Joey Ramone represents something to me that I know is far removed from what was probably the reality of the person: a cult member of a cult-like band that fostered the idea that you didn’t need to know how to play your instruments (in the traditional virtuosic sense) to form an amazing band. I remember the first Ramones song I both heard and learned to play on guitar: “Now I Wanna Sniff Some Glue.” As a young’un who had held a guitar for about a month at that time, playing the descending power chords into a “one two three four five six seven eight” was something I would do over and over again until my sister would yell at me to stop.
I would like to distance myself from Ramones purists who find only significance in their early work. Admittedly, I have a soft spot for the pop structuring and bell/chime sounds that nuanced and signified their post-Phil Spector production, and although albums like Brain Drain don’t have the same strength as Leave Home, there are are a couple songs I’ve grown very fond of. Even so, …Y’know?’s production is about as alienating as production can get. Speaking of Brain Drain, the song “Merry Christmas (I Don’t Want To Fight Tonight)” from said album reappears on …Ya Know?, and it acts as a signifier for the whole album: a collection of semi-rehashes and very basic outtakes cut, chopped, and Pro-Tooled into something that lacks any personality of Joey Ramone himself. Rather, it seems more like a product of those around him. The very obvious “duh” quotient in this equation is that Joey Ramone is dead; both of his solo albums (2001’s Don’t Worry About Me) have been released posthumously, and both lack any personality other than that of the producer.
Lately, pop music has been showing the worst side of its obsession with the untimely dead (making them say shit they never said before, like “What’s up Coachella!”). A little research into …Y’know?’s process revealed (though an interview with producer Ed Stasium) how much editing went into making the record out of 4-track demos from Joey Ramone’s last days. The result of such a process is in the sound, something dragged through modern ability that showcases the worst parts of what music production technology is capable of.
To show a better illustration into the effects of editing the dead and the past, I have decided to conduct the interview I always wanted to do with Joey Ramone, but never could. All responses are lyrics taken directly from …Y’know:
(This interview is conducted via telepathy to the “other-world.”)
I have kind of a fan boy statement: We share a birthday. We also share it with Pete Townsend and Malcom X.
Joey Ramone: You know I do, you know it’s true.
Sure is! Where you gonna be spending your birthday?
JR: East Village, West Village, Uptown, Downtown, ’round and around.
Damn, that’s a lot of Manhattan to cover in one night.
JR: New York City, I like New York City.
What spots you thinking of hitting up?
JR: The Ritz and the Cat Club, Pyramid, Limelight, Paul’s Lounge, Save the Robots.
Oh… you know that a lot of those places are closed now, right? Or… wait, you’re in the afterlife! Are all those old New York spots open in the eternal? You think that we can hang out at the eternal Save the Robots when I get there?
JR: We’ll go bar hoppin’ till the break of dawn, yeah.
Awesome! So, how about this new album you got coming out, …Ya , Know? How do you feel about how it turned out?
JR: Everything is going wrong.
Really? I was wondering that. I was a little shocked myself listening to it. The record company that released it, BMG, released the song “There’s Got To Be More To Life” as a promotional/Record Store Day thing, the B-side to “Rock N’ Roll is the Answer.”
Yeah, that one. I can’t tell if it’s wacky harmonization or Auto-Tune, but it seems very edited. Isn’t stuff like Auto-Tune the sworn enemy of your brand of rock ’n’ roll? I mean, it seems pretty terrible to be slapping on post-production stuff just because you can’t go in and redo your parts.
JR: I’ll never be happy.
I don’t blame you! It sounds like they did all sorts of weird effects on your vocals on “Rock N’ Roll” and other songs on the album.
JR: Loopin’ the loop.
Kinda, like there wasn’t enough of your vocals to fill the four or five minutes of big dumb guitars, so they just cut-and-paste your track over and over. How does that make you feel?
JR: I’m goin’ insane.
No doubt! Let’s talk about the afterlife. Where are you right now?
JR: Here in my room.
You get a room in your afterlife? Kind of like your old bedroom or something like that? What’s it like there?
JR: My parents are always lecturing me.
Whoa, is that purgatory? I’ve read a little Dante, but I’m still not clear on it. Can you give any better descriptions of purgatory to the rest of us?
JR: Seven days of gloom here in my room, if it wasn’t for sushi my life would be ruined.
Seven days? But you’ve been dead for about 11 years? And you get room service sushi in Purgatory? I mean, if you have ambivalent feelings about sushi…
JR: If it wasn’t for sushi my life would be ruined.
Sorry, I should have picked up on it the first time, my bad. So it sounds like Purgatory is where you live out your teenage years again for an undisclosed amount of time. That sounds terrible. What have you been thinking about there?
JR: Thinkin’ ’bout Metallica.
Really? What are your feelings on that horrible LouTallica album? Did you hear that one?
JR: I was flippin’ I was floppin’.
I feel like that’s more of a chance than most other people gave it. I read somewhere that Lou Reed wanted to work with Metallica because they were the heaviest band he could think of, which goes to show how out of touch old rockers get. What if he picked someone like Morbid Angel — or even better, sunn 0)))? There’s a lot better options out there, if you’re looking for “heavy.”
JR: You know that you drive me crazy.
Oh… uh, sorry. I didn’t mean that as an insult, just criticism. After all, I am a critic.
JR: Ya better listen to what I’m sayin’.
JR: Rock ’n’ roll is the answer.
That’s cryptic. I don’t really know what that means. Personally, I feel like rock ’n’ roll rhetoric is almost empty now, with all my rock ’n’ roll heroes doing stupid things.
JR: What did I do?
Well, you didn’t do anything. But this music on your album is the kind of music that drove me to start listening to The Ramones in the first place, to get away from all this big, dumb stuff.
JR: You’re going nowhere fast.
Wow, that coming from you is like saying this idea that youth is trapped in a repetitive motion of rebellion, kind of an aging punk version of Harold Rosenberg’s Tradition of the New-type thing, maybe? I might be pushing it, but that’s heavy dude. Oh, uh, my girlfriend wants to say hi.
JR: An axe-murderess I bet.
Whoa, okay, chill out.
JR: She’s dark and twisted like me, a creature of intrigue.
I mean, she’s a big Ramones fan too. And yes, she’s definitely an incredibly interesting person, but I wouldn’t call her dark.
JR: I want her.
No, you can’t have her.
JR: That’s the way it’s got to be.
Alright dude, it’s up to you how this is going to turn out.
JR: I don’t want to fight tonight, with you.
Me neither. You know, I though this interview was going to be enlightening. I mean, I feel like this new record being released under your name is a way for BMG and some other people to make money off you. It sounds like this might be some sort of cathartic or grieving process for your brother, but in all honesty the whole record seems, like I said, a sort of pathetic attempt at making money from some leftover recordings. It makes me sad.
JR: Don’t be sad.
But I am! That guy from The Sopranos (Steven Van Zandt) wrote that this album is “sanctuary for all you future freaks.” I feel like that’s bullshit, pandering and marketing. God I’m so mad.
JR: DON’T BE SAD AT ALL.
Oh, I’m sure I’ll get over it. I’m just feeling a little dramatic. I think our connection is starting to fade — anything you wanna say to the living before you fade away?
JR: Merry Christmas.
Merry Christmas to you, Joey Ramone. Merry Christmas to you as well.