We Wanna Be Sedated


Joey Ramone is dead. Born Jeffrey Hyman in 1951, he died in New York Sunday of lymphatic cancer, at the age of 49.

Joey was the voice and public face of punk rock pioneers The Ramones. Joey's funny appearance eerily matched his band's music. Clad in signature leather jacket, he was freakishly tall and gangly, lurching behind a wall of hair and shades. He leaned on the mike like a skinny tree swaying in the churning maelstrom that was the Ramones' music. He looked like an absurd cartoon thug, just as the Ramones' music was a delightful cartoon rock n' roll machine.

But the Ramones were more than just a great band. Joey and his adoptive "brothers" in the Ramones not only delighted millions; they changed the world. Despite the lean simplicity of their own music, they were the fathers of a cornucopic revolution in do-it-yourself popular culture. You can trace punk rock's sonic tropes back past the Ramones to the New York Dolls, the Stooges, and dozens of one-single '60s freaks. But it was the four New York louts led by Joey who most memorably and consistently combined a tough simplicity in sound with shockingly blunt and often antisocial lyrics. In doing so, they created the sound adapted by Brits and sold back to us with the Sex Pistols as its paragons.

The Ramones were never themselves purely DIY. From the beginning, their music was released by the record label Sire, now a part of the AOL Time Warner empire. But the band's genius always resided in its imagination and style, not its technical skills. Though playing Johnny Ramone's patented buzzsaw guitar style well isn't something anyone can do, it sounded like it was. The stark, bizarre, harsh whimsy of their lyrics struck a chord with misfit kids everywhere–indeed, the lyrics were so powerful, they made everyone want to be a misfit, a freak, a pinhead. The Ramones might be second only to the Beatles in the amount of bands that rose up inspired by their example.

Affection for the Ramones is something that punks and DIYers of all stripes, from the most Neanderthal of rockers to most conceptual of artistes, can generally agree on. Punk rock ended up meaning not just aping the Ramones. It meant doing like the Ramones did by making music that went against any dominant sensibility in pursuit of one's own personal sense of pleasure.

The Ramones celebrated both the dumb fun and the ennui of modern urban life–taking the subway to the beach, hanging out on corners, eating chicken vindaloo, sniffing glue, looking for something to do. The Ramones made even boredom and the urge for sedation sound inspirational and delightful. Four dumb good-for-nothings from New York created an irresistibly dynamic, demotic art whose brash directness will guarantee them the attention and affection of fans for years to come. They were brave entrepreneurs, imagining an audience of looking-for-fun lovers of simple, aggressive, infectious rock that didn't really exist at the time.

As capitalist businessmen, they sold a consistently reliable product, mostly through their relentless touring. They quit back in 1996–perhaps not quite while they were ahead, but at least before they became an embarrassment to themselves and to their fans. It was comforting to the fans to know they were still out there, though. Even though their heroes had hung it up, Ramones fans secretly hoped Joey would at least once more lean up there against the mike stand, impossibly spindly yet impossibly strong, with his Bruddas roaring and banging behind him, making us all jump up and down with glee like idiots one last time.

Alas, it was not to be. Still, Joey Ramone died a successful revolutionary, winning victories of pure fun and unbridled self-expression for kids everywhere and of all ages.