This photo was taken on May 16, 2000, at Joey Ramone’s last birthday party. At least, the last one he attended in the flesh. Joey’s birthday is May 19. That party was a couple days early; this post is a couple days late. It’s all right.
Joey’s been gone ten years. Everything about the world is different from the way it was on May 16, 2000, the night Arturo threw down a stack of photos on his living room worktable – the very table the Ramones had leaned on to sign their first record deal – and instructed Joey to autograph and me to flip and stack while he snapped this picture.
I just read something about the plane that emergency-landed in the Hudson a couple years ago. One of the passengers referred to the water landing as a “miracle”. It wasn’t a fucking miracle. It was the work of an excellent, experienced and competent pilot doing his job in an exemplary way. Those lives were not saved by an imaginary god, but by a real human being.
Why is there no longer any appreciation of excellence in our culture, in our society? We don’t strive for it… we don’t even seem to understand it anymore when we see it. What entertains Americans in 2011? Shit we can poke fun at, ridicule. Things that make us feel superior. The “Friday” video, the rapture fail. Our spirits are broken. This is all we have left. We justify the time we waste picking over garbage by invoking “irony”… but there’s no irony here. Slapstick isn’t ironic. Ineptitude isn’t ironic. Self-flagellation isn’t ironic.
The Ramones made music that was simple. Simple can be a cop out; it’s easy to be simple and shitty, or simple and stupid. But Ramones music isn’t shitty or stupid, and it’s very, very difficult to play well. The generation that beatified the Ramones was X – my generation. Not coincidentally, we also wielded irony – real irony – as a weapon. We bludgeoned bullshit to death with it. Like the Ramones, though, Gen X is history.
I want to share a video with you. I found this earlier tonight on some old mini DV tapes and edited a couple of camera angles together. This is from October 8, 2004 – the Ramones “Beat on Cancer” event in New York City. Joey, Dee Dee and Johnny were all gone by then. CJ Ramone, Daniel Rey and the Descendents’ Bill Stevenson performed with rotating singers, including Suicide’s great Alan Vega.
This performance is funny, yeah; it’s a mess. But it’s touching, and it’s right. I offer this without a trace of irony… here is a true artist with giant fuckin balls doing what he does, doing whatever the hell he wants. Being excellent over excellent music. Happy birthday, Joey.