindly limbed punk who kicked rock 'n' roll's ass.

For me that show was a profound moment of clarity, that rare moment of confrontation with a situation that leaves you changed.

Suddenly Frampton and Little League moms with smug baseball sons that girls adored and the green trimmed hedges, the faceless heads in the hallways, the fists, all became a blur of motivation. Leave Home, its first springboard of hope became a kind of personal anthem.

Three years later, at 16, I left home with the same foundation of motivation that I had imagined the Ramones used to bust out of Queens. The Ramones taught me what was reiterated later in works by authors I would admire like Salinger. Joey and the Ramones showed me the real possibilities of breaking from the imagination-free grid of suburbia, becoming connected to a reality larger than my own, and doing it with real spirit of adventure.

Years later, Joey Ramone said in an interview, "We stood alone, we were our own island." In-fucking-deed.

And so it is that Joey Ramone is dead at 49. In my head he died with dignity; he stole the Reaper's grim, because all along I thought him bigger than death, and bigger than life. He did, after all, lead the band that single-handedly blew down the doors of rock 'n' roll. Joey Ramone was a tough ass.

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