1-2-3-4, Joey Ramone & the Time Before

imageMy club career began a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away. I was sort of a friend, accessory and co-conspirator of the Ramones. I was dragged to see the band one night by a Staten Island girl named Teressa, who could have gotten me to go anywhere. At that time I was listening to classical music and jazz and was a regular at places like Fat Tuesdays and Smalls. Teressa dragged me through the throngs until we were a foot from Ramones’ bassist Dee Dee. I had never seen anything like them. Three or four minute explosions of catchy tracks with only a 1-2-3-4 shouted into the mike by the nearby rockstar to indicate that a new song had actually begun. Eyes that would later see through the frenzy and noise of crowded nightclubs to some necessary truths began to analyze what could endear me to my new obsession. I noticed the needs of the roadies, the only other calm people in the room that night, and the next week I caught up with the band at a Long Island gig with a couple of neighborhood blondes of bad reputation.

I hung with the roadies, who liked my friends and gave me access to the band and most importantly to my dear friend Arturo Vega. Arturo was the artist behind the band. He designed and hawked the famous logoed t-shirts, did their lights, and more importantly owned the loft on East 2nd Street — now Joey Ramone Place — which was the epicenter of all things Ramone. My chihuahua and true love of my life is named Arturo after my skinny and sometimes quick-tempered friend from Chihuahua, Mexico. Later I would befriend Dee Dee, who had slapped me in the face as he banged his bass at that Teressa-inspired gig. At the end of the show, he flipped me a guitar pick with “Ramones” stamped into it. The same stamp was inside my forehead, and jazz and classical music would be reserved forever for taxi rides with intellectual cabbies. I approached Dee Dee one afternoon before sound-check at an Amityville, Long Island hot spot. I was with the two neighborhood sluts who had also succumbed to a Ramones addiction.

We approached the volatile rock star armed with only a silly question, “Hey Dee Dee, do you like playing these small club gigs as much as the larger concert halls?” He replied by putting on his spy sunglasses and leaning his head against the clubs’ facade. Not a glance and no words, only cigarette smoke from Dee Dee. He, of course, had no obligation to answer a silly question from some annoying fan, but I stood there with my two groupie companions and chatted about Queens, Long Island, and I’m sure lots of embarrassing stuff. About 20 minutes later, Dee Dee lowered his sunglasses and said something like, “I like the big concert clubs but I like the small places too. I can get real close to the crowd.” He hadn’t been ignoring me, but taking his time and thinking about a query from one of the most important people in his life: a fan.

That attitude, that the fan — or in my case, the patron of my clubs — was one of the most important entities in my life is what made me successful. Dee Dee’s ex-wife Vera wrote a book about her experiences, which will be celebrated this June 7. I caught up with Vera on Facebook recently, and it was grand. It was Vera who asked me to produce a Dee Dee birthday bash, which would be the first party I ever threw. In months to come I became a fixture around the Ramones’ haunts and a regular at Arturo’s’ loft where Joey and his gal Linda where living.

One summer afternoon my roommate, Ramones roadie Danny Zykowski, Joey, and I went to an amusement park in New Jersey where the lanky rock n’ roll icon was rarely recognized. A couple of 12-year-old boys took delight in tormenting the gangly Joey in the bumper boats, and I was beyond hysterical seeing his knees above his head as he sat impossibly in a go-cart designed for humans with a different shape. He laughed all day, always taking time to sign an autograph or make someone feel important. Joey would be talking to you while crossing the Bowery, and just as you would be about to step on the curb on the other side of the street, he would dash back to the safety of the starting curb. My association with Joey, Dee Dee, and later Johnny gave me some juice at nightclub doors. I would double-date with Johnny, who had political views a little to the right of Attila the Hun. I tried to overlook our differences and celebrate what it was that we had in common. This Dalai Lama approach to friendship had its rewards, as doors in hotspots around town noted the fact that I had famous friends.

Later, Johnny would betray Joey, stealing his gal Linda away from him, and it was never the same backstage after that. Even I stopped believing in Johnny, except for his ability to keep the band going and stay true to its fan base. Joey referred to this betrayal by his right-wing guitarist in the song “The KKK Took My Baby Away.” “She went away for the holidays / Said she’s going to L.A. / But she never got there / She never got there / She never got there, they say,” is how it went. I remember hearing it for the first time in disbelief that Johnny was playing lead for it. I never got up the guts to ask him if he knew it was about him. I’m sure he would have said, “Of course, but it was a good song.”

They celebrated the life of Joey at a benefit at Irving Plaza last night. Rock legends, with every part of them aged save for their hairdos, gave tribute to a real nice man who lead a group of misfits out of the boredom of Queens and into international stardom. Before there was the Ramones, there was pre-Stevie Fleetwood Mac, and a boredom of music that was similar to our current club circuit. Punk changed the way we looked at rock. The genre took club life out of the doldrums and infused it with a basic energy and raw sexuality that has been lacking lately. Not since the birth of house and hip hop in the 80s has a musical genre taken the club world into a new, vibrant direction. Mash-up and electro and sounds spinning off of those are only now bringing excitement to a Serato-pacified DJ class. The Ramones lifted me up and put me down in a new and more enlightening place. I’ve got to thank my dear old friend Joey — or as some called him, Jeffrey — for taking the time to show me a better world. He, Johnny, and Dee Dee have all passed, yet they are now recognized as one of the most important rock bands ever. Spin magazine named them number 2, only behind The Beatles. It was Paul McCartney’s often-used alias Paul Ramone that inspired the name. Say it ain’t so Joey! Jeffrey Hyman, a.k.a. Joey Ramone, would have been 58 yesterday.

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