Joey Ramone would have been 60 years old on May 19. This week, in celebration of the birthday of the Queens-born gone-too-soon punk legend, Sound of the City will run a series of features on his life and his legacy.
Talk on the phone to punk-tinged singer/songwriter Jesse Malin about Joey Ramone, and you don’t need to see his eyes–his voice gets misty. As he did for so many others in his time, Joey was for Malin, a combination of protective older brother, School of Rock-style teacher and fellow mischievous street kid, the kind of guy who can be easily imagined as someone egging on a friend on to throw water balloons from rooftops. SOTC spoke with Malin about his relationship with Joey, which was sparked by a cold call many years ago.
On Striking Up His Friendship With Joey
I owe a good deal of my early rock and roll education to Joey. I actually called him up out of the blue when I was a kid. We’re both from Queens and he’s one of the guys that got out. He just accepted me as a friend right away. He was very opinionated, but in a really amusing way. He’d tell me to stop listening to Kiss. He’d say about guys like Graham Parker and Elvis Costello, “Yeah, they’re good, but they’re really just English Bruce Springsteens.” He turned me onto all sorts of great B movies and horror flicks.
On Touring With The Ramones
When my band, D Generation, went on the road in the mid-’90s, we opened a bunch of Northeast dates for The Ramones. It’s no secret they weren’t getting along. So, after a bit, Joey started riding with us in our van, rather than with the Ramones in their cushy tour bus! It was pretty funny. If we had a day off, we would hang and Joey would say, “Hey, let’s go to the local radio station right now.” This’d be in, say, Wilkes-Barre. We’d just knock on the door and the deejays would be flabbergasted to see him. And we’d just take over.
On Joey’s Generosity
When I broke up D Generation, I was broke, too. I seriously thought I was going to have to start selling shoes on St. Marks. Joey lent me five grand. Which helped to keep me going until my solo career started to take off.
On Joey Leaving Lorne Michaels Speechless
U2 were playing Saturday Night Live. It must have been 2000, when they were promoting All That You Can’t Leave Behind. Joey got me backstage, cause he was such a bigwig. When U2 started to play, Joey dared me to stage dive! I never did, but it would’ve been hilarious.
After the show, me and Joey and Bono are walking around Rockefeller Center and we bump–I swear!–into Lorne Michaels. Michaels is being all deferential and stuttering and everything when he sees Joey. Who says, “Hey Lorne, how come you’ve never had The Ramones on? I never got that call.” Michaels had a sort of fit trying to apologize. It was hysterical. It was totally worth it.
On Joey Ramone’s Contribution To Rock
It was a singing style, for sure, that low, clipped, street way he had. But there was so much more. Joey brought a real B-movie sensibility to music. And he sang about stuff that could’ve been in a ’50s-style Roger Corman film–all about sniffing glue, monsters, dope, dysfunctional families. He allowed you to experience these things, but in a way that made you laugh, not drag you down. He was also very vocally against the bullshit notion of punk rock. Like people wearing swastikas. He hated that. And whether it was Sid Vicious or Siouxsie Sioux, he told them how uncool it was.
On The Last Time He Spoke To Joey
It was when he was in the hospital, for the last time, in 2001. You know, his cancer had been in remission and one day when winter seemed to be over, he went out for a walk. He just had cabin fever. And he slipped somehow and broke his hip. And the cancer came roaring back. I talked to him a little before he died. On the telephone. He kept saying, “I’m going to get out of here.” He didn’t, of course. Not long after I played the first real Joey Birthday Bash. I walked into the theatre and there was a picture of Joey on this poster. It read, “As promised!” I nearly lost it. It was incredibly sad and sort of funny. And that’s just the way Joey would’ve liked it.