Two weeks after Joey Ramone succumbed to cancer, friends and colleagues gathered Monday night at CBGB to remember the good-natured soul behind the tinted sunglasses and long dark bangs who inspired a musical uprising.
It was something of a misfit family reunion, with Joan Jett, Deborah Harry, Dictators singer Handsome Dick Manitoba, punk writer Legs McNeil, photographer Roberta Bayley and Ramones manager Danny Fields among those offering brief eulogies. Craig Leon, who produced the Ramones’ 1976 debut album, called Joey “the most unlikely singer, and also the spirit of rock and roll.”
Harry put it another way. “Once a cretin, always a cretin,” she said after recalling the first time she saw the Ramones.
Manitoba emceed the event, “Remembering Joey – A Brother’s Tribute,” which was held in the dingy, former biker bar where punk rock exploded a quarter-century ago. A lifesize portrait of Ramone, who died on Easter Sunday, hung behind the stage.
Ramone’s brother Mickey Leigh performed poignant Ramones covers throughout the evening, including “I Want You Around,” “Danny Says,” and “I Remember You,” with a band that featured Ramones producer Daniel Rey, Dictators guitarist Andy (a.k.a. Adny) Shernoff and drummer Pat Carpenter, who plays with Leigh in the group Stop.
Leigh also passed along mottos he said Joey lived by: “Keep it from the heart,” a sentiment woven within every Ramones tune; “Go with your instincts,” a testament to Joey’s good conscience; and “Keep the sushi fresh,” a nod to his offbeat sense of humor.
Speaking of which, “Punk” magazine founder John Holmstrom punctuated Ramone’s twisted comedic sense by recounting the “Mutant Monster Beach Party” comic strip, Joey’s contribution to the magazine with Blondie singer Harry.
Manitoba seemed to speak for everyone in attendance when he said that, after recently hearing the chant “Hey, ho, let’s go!” used as a rallying cry for more than 50,000 people at Yankee Stadium, he never had the last chance to tell his friend how proud he was of him.
Outside, homemade tokens of appreciation adorned the club’s entrance, which resembled the bulletin board of a grade-school art class. One note read, “Thanks so much for getting me out of the teens alive,” and others expressed similar sentiments, as hundreds of fans waited to join the vigil. Some stood on line as long as eight hours before getting in.
Also on hand to honor the punk pioneer were Plasmatics guitarist Richie Stotts, who was so choked up he couldn’t finish his statement; Patti Smith guitarist Lenny Kaye, who performed a stirring solo version of Smith’s “Ghost Dance”; Ramone’s hairdresser, Huck; his mother, Charlotte Lesher; and rock critic/Furious George frontman George Tabb, who served as host for the second half of the evening.
The night ended with heartfelt chant of “Hey, ho, let’s go,” after which New York punks the Stitches provided more music. “Stay and party,” Manitoba urged the crowd. “Joey would have wanted it that way.”
A Ramones tribute concert is scheduled for May 19 – which would have been Ramone’s 50th birthday – at the Hammerstein Ballroom in New York. A lineup has yet to be announced.