February 28, 2002

Nothing to Worry About

Print More

Moments that change your life are described as revelations — when they hit, you know it. For me this was not the case. When I was twelve I saw The Ramones play at the Capitol Theater in Portchester, NY. Johnny Ramone shouted 1,2,3,4, Joey Ramone grabbed the mike stand, left foot forward, right foot back, and an hour and a half later my friend and I were singing “Sheena is a Punk Rocker” the whole way home. A few weeks before we had stolen a cassette of The Ramones’ Mania from my friend’s brother. We were in sixth grade, had never heard “punk”, but we loved that cassette. I didn’t know that my life would change after I saw the Ramones, all I knew was that I saw something cool and I knew I wanted more.

Since 1976 The Ramones wore leather jackets, chuckies, t-shirts, and ripped jeans. Even when their style was in, you could never put them in a fashion magazine. They were too awkward, too ugly, and too punk. Musically, The Ramones didn’t evolve much in those 25 years. But if you launched that as a criticism against them, you missed the point. The Ramones knew that all you needed were three chords and a catchy chorus.

On April 15, 2001 Joey Ramone died of lymphatic cancer. A few weeks before he finished recording his debut solo album aptly titled Don’t Worry About Me. He was 49 years old. When I put this CD on I was praying that it would not be an artsy solo record. Something artsy coming from Joey Ramone is more than my stomach can handle. Fortunately for my digestive system, Don’t Worry About Me sounds like a good Ramones record — not a single open chord, just pure power pop bliss. Catchy as hell songs that combine Beach Boys surf pop and buzzsaw rock and roll guitars. Joey Ramone’s voice, untarnished by age, remains the warm hiccupish falsetto croon. Lyrics full of the moronic wit that made “I Wanna Be Sedated,” and “Beat on The Brat” so damn good.

Don’t Worry About Me begins with a cover of “What A Wonderful World.” That’s right, Joey Ramone passionately singing that tune, made famous by Louis Armstrong. Of all the versions of this song, Joey Ramone’s is the first that makes musically explicit what the original left implicit — namely, that it’s a happy song. In other words, if you didn’t know English and heard the original you wouldn’t think it was upbeat. Joey Ramone shrouds the song with fuzzy distorted guitars, and double time drumming courtesy of Marky Ramone. Musically, the song seems faster, yet Joey Ramone sings at nearly the same pace as the original. The effect is a poppier feel that works really well. The other cover on this disc is a fantastic rendition of the Stooges’ classic “1969” equipped with handclaps and a wheeling guitar solo. The Stooges were the godfathers of punk, much more so than the Velvet Underground or MC5, and to have Joey Ramone pay this tribute to them on his farewell album is the best compliment Iggy has received since Bowie came up to him in 1969 and said “Nice ass.”

The remaining nine tracks are all solid originals. Some are better that others, but none are bad. I’ve been humming “Stop Thinking About It” for days now and it ranks up there with other Ramones’ classics. “Spirit In My House” is heavily influenced by The Kinks with some extra distortion thrown in. While writing this album Joey Ramone knew that he only had a few years left, and some tracks have a darker tone. In “I Got Knocked Down” the verse repeats the phrase “sitting in a hospital bed” then segues into a chorus of “I want life/ I want my life.” The effect is chilling. The album ends with “Don’t Worry About Me” a love song written to an ex-girlfriend, ending with “bye, baby, bye bye/ don’t worry about me.” It’s hard not to read more into those words. After all they’re the last words Joey Ramone sang.

When I was seventeen, I was talking to a bartender friend of mine at a bar called The Continental when Joey Ramone came up and ordered a Bud. He was polite and humble. He was the same awkward and sharply angular 6’3″ frontman of one of the best rock’n’roll bands. I didn’t know about his condition, but I noticed that he didn’t look good; his hair was thinner, he had gained weight, and was very pale. Still, standing next to him I was in awe. That night I rushed home so I could listen to that Mania cassette. It was as good the last time as it was the first.

Archived article by Maxim Pozdorovkin