When I was seventeen, I had an encounter I would recall with fondness many years later. It was the night I met Joey Ramone. Actually, it wasn’t just Joey; Dee Dee, Johnny and Tommy were there too, but it’s Joey I remember.
It was 1977 - Jimmy Carter was President; serial killer, “Son of Sam”, was terrorizing New York, and Elvis Presley would die that August. But for me, it was a summer of a music, cool clothes and fun. Disco reigned supreme, but suddenly, out of the excess of thumping, and reverberated vocals, came a new music—Punk Rock.
Punk was fast, hard-edged, stripped-down, with an anti-establishment message; a welcome diversion for bored teenagers—bored with the current mind-numbing sound of The Bee Gees, et al. And then there was the clothes. We wore tight, straight-legged jeans (when everyone was still wearing bell-bottoms), ripped T-shirts, stiletto heels, black eyeshadow, red lipstick, and, of course, the garment de rigueur; a black leather jacket.
The only Punk club in Toronto was the “Crash ‘n’ Burn”, buried in the bottom of a downtown warehouse. It was frequented by kids dying to hear the new sound from local bands like Teenage Head, The Diodes, The Viletones. But bands playing larger venues would stop in after their gigs; bands usually from the Mecca of North American Punk—New York City. I recall meeting Deborah Harry from Blondie, a heavily pregnant Tina Weymouth from Talking Heads, and others. But the night I remember with the most clarity is when The Ramones stopped in for a drink.
Joey wasn’t hard to spot. He towered over everyone like a gentle giant (he was 6’ 8”). He was dressed in the official Ramones “uniform”: straight-legged blue jeans, T-shirt, white Converse sneakers, black leather jacket. He looked lost in the throng, like a child who suddenly finds himself separated from his mother in a crowd. I approached him. He was sweet, polite, and shy to the extreme. Wearing his trademark rose-colored shades, he said he was enjoying Toronto, and was amazed at its cleanliness, especially in comparison to the Bowery, the Manhattan neighborhood in which he lived. Joey revealed his favorite band was a group I hadn’t heard of—The Cramps.
We talked until one of my friends whispered in my ear, “You don’t have to stand with him all night!” I reluctantly said goodbye. He leaned down from his rarefied atmosphere, virtually bent over double, hugged me, and said goodbye. I made my way to an ice-filled bathtub, my hand going numb as I fished around for a beer. Glancing back, I saw that he was still alone, watching the mayhem surrounding him, like an alien from another planet, sent to observe our way of life.
I was truly saddened when I heard about Joey’s death in 2001. Thirty years later (it just can’t be that long!), I was surprised to hear my sixteen-year-old daughter listening to The Ramones. I told her about my teenage encounter with Joey. She was amazed, delighted. It was the first time I recounted it to anyone. This is the second.