When I was younger, there were two people that I idolized so much that I wanted to be just like them. One was James Hetfield of Metallica. The other was Joey Ramone from The Ramones. I have always been more metal than punk, but for roughly the last 25 years, I have been a rabid Ramones fan. I have had favorite metal bands (Metallica, Iron Maiden and Manowar), but whenever asked who my favorite band was, I always respond (insert metal band) and The Ramones.
I wanted to be Hetfield because he looked like such a bad ass metal guy. Joey I loved for the complete opposite reason. Joey was tall and gangly, obsessive compulsive and, while I have infinite respect for the man, he was not particularly pretty. That was a significant part of his charm. Joey did not look like a rock star packaged for mass consumption by the beautiful people; he looked like a rock star for the rest of us. His voice was not perfect, but it held so much raw emotion and passion that he got the job done. The Ramones never received the success they deserved while active, and as is so irritatingly common, got the most attention after band members started dying.
In 2001, Jeff Hyman, a.k.a. Joey Ramone was the first member of the band to die. Joey died from Lymphoma, and then Dee Dee Ramone died from an overdose in 2002, and Johnny Ramone from prostate cancer in 2004. Tommy Ramone is now the only surviving original member of the band.
The Ramones disbanded in 1996 and at the time of his death in 2001 Joey had been working on his first solo album. “Don’t Worry About Me” was released posthumously in 2002. This album broke my heart (check out Joey’s version of “What a Wonderful World”) and gave me one last piece of my fallen hero to cherish. It felt like closure. Who knew there would ever be more?
Sometime last year I began to hear rumors that Joey’s brother, Mickey Leigh, was putting together material for another album of Joey’s solo work and planning to get it released. He apparently ran into some roadblocks and thought the album might not see release, so I was overjoyed when I found out a few months ago that release was imminent. “…Ya Know?” was finally released last week on May 22nd, 2012, a little over eleven years after Joey’s passing.
I never thought to be in this position again, that of hearing new songs featuring Joey Ramone. I cannot thank Mickey enough for organizing this release and furthering his brother’s legacy, but at the same time this rips open that old wound in my heart once more and opens the floodgate of tears that accompany nearly every track on this album. The older I get, the less sentimental and mushy I am, but this album breaks all that down and exposes a nerve, so what am I gonna do? Not very metal I suppose, but whatever.
The Ramones as a band had a truly unique chemistry, and so it is not surprising that the two solo albums are not on the same level as “Leave Home” or “Rocket to Russia”, but Joey was a very substantial part of that chemistry and anything that features his unmistakable voice is going to make me immensely happy.
The best song on “…Ya Know?” is the lead off track, "Rock 'n Roll Is the Answer." This song alone is worth the price of admission. The album also includes retooled Ramones songs "Merry Christmas (I Don't Want to Fight Tonight)" and "Life's a Gas." These songs are slower, cleaner and much more personal sounding than the originals. Honestly, there is not a song on here that I do not enjoy. The album has a rather somber feel to it; it does not have the energetic feel of a Ramones album, but rather sounds like what it is, a ghostly transmission from the past. Listening to new music from someone you know is dead can only ever be bittersweet.
I am truly happy to have fifteen additional songs from Joey Ramone in my music collection. I am sure hardcore fans like me will agree. The rest of you, well, all I can say is you are missing out. Joey Ramone was the true spirit of rock and roll, and I raise my glass to him once more. Hey Ho!