the brat is dead. word of fab four lead singer Joey Ramone's passing this week after a prolonged bout with lymphatic cancer brought me back to a sunny day in the early 80s, waiting in the general admission line outside the Masonic Temple on Yonge.
I was barely a teenager, and seeing the Ramones was my first concert experience. I can't recall if my blue jeans were ripped at the knees or what punk T-shirt I was wearing at the time. (My mother hid my Sex Pistols shirt for months.)
When the doors finally opened, my friend and I raced up to the balcony to get a bird's-eye view of the action onstage. I remember Joey hunched over the mike stand, Johnny's open-leg stance, guitar slung low, and a girl across the balcony dancing as she stripped down to her underwear. It was nirvana for a wide-eyed 13-year-old from Scarborough.
Unlike so many of my buddies who read their older brothers' and sisters' Cream magazines and adopted their record collections, at the time I never really appreciated Zeppelin, the Stones or the Who .
I hitched my identity to a scene the moment I heard the B-52's, Devo and the Ramones on a friend's portable tape deck at a school track-and-field meet.
By the time I was 16, I was singing (screaming) in a hardcore punk band. Our guitarist had come up with the name Orgasm Spasm and, needless to say, my folks were speechless when I dropped that gem on them around the dinner table one night.
We once opened for Bunchofuckingoofs at Larry's Hideaway, at Carlton and Jarvis, on a Sunday-night punk bill.
Later, a different incarnation of the band was kicked off my high school auditorium stage after a lunch-hour show. (I was mangling the bass guitar by then, and another friend had assumed screaming duties.) For an encore we did a song called Fuckin' Jerk -- my self-hating ode to middle-class suburban life.
It wasn't well received, and we were informed by one irate teacher that we wouldn't be performing during the second lunch hour. (I argued in vain for free speech.)
The Clash politicized me. But the Ramones, four delinquents from Queens, New York, who could barely play their instruments, churned out stripped-down, four-chord expressions of angst and boredom -- made-to-order rock 'n' roll for a restless suburban adolescent.
"Now I wanna sniff some glue/ Now I wanna have somethin' to do," Joey declared on the Ramones 1976 debut album.
A gangly beanpole in a worn black leather jacket who hid his sickly mug behind a shaggy mop of hair and dark glasses, Joey was hardly music-video- friendly. Yet he wasn't as brash or threatening as his punk contemporaries Iggy Pop, Johnny Rotten or Joe Strummer or as melancholy as Johnny Thunders.
He was a likeable cartoon character. The perfect anti-rock star. He was awkward, shy and funny.
And for every two-minute punk anthem like Teenage Lobotomy, Joey would also come up with quirky boy-meets-girl songs like I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend on the first album or 7-11 ("I met her at the 7-11/ Now I'm in seventh heaven") on 1981's Pleasant Dreams.
As much as he was a daddy-o of 70s punk, Joey had a soft spot for the 60s, particularly surf tunes and the girl groups. The Ramones covered California Sun on 1977's Leave Home and Surfin' Bird and Do You Wanna Dance? on Rocket To Russia that same year.
But Joey's love affair with the 60s was in full bloom on 1980's End Of The Century album, produced by the combustible Phil Spector. Awkward Joey even sings Spector's Baby I Love You, complete with string accompaniment.
Considering his constant retreat into some of the most choreographed popular music of the 60s, I could never understand how Joey could get on his punk-purist high horse and dis the Clash and fellow CBGB's alumni Debbie Harry and Chris Stein for experimenting with rap and reggae.
Joey and the band rarely strayed from their straight-ahead four-chord formula until they quit in 1997. The result was a string of tired and unrealized albums. Joey revelled in the myth that his band planted the seed of punk rock on their 1976 British tour. But, arguably, that seed was already sewn by Iggy and the Stooges and the New York Dolls, among others. The Ramones just happened to be in the right place at the right time.
But there's no denying that Joey and the Ramones embodied punk's do-it-yourself spirit and influenced perhaps thousands of awkward kids who formed bands of their own.
When Orgasm Spasm auditioned for the high school talent show (what the hell was I thinking?) we covered Blitzkrieg Bop. A school friend who saw the performance told me later that she'd had no idea I sang in a band.
I didn't. I was just being Joey.