Monday, May 20, 2013

Joey Ramone

As I was preparing to begin an article on a hard rock staple I was listening to some Quiet Riot and something was triggered in my remaining brain cells.  A realization that the iconic voice of the band, Kevin DeBrow, had left us in 2007 made me think about other famous musicians had left us as well.  Obviously the everyday flock in which we all reside has losses daily from a plethora of reasons but how many of you would want to read about the loss of nobody?  That brings me back to that trigger...

As Quiet Riot was shattering my eardrums (and subsequently making an ENT doctor very rich) the flood gates did open.  Rock history is covered with the losses of ordinary everyday performers and they slip into anonymity but a select few enter our consciousness and stay with us for ages.  Who among us can think of an artist in any genre that has left us while knowing their importance in music?  Tragedy befalls all of us at times but for many the passing of a"music icon" can really bring that feeling of tragedy or even a substantial degree of sadness and loss.

During WW2 one major loss for music was the death of Glen Miller on December 15th, 1944 who is still to this day listed as MIA (Missing In Action).  The plane in which Miller was a passenger disappeared over the English Channel,  Miller's style and the music he created still makes him an undisputed icon for that era.  In the 1950's Ritchie Valens, J.P. Richardson (aka the "Big Bopper") and Buddy Holly were killed in a plane crash following a performance near Clear Lake, Iowa.  The loss of two up and coming acts (Valens and the Big Bopper) were a substantial loss but it was Holly and his music that really was serious loss (in a music sense, I'd never discount Holly or anyone else as human beings).  While that cold February in 1959 (February 3rd) was considered a severe blow to music as took away three significant artists through the fog of history (and through the words of Don McClean) it was considered "The Day the Music Died".

The innocence of the music in the 1950's was subsequently erased with the dawning of the 1960's.  When looking back at the 1960's we see music change and become the mother of the music that followed.  Janis Joplin (aka Pearl) for example exemplified the '60's with her unkempt hair, ratty looking clothing and a penchant for "free love".  Joplin did something I think no one expected by bringing all of the "girl bands or acts for that matter" in the '70's and the 1980's. "Pearl" left the world on October 4th, 1970 following a heroin overdose.  Joplin left a legacy of music that really is unparalleled to this day.  Names like Elvis Presley, Jimi Hendrix, Bon Scott, John Lennon, Randy Rhodes, "Dimebag" Darrell Abbott and Jim Morrison for example have drifted away from the living world too early but these are just a drip in the glass of rock and roll.

On May 19th, 1951 a name that would influence as many people as the names above was the birth of Jeffry Ross Hyman (aka Joey Ramone).  Early in life Hyman became a drummer and he began to play in "glam-style" bands, GLAM STYLE bands seriously.  Thankfully in 1974 Hyman became "Joey Ramone" after co-creating the band the Ramones.  Joey Ramone became the iconic face of the new "punk rock" genre and he most certainly became the seed for everyone that was sick of the acid washed '60's and world of weird pop and the vile and reprehensible 1970's that was disco (my fingers were burning as I typed that D word).

The style that Ramone (and the other Ramones for that matter) helped shape was copied not only by the artists of punk music.  The fiery speed and vocals just as fast pierced the ear drums in a way that no one could really fathom.  Arguably the Ramones were the catalyst that energized an early acceptance of British punk rock.  As bands began to cross the Atlantic, Ramone and his cohorts remained at the head of the pack.  The punk scene as it became was littered with bands that came and saw and then faded away into obscurity.  What remained was a revolution, the youth of America had their way to express themselves.

With the Bicentennial in the hearts and minds of the adult population, the appearance of that first Ramones album, the self titled "Ramones" was what the youth needed.  It's ironic when you think that the "punk revolution" was hitting worldwide at the same time we celebrated the Bicentennial, the celebration of a Nation founded by a revolution.  The "revolution" was without casualties (at least not in the war type way) but rock had changed forever.

Punk really was a revolution, music changed forever and sub-genres of music merged and of that merger "thrash" was created.  Think about that for a minute, and then think that although "heavy metal" was upon us through the graces of "Black Sabbath" then with the infusion of the Ramones, a bastard child was born.  Stepping away from the bastard child like a deadbeat dad for a moment it becomes time to review what Ramone (and the other Ramones) did for music.

Ramone was part and parcel to fourteen (14) studio albums, six (6) live albums, twelve (12) compilation albums, seventy-one (71) singles, thirty-two (32) videos, eleven (11) films (including "Rock and Roll High School") and one fact that is mind blowing.  As I looked at the Billboard Top 200 charts I discovered that the Ramones got no higher than #44 (End of the Century) in the United States for ANY Ramones studio album and #68 for a live album (It's Alive) and #168 for a Compilation album (Ramones Mania),  The performance of the band was different overseas somewhat with a solid #10 (End of the Century) on the charts in Sweden.  When you look at the charts it becomes evident that despite the  fact that the music of the band never achieved "commercial" success, the band had a power base and that was within the quality of the music and the "I don't care if you like me or not" mentality they cloaked themselves in.

Further reinforcement can be ascertained when you look at the number of bands and musicians that consider the Ramones as an influence.  From the cheerful world of punk bands like Black Flag, the Dead Kennedys, Social Distortion, the Descendents and Bad Religion.   Then add to that list the Dickies, Bad Brains, The Undertones and Green Day as other punk bands that the band has influenced.  Punk is not the only genre that Ramone and the other Ramones have inspired.  Metallica, Motörhead, Nirvana, the Foo Fighters, Dream Theater and Pearl Jam crossover into the discussion as well.  The list goes on and on but there really too many to name.

Joey Ramone (aka Jeffry Hyman) was much more than just a musician and performer and I would be remiss if I didn't touch on the "other things" that he did.  Ramone was also an activist, joining Steven Van Zandt in "Artists Against Apartheid" and that groups protest against Sun City in South Africa.  Ramone often collaborated with other performers in fact one of the collaborations was on the album "One Nation Under" as backing vocals with the band Blackfire, a Dine Navajo band.  Interestingly that album received the "2002 Best Pop/Rock Album of the Year" from the Native American Music Awards as the cherry on top.

April 15th, 2001 was a sad day for the family of Joey Ramone (his biological family and his other "brothers" from the Ramones) as Joey was taken away too soon as he succumbed to lymphoma, an insidious form of cancer that he was diagnosed with seven years earlier.  With the subsequent loss of Johnny and Dee Dee Ramone (aka John Cummings and Douglas Colvin) in 2004 and 2002 respectively the Ramones passed with them.

As I perused the world of social media in which I dwell I saw a post on May 19th 2013 I noticed a post that said simply "Happy Birthday to Joey Ramone RIP", it was late and I was tired so I went to slumber.  The next morning I was listening to music, Quiet Riot, more specifically "Thunderbird" (a tribute to the co-founder of QR), Randy Rhodes and the "happy birthday" post clicked in my head.  That brings us to today and a whole mess of Ramones music in my ears (which I quickly switched to).

Joey Ramone was the quintessential "punk rocker", he fought the conservative world to the end.  Its hard for me to explain the importance of Joey and the Ramones because there are so many avenues one could follow but I suppose all of those avenues would probably bring me right back to the beginning.  The beginning being the sixty-second birthday of Jeffry Hyman.  The music still stands as a testament to the power and importance of the Ramones and always will.  The world lost possibly one of the most important people in music then and now.  I wonder what others may be influenced by the man and the band, it should really be fun to watch.

Joey Ramone left this world at the age of fifty (50) but he will live on in the history of rock and he will always live in the hearts of his fans for many, many years.  G_d bless you Mr. Hyman and thank you!  Rest in Peace.

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