Third Annual Joey Ramone Birthday Bash
Webster Hall, NYC, May 16, 2003
The Third Joey Ramone Annual Birthday Bash probably got as close to “the ass-kickingest party Joey would have wanted” (in the words of Rocket From the Crypt’s lead singer) as it’s possible to get with the new New York smoking ban. Despite that almost inconceivable limitation on rock and roll abandon, the crowd – a mixture of young punks and Goths and aging former punks and Goths – was in good spirits and packed Webster Hall, which was done up to look like the old Ritz that it was when the Ramones played it. Despite the good cause (all the proceeds went to lymphoma research, to aid sufferers from the disease that Joey died of in 2001), I was initially feeling very old and unexcited. A gray-haired Tommy Ramone sang “I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend,” and he did a good job, but he looked about as old as I felt, and I wondered what a night of Ramones covers would feel like – just sad nostalgia?
No, it turned out. The people who organized this show really knew what they were doing. There were well-edited, entertaining film montages about Joey shown between the bands, bringing to life Joey’s unpretentious individuality and kind nature, as well as the Ramones’ importance as innovators. There was wonderful footage of Joey on TV – politely answering an interviewer’s questions about his influences (he named the Kinks, the Beatles, Dionne Warwick and other 60s greats) and a hilarious appearance on Geraldo Rivera with his mother. Geraldo was trying to do a “Isn’t it awful your son is a punk rocker?” number on Joey’s mom, but she was having none of it. She said CBGB’s was a perfectly nice place, just with a bad reputation. Geraldo asked, “Doesn’t your son have a song called ‘Beat the Brat?'” and she corrected him, “Beat on the Brat,” and started singing it. Joey Ramone, sitting beside her, burst out laughing, looking as floored and embarrassed as anyone would whose mother was singing his rock song on national TV.
Another good moment from the film footage was John Doe of X talking about how he couldn’t listen to “It’s a Wonderful World,” the song from Joey’s first posthumous album, without tearing up. A lot of musicians talked about Joey’s life-affirming spirit. He really was all about sex, drugs and rock and roll – not in the nihilist, trash-everything-conventional vein of punk, but just because all three could make you feel really good.
The press release mentioned numerous bands and some special appearances – I couldn’t get there by the 7 pm start time, so I probably missed some. The Ramones were always punctual. (One of my favorite stories about them is when they went to England and couldn’t believe the slack, drugged-out attitudes of the British punkers. The Ramones, New Yorkers that they were, wanted things to happen on time!) Rocket From the Crypt were the first band to play after I got there. Apart from being ear-splittingly loud, they were tight and together, and they all wore the same outfit, which looked kind of cool. In the spirit of the Ramones, they played short, simple rock songs, but unlike the Ramones, their melodies weren’t interesting. I found a stool by the bar and sat there, feeling bored and old. A young Goth came up to buy a drink. I moved my knees to give him a better chance at getting the bartender’s attention. He seemed to appreciate it. “What do you think of Rocket From the Crypt?” he screamed into my ear. “They’re boring!” I screamed back. “They suck,” he said. “The lead singer’s an asshole. I saw them once, and this girl from the audience got up onstage and he was like, ‘Get away from my guitar, no one touches my guitar but me.'” I nodded. That sounded like an asshole move. “Wait till you hear the Misfits!” he yelled, his hands groping the bar like he could convince it of the Misfits’ greatness. “The Misfits rule! You are gonna – promise me you’ll go up front for them!”
“I don’t want to do a Ramones cover because I think it would be sacreligious,” Rocket From the Crypt’s lead singer said from the stage, and the Goth beside me yelled, “You’re too cool! You’re way too cool for that, baby!” I was beginning to find him charming. He saw my notebook and asked about it and I said I wrote for a website. He said, “Will you mention my band’s name on it?” I nodded and he grabbed my notebook and scrawled something. His hands were wet and he was drunk, so I could hardly read it. He translated, “It’s Just Blood, Baby, That’s All.” (There you go, Joey Methadone.) He invited me to go outside for a cigarette but I said I couldn’t, I wasn’t smoking and I might be tempted. But after he went away, I was sorry. Sex being such a strong component of rock and roll, I didn’t really feel awake until this 24-year-old Misfits fan and I hit it off at the back of Webster Hall.
I was probably influenced by Joey Methadone, but I thought the Misfits were great. I realize they weren’t the Misfits of old, but Dez Cadena of Black Flag on bass, the great Marky Ramone on drums, and Jerry Only, the one original Misfit, on vocals and guitar. Only was a tower of indefatigable masculine energy. His voice never weakened, his playing never flagged, and his thighs-spread stance never narrowed so much as an inch. He had a strand of hair plastered down the front of his face like Grandpa from the Munsters, but it didn’t detract from his powerful dignity. As for the rest of the band – holy shit, can Marky Ramone drum! His playing kept the trio barrelling like smooth, thick water over a giant waterfall – it was a force of nature, a powerful yet harmonious, unstoppable machine. Dez Cadena sang back-up through face-concealing hanks of black hair and played a faultless bass. The three of them locked into a groove that sounded like they’d been playing together for 20 years.
Their fans were ecstatic. The crowd seemed to know every song. They were dancing from the first chord. Soon a mosh pit formed and that turned into a liquid-looking mass in the middle of the floor made up of writhing, crashing, smashing bodies running back and forth from the stage to the back of the room. It was messy and it soon got violent. It was pent-up energy just needing to get out. And it looked like so much fun. I saw a gray-haired guy watching with a smile, looking nostalgic. It used to be him in that melee. I saw a large, muscled man elbow his way into the dancers with a certain aggression and grab hold of another guy and I thought, oh no, is he Webster Hall Security? Come to restore order? What a drag! But after watching a bit more I saw he wasn’t Security at all – just a big guy wanting in on the action.
The dancers throbbed. The music throbbed. If this wasn’t a fitting tribute to the life force that was Joey Ramone, I’m not sure what would be.