Ten years ago today, the world was robbed of a glorious mutant- Queens native Jeffrey Hyman, who struggled with poor health and mental illness throughout his life, but managed to transform himself into beloved rock icon Joey Ramone, succumbed to lymphatic cancer and died in New York-Presbyterian Hospital.
Jeffrey was, according to his brother Mickey (nee Mitchell Lee Hyman) Leigh's memoir, I Slept with Joey Ramone, born with a Sacrococcygeal teratoma, the removal of which affected the development of his nervous system. As a clumsy, extremely tall and gangly kid, he was often the target of bullies. Despite all this, he was able to forge a career as a rock pioneer, fronting seminal punk band the Ramones.
Joey's was the quintessential "ugly duckling" story- he was the perpetual outsider who, through hard work (made difficult by his Obsessive–compulsive disorder- documented in Mickey Leigh's book- and generally poor health) and his own particular, peculiar brand of charisma, changed into a "swan" of unconventional beauty. In the afterword of I Slept with Joey Ramone, Mickey Leigh writes about leaving the hospital after Joey's death, and hitting the streets on which the Spin Magazine "25 Years of Punk" poster featuring a picture of Joey were plastered:
But when we left the hospital, I saw my brother all over the city. Not only on those posters on the walls, but all over the place. I saw him in the thousands of kids on the streets who wore holes in the knees of their jeans and oval-shaped sunglasses. I felt him the songs he’d written and sung.
He was still everywhere. But mainly, he was in my heart and my soul, in my flesh and blood, and in my mind. To his kid brother, he was a towering hero- not just because he was Joey Ramone but because he was so much more. He was the ultimate underdog who soared to a place far beyond mere overachievement. As low as he’d been, he never let it prevent him from setting his sights on astronomical heights. His brave plight was inspiring, as I intend his story to be.
I fell in love with the Ramones as a child... their catchy, demented songs, and unforgettable, uniform look were fascinating to me. Luckily, I discovered a radio station which not only played Ramones music, but often featured call-ins or guest spots by Joey Ramone. Yeah, the Ramones were a prominent part of the soundtrack to my life. I didn't know about Joey's physical and mental health issues- he was just an extremely distinctive, larger-than-life figure who sang bizarre songs about grotesque, often hilarious, subjects such as cretin hops and blitzkrieg bops. Coming from a large, close-knit family, We're a Happy Family was a particular favorite. I have to say, the John Holmstrom cartoons on the liner of Rocket to Russia were also a considerable part of the Ramones' appeal to my smartass teen self.
By the time I was old enough to see the Ramones live, they were already on the decline- I remember Joey looking bloated, like a gigantic harvestman which had been deprived of four of its limbs, and he dropped the mic stand, but he was glorious, he was Joey Ramone! Of course, even at the ebb of his powers, he put on a better show than most other performers.
I found out about Joey's death while driving home from celebrating Easter at my mom's place in Northern Virginia (she moved there in the late 90's) with my brother Sweetums. When we got to South Jersey, within range of the big AM stations in NYC, we turned on the all-news station and heard that Joey had died. Tears streaming down our cheeks, we memorialized Joey in the only appropriate fashion- we blasted the Ramones Anthology CD set (Tommy Westerberg never travels far without a little Big Star- I never roam far from home, without a bunch of Ramones) the rest of the way home, singing with heavy hearts.
GRRR... I'm not getting any Youtube "embed" codes using my antiquated browser on my antiquated laptop- I'll try to post some Ramones videos when I get to work, and can use the office Binary Numbers Mill.
UPDATE: Post title changed to something more poetic...
SECOND UPDATE: Thanks to BDR, who saved me from "Youtube N00b" status, I can add some Ramonesy goodness to the post- here are three of my favorites:
So as not to seem remiss, here is Joey's cover of What a Wonderful World, released posthumously (gotta love the fact that it starts with the riff from "Pretty Vacant"):
Joey's last album also included his heartfelt tribute to (!!!) Maria Bartiromo.