Joey Ramone Birthday Bash|
The Bowery Ballroom
May 19, 2002
Text and photos Copyright © 2002 John Holmstrom
Last year's Birthday Bash at the Hammerstein Ballroom was an amazing event that brought a lot of people together on a Saturday night and got a lot of publicity. This year Joey's birthday was on a Sunday night, without the publicity or the star power (Cheap Trick, Blondie, Damned) of last year. But to many in attendance, it was a better show. The Bowery Ballroom is a more intimate place so everyone felt like they were a part of the show - for instance there was no VIP area. A lot of great, unsigned bands played, which made this more like Joey Ramone's own New York City events. And there was some other really cool stuff, like the T-shirt Guy from The X-Files.
First of all, this event (unlike CBGB's Bowery Electric Festival on the same night) was a benefit. The proceeds were earmarked for lymphoma research. I have to admit I still don't know much about lymphoma cancer, even though Joey died from it, so when Barbara Freundlich of the Lymphoma Research Foundation spoke about it, I was surprised. I didn't know that no one knows what causes it, that only 50% of its victims recover, and that it's on the increase (and no one knows why). Anyhow, to learn more, check out The Lymphoma Research Foundation, 111 Broadway, 19th Floor, New York, New York 10006, www.lymphoma.org, 1-800-235-6848.
Ms. Freundlich spoke right after the first band, Charm School, who did their usual classy (albeit very short) set of Ramones Meets Blondie punk rock. It kills me that all these bands like The Strokes, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs etc., keep getting mentioned as "the latest, greatest New York punk rock band" when authentic punk bands like Charm School keep getting ignored. What's up with that?
The Star Spangles were next. There's a real buzz around this band, a word of mouth thing though, not a fake hype like I was talking about earlier. A lot of people like them. They remind me of the early New York Dolls (with Billy Murcia), 'cause they're rough and sloppy. Next was Coyote Shivers, who're closer to the Stones than anyone else I can think of, but still good stuff. The sound system was having a few problems though, and these early bands suffered from it.
I was asked to introduce the next band: Furious George (starring the evening's emcee George Tabb). So I did my best Michael Buffer impersonation: "Ladies and gentlemen! Are you rrrready? Let's get rrready to rrrrrumble!" George announced that the band was breaking up. (Actually, Furious George lost a lawsuit to the owners of Curious George, so any Furious George merchandise is worth a lot of money now!) They played a few Ramones songs, and the evening started to kick into high gear.
After that, Maureen Wojciechowski talked about her campaign to rename the corner of The Bowery and 2nd Street, just above CBGBs, "Joey Ramone Place." She encouraged everyone to call Rosie Mendez, the city councilwoman who's handling the legislation. (I guess it worked - on Monday, Ms. Mendez said her office had gotten a bunch of calls, but that the bill needed some more paperwork before it could be sent to the City Council to be turned into a bill).
Next Mickey Leigh, Joey's brother, sang some songs from Joey's solo CD with an all-star backing band: Andy Shernoff & Frank Funaro who backed Joey on his solo CD "Don't Worry About Me," Danny Rey (who played on it and produced it), Richie Stotts (ex-Plasmatics) and Dez Cadena (ex-Black Flag). When Marky Ramone showed up, Mickey thanked him for trying to patch up the evening's rivalries. (We don't want to spoil the parties here by bringing up the "We're A Happy Family" rifts that caused these two different events to take place).
Dean Haglund from The X-Files was up next. I never watched that show, but apparently this guy Dean plays a Joey Ramone fan (who always wears a Joey t-shirt), and on a recent episode he gave an intriguing speech about who Joey was and why he meant so much to him. According to Dean, all this happened outside the range of the writing staff, it's something that was just sort of evolved, helped by the production crew and the show's staff. The video of the speech from the X-Files was shown, and afterwards everyone in the audience chanted "T-shirt guy! T-shirt guy!" (It was a Jerry Springer moment!)
Next was a long break as Ronnie Spector's sound crew went to work. They took about a half hour to get everything together. That's about a half hour more than everyone else on the bill had... And - here's some gossip - her crew also insisted that everyone (all the other musicians who were playing and sharing the dressing room) had to leave the dressing room. Well, it was a nice set. Ronnie said some wonderful things about Joey. He certainly did a lot for her - I must have seen her play a half dozen of Joey's showcases around the city over the years.
The Independents played right after that and they just plain kicked ass. Chris, the singer, slammed around the mosh pit that had formed and started to kick some ass - he's a big guy! The Queers came on right after them and played some Ramones songs and a few of their own. These two bands brought the crowd to a fever pitch. There's just something about great punk rock, y'know?
The Bullys came on next, with Mickey Leigh filling in on bass. They had two bands that were tough acts to follow, but I heard more about The Bullys on this night than any other band. I think that, now that Johnny Heff is gone, people are finally beginning to realize how great they are. Ironically, The Bullys followed Joey's set at his last official gig ever, at The Continental on December 11, 2000, and became the last band to perform at one of his events! There were only a few people left in the audience at that point but this was a big deal to The Bullys - especially to Johnny Heff.
Well, it's about time that people started hearing more about real New York punk rock... And this night was a night of authentic punk rock!
I missed the last band, Hotsocky, but everyone told me they were kickass. Finally, Mickey, Charlotte and George came out, thanked everyone for coming, and that was it. Hey, if you missed it, mark it on your calendar now, because this is going to happen every year.