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PHOTOS by Holmstrom
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Mary Anne, Pinhead,
Joey Ramone was a once-in-a-lifetime kind of guy, so it figures that his 50th Birthday Bash would be the party of the century. Mickey Leigh (his bro) and Charlotte Lesher (his mom) did an amazing job putting this show together. They had to do it because while Joey was on his deathbed he talked a lot about his upcoming 50th Birthday Party. (Now it can be told: Joey had slipped and fallen on some ice in late December 2000. Because of the chemotherapy and drug treatments he had been taking to fight his lymphoma cancer (which he had been diagnosed with shortly after the Ramones broke up in 1996, and which he wanted to keep secret from the public), his body was in a very weakened condition and this slip on the ice broke his hip. As a result, Joey needed hip replacement surgery. But after that ordeal, he had a difficult time recovering from the surgery because he was so weak, and this all led to his passing...)
Anyhow, one thing that helped keep Joey in his fight for his life in those final months was the idea that his party would be one fantastic, wild blowout. He made lots of plans, talked about what bands he wanted to play and even what kind of drinks he wanted to serve. He asked his family to throw his 50th birthday party "no matter what." As Charlotte said, "Mickey and I promised Joey that for this very special day, we would throw the best and biggest birthday bash he ever had."
Shortly after Joey's funeral on April 17, Charlotte and Mickey had to get to work on the party--they had less than a month to pull it off. They started by renting the Hammerstein Ballroom (a classy place near Madison Square Garden with a capacity of a little over 3000). Tickets sold out in a very short time. They invited every band they thought would make it an amazing night. Blondie was in on this from the beginning, and Cheap Trick signed on shortly after. Rumors had everyone from Motorhead, Metallica, The Cramps and The Misfits appearing on the bill, but I think these were just wild rumors. They also put together a free "goodie bag" with buttons & stuff inside which were given away to attendees, and a commemorative poster and t-shirt.
When I was invited by Mickey to be a part of the Bash, the publicists told me there'd be some kind of "press thing" around 6:45-7:00 before doors opened at 8:00 p.m. I showed up on time, took a front row seat, and watched as suddenly dozens of photographers, writers, and TV crews filed into the downstairs area serving as the press room. It was one of the biggest media hordes I had ever seen. There were people from all over the world on hand. Which I thought was great--Joey and the Ramones finally getting their due.
We sat in the room and waited. And waited some more for something to happen. Then I saw Legs McNeil go in the back of the room to talk with two of the publicists, Jana Peri and Janis Schact. (They volunteered to work for nothing, like so many others. Janis was their first publicist back in the good old days at Sire Records when they put out their first records. Jana is also a musician, and we reviewed her CD in our very first Listening Party. I went back there to find out what was going on and Legs said, "If it's okay with you, John, you and I are going to host the press conference." I said, "Sure! Let's go!" Janis Schact then walked to the little riser that served as the stage for the press conference, tripped on the podium, fell down, got up, introduced Legs and I, and the show was on.
First, Legs and I introduced Charlotte and Mickey. Charlotte said she wanted this night to be a party, not a memorial... Everyone should have fun! That's what Joey would have liked! And Joey sure liked to party! (Charlotte, too--I saw her at a lot of Ramones and Rattlers shows back when.) Mickey answered questions about Joey's upcoming solo album (yes, it will be released soon--we will tell you more about it as we hear more news). He also told a few stories about growing up with Joey. Then they posed for a bunch of photos.
Then Legs and I invited Hilly, the owner of C.B.G.B.'s, onto the small platform. He related, in his soft, low voice, how he told the Ramones after their audition, "No one is going to like you guys, but that I'll let you play anyhow." Okay, Hilly. Well, Hilly was so aware of social trends that he still hasn't bothered to mention PUNK magazine in his memoirs on the CBGBs Website. Hey, Hilly! Guess who called it "punk rock" first? C'mon! Give me a break!
Then we introduced Billy Altman (CREEM magazine, founder of the first-ever "Punk" magazine [a college newspaper from Buffalo, but no influence on this PUNK magazine even though you can see it on the back cover of The Dictators Go Girl Crazy if you use a magnifying glass] and Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame curator), and Lenny Kaye (Patti Smith Band, and Doc Rock from Rock Scene magazine). Then we introduced Jesse Malin from Bellvue (formerly D-Generation, once the Great Rock Hope of New York City). Jesse had the most heartfelt stories--he talked about how seeing the Ramones on TV in the 1970s changed his life, and how he could instantly play guitar along with their records (unlike Led Zeppelin's), and how exciting it was to finally meet and talk to Joey ("it was just amazing to meet a guy who was just as cool a person as he was a musician"). Once they became friends and Joey became a fan of his band (D-Generation), Joey mailed out their first record with a personal note to DJs, introduced the band at their shows, and provided support when their label began to give up on them. Joey even put up money out of his pocket for demo recordings without asking for anything in return.
We also brought on The Damned, Jimmy Destri and Clem Burke from Blondie (Clem was a Ramone for one weekend: Elvis Ramone), Rick Neilson from Cheap Trick, and Tommy Ramone. Tommy was like the Ramones first manager and spokesman, in addition to being their first "official" drummer. He refined and defined their sound, and was, in my opinion, the single person responsible for separating their "heavy metal teenybop" sound into the sound people recognize today as "punk rock." When I first met the Ramones, Tommy was definitely running the show. He was the boss. Not only did he co-produce the first few records (he was very meticulous about every detail that had to do with them) and Tommy produced demos for them after he left. (I think his demo version of "Pleasant Dreams" should be released, it sounded much better than the hatchet job Graham Gouldman produced.) Tommy told some interesting stories, like how the first time he met him, Joey was a drummer and had the biggest drum kit that Tommy had ever seen in his life. Joey was a big Keith Moon fan and this fact brought the two of them together. As you know, Joey was the drummer for the Ramones for a very short time. It was Tommy moved him to singer. And Tommy finally took over the job of drummer only when he couldn't find anyone who would keep a simple backbeat and not show off with drum solos and unnecessary fills.
From someone else's account (I forget where I saw this): Backstage, Damned guitarist Captain Sensible described the Ramones' widespread influence on the development of rock: "Back in 1976, we got the Ramones' first album. We put that record on, and it changed everything. And I think without the Ramones and Joey, the punk worldwide that everyone takes for granted would be a different thing entirely." He described the Ramones' legendary appearance at London's Round House on July 4, 1976 as being the beginning of the punk rock movement, and remembered that Joey yanked future members of the Damned, the Stranglers and the Sex Pistols in through the Ramones' dressing room window so that they could see the show.
Then it was showtime.
Little Steven kicked things off on the big stage. Joey was a good friend of "Little Stevie." I remember back in the 1980s when Joey was asked by Steven to appear in the "(I Ain't Gonna Play) Sun City" anti-apartheid video/single. He was really flattered. At the time, it seemed like the first mainstream acceptance of the Ramones. (People sometime forget that for a long time, punk rock was seen as nothing but a failed commercial flop, and it took little steps like this for it to get some credibility from the monolithic corporate rock machine.) It also marked the first time Joey could do something political--he was kind of bothered by the right-wing stance of the Ramones, especially in the post-Reagan era. (And now, of course, Steven Van Zandt who "won't play Sun City" plays a ruthless mobster who beats up strippers on The Sopranos--life is weird.) After meeting Steve and visiting his website I feel like he is a complete weirdo but definitely has his heart in the right place when it comes to rock 'n' roll. And he definitely has good taste in rock music. (To tell you the truth I had never been too enamored of the guy since I am hardly what you'd call a Bruce Springsteen fan so I barely knew who he was outside of The Sopranos. But I recently heard him talk about Cavestomp, the garage rock event held now and then here in NYC, on WFMU's Bill Kelly show, and found out Steven to be a real, dedicated rock 'n' roll fan for all the right reasons. And he did a killer job as emcee that night.)
Little Steven gave a great dedication to Joey and brought Mickey and Charlotte onstage to welcome everybody. Then Joey's favorite unsigned band, The Independents, played, and brought on Joe Queer as a special guest! He helped out with "Fuck the World, I'm Hanging Out With You Tonight." It seemed like whenever I ran into Joey the last year or two, he was hanging out with Arturo Vega or Chris (aka Evil Presly). Heck, as I write this, Joey is still listed on their Website as one of their managers...
After the Independents played, Richard Hell stepped onstage to say, "I never sniffed glue, but after listening to the Ramones, I felt like I had."
Next up was Stop, Mickey Leigh's band. Hey, you know, Mickey has been in a lot of bands. I first noticed his musical ambitions (on his brother's urgings) when he was working with Lester Bangs in Birdland. We stayed in touch as they evolved into The Rattlers. Joey would do backing vocals for The Rattlers the same way Mickey did a lot of uncredited vocal work on those early Ramones records.
Howie Klein, a music industry bigwig, was next and said: "Joey Ramone changed my life." Next up was Bellvue, with lead singer Jesse Malin. They played a killer version of "I Just Want To Have Something To Do" and a cover of the Rolling Stones' "Star Star."
Then Lenny Kaye spoke, and read a "Goodbye Letter" from Phil Spector. He also mentioned how Joey "got across the heart and romanticism" of rock 'n' roll...
Then Hilly Kristal said a few words, such as: "He was a shy kid from Queens who turned out to be the president of punk." Next up was Joey's band, led by Danny Rey (who's now producing Joey's solo CD), with Mickey Leigh filling in on vocals. (Andy Shernoff was unfortunately absent this night, due to a prior commitment by The Dictators--he was usually part of the band as well.) When Joey was playing his last gigs in New York at the end of 2000 they performed some of the songs that will appear on the upcoming solo CD. Tonight, they played several Ramones songs ("Danny Says," "Questioningly," "I Remember You" and others), with Rick Neilson from Cheap Trick joining them at the end.
Then Tommy Ramone spoke. He got the biggest "pop" of the night, as far as I could tell. He said everyone that the Ramones were only "four kids from Forest Hills, Queens, who followed their dreams in music." (Well, Tommy, to be honest, there was a lot more to it than that... It's not like the four Ramones I met in 1975 were four ordinary kids from Queens!)
I think a lot of Ramones fans recognized what Tommy meant to the Ramones with their huge ovation for him. Which was a pretty cool thing. I had been hoping all along that all four of the original Ramones, and Marky and C.J., would appear on this night to pay tribute to their fallen brudder, but if you are a true Ramones fan, you already know that's not how the Ramones operate. Dee Dee was somewhere far away and impossible to reach (something like that), and Johnny, well, he lives in Los Angeles, and it wouldn't have been an easy thing for him to come to New York on this night for a lot of reasons. I have no idea where Marky was. But you could certainly say that the other Ramones were missed on this night. Hopefully they'll do this again and they can show up for that one.
All through the night, in between the bands and the speakers, Ramones videos and video tributes from different people played on a big screen. The video tributes featured Metallica, Joan Jett, The Dictators, Green Day, Jerry Only (Misfits), Sebastian Bach and others... Even Maria Bartiromo, the Money Honey from CNBC! (One of Joey's songs on his upcoming CD is about her.) Tributes from music industry insiders were also screened, including Seymore Stein and Linda Stein (who co-managed the band with Danny Fields). The tributes played throughout the night, between the live music sets. People seemed to enjoy the Ramones' music videos a lot. I know I did, since I had never seen most of them. (MTV didn't exactly put them in heavy rotation when they first came out.) Some of the clips shown were: "Rock 'N' Roll High School," "Cabbies on Crack," "I Believe In Miracles," "Touring" and "I Wanna Be Sedated." One of the best videos was the Ramones' version of "Spider-Man." (Come to think of it, didn't Peter Parker go to high school in Forest Hills? Hmmm...)
After Tommy spoke, Little Stevie introduced Blondie. They played some old favorites (like "Rip Her to Shreds," "Dreaming" and "Maria"... and unless you've been getting drunk at the Marz Bar for three years straight you know they recently reformed and that "Maria" was a Number One Hit in England). Then Rick Neilson joined them for a killer cover of "I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend." I thought they were the best band of the night, honestly. And since they shared the bill with the Ramones so many times back in the day, it seemed very special. I'll never forget that show, someplace in BumFuck, New Jersey... 1976... The Ramones were headlining because their first album (the first out of the CBGBs scene), had just been released... Blondie was the opening act... I think there were 20 people there that night... Not exactly a triumphant beginning to the nascent punk rock movement! (Well we were in New Jersey, after all!)
Next up were Legs McNeil and I. Yeah, we had to follow Blondie after their scorching set! First we got out on the stage just as the curtain fell. So we had to crawl under the curtain to get to the front of the stage. I gave a long-winded speech (it actually went over pretty good!) and Legs played some phone messages Joey left on his answering machine back in the 1980s. That was kind of spooky--like Joey speaking from beyond the grave. Some of the fans in the front rows couldn't take it any more! They motioned for us to cut it short! It was so sad! One of them was when Joey was calling from the hospital, that was hard to take. But Legs would not stop. He tortured everyone with these phone messages and Joey kept saying, "Legs! You there? Legs! Pick up the phone! Legs!"
Well, it sounded good to me. Guess you had to be there.
Cheap Trick went on next. A lot of people asked me, "John, why the heck are CHEAP TRICK playing this event?" "Hey," I'd say, "they were one of Joey's favorite bands." (Joey had very mainstream, commercial taste in rock 'n' roll.) I am sure he would have been honored that they were there for this night. And they went over big. Come to think of it, I think there's a big crossover between Cheap Trick and Ramones fans.
The original lineup of Robin Zander, Rick Nielsen and Tom Petersson appeared without Bun E. Carlos--instead drummer Charlie Drayton filled in for this gig. (Rick Nielsen said that Bun E. Carlos had a drum workshop that he couldn't back out of.) Here's the Cheap Trick set list:
Rick Nielsen explained later that those were the songs Joey always asked to hear when he saw Cheap Trick in concert. (I told you they were a favorite of Joey's!)
Danny Fields, their first manager, spoke next, mostly reading emails he received from fans. He also yelled at the audience to "Shut the fuck up! I only have three minutes to talk!" Danny was the Ramones manager when we first met them. He gave the Ramones a lot of credibility at that time (among the few of us who appreciated "punk rock" in 1975). The fact he was managing lifted the Ramones from the "joke" category that a lot of people had put them in back then. (People HATED the Ramones back then! Because they "weren't musicians.") Yeah, Danny did a lot for them, even though (or maybe because) he was the editor of Sixteen magazine... You know how Gloria Stavers, the editor of Sixteen before Danny, was Jim Morrison's lover? I just thought of this... Danny introduced Morrison to Nico, and... Well, you just wonder about all these rock 'n' roll connections sometimes... But you know... Anyhow... Because of Danny Fields, Lou Reed was at CBGBs the night we went to interview the Ramones for our first issue, and because of Danny (and Richard Robinson of Rock Scene magazine, who was also there) we got Lou to agree to the cover story in PUNK #1, so you really wonder what the history of rock 'n' roll would have been like without the guy... I am sure there are countless little things like this that Danny put together. He even managed David Peel!
The Damned played next. They deserve a lot of credit since they paid their own airfare to fly over from England to play this gig. And from what I saw and heard hanging out with them, it was only because they wanted to do it for Joey. Here's their set list:
Allan Arkush (the director of Rock 'n' Roll High School--which ironically was supposed to star Cheap Trick until Allan showed a copy of PUNK Magazine's Mutant Monster Beach Party to the film's producer, Roger Corman), spoke next. He recalled meeting with the Ramones to discuss the movie script over a spaghetti dinner. Halfway through, he noticed that he was the only one eating, and Joey explained that the group "didn't like pasta, they liked pizza... they liked Italian food."
As all this started happening, I almost got thrown out! I was sitting in the balcony, minding my own business, when someone hit me in the back of the head with a Yankee Doodle. So I decided to return the favor by throwing it off the balcony. Well, a security guard saw me do this (apparently I just missed the video booth when I threw it), and he gave me a very stern lecture! So I promised to behave myself and never do it again and he let me stay.
While this was happening, an instrumental version of "I Wanna Be Sedated" played and everyone in the audience sang along... Mickey and Charlotte came out one last time with Stevie, and Uncle Floyd, who revealed that the Ramones were his favorite guests on his infamous 1980s TV show. Then it was announced that Saturday had been declared "National Joey Ramone Day" by congressional proclamation, according to Jordan Goldes, a spokesman for Congressman Gary Ackerman of Queens (who sponsored the proclamation). He presented Charlotte ad Mickey with the US flag that flew over the Capitol. Then, dozens of pinheads ran around the stage and the audience giving out Yankee Doodles, Rings Dings and other snack food/birthday cakes while the whole crowd sang "Happy Birthday" to Joey. It turned into a near riot, with cakes and snack food flying everywhere.
That was it! The end of the night came too soon. But it was a great sendoff to Joey. Too bad he couldn't be there, he always enjoyed a good party!
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