Today is Joey Ramone’s birthday. He would have been 58 years old if he had been able to beat the cancer that ended up taking him off the planet in 2001. Of course, Joey was the lead singer of the incomparably wonderful punk pop band the Ramones, who rocked the world for 22 years out of Queens, New York. Time has not been too kind to the Ramones – a year after Joey died, Dee Dee Ramone died of an overdose, and Johnny Ramone lost his own hard fight with cancer in 2004. It is certain, in that unfair Van Gogh type of way, that the Ramones are far more popular and beloved today than they were in all those years they were playing and putting out records. Time has come today for me to tell you how much I appreciate them now, and why I didn’t earlier.

When I first read about the Ramones – likely at least a couple of years before I got to even hear them out in the hinterlands of the Midwest – I didn’t quite know what to think. This was the mid-‘70s, and music was solidly Album Oriented Rock. Think Kansas, Supertramp, Led Zeppelin, REO Speedwagon, Pink Floyd. Glam was petered out, my dear Kinks were thick into concept albums, the Beatles were having scattershot solo careers, and complete and utter CRAP like “Muskrat Love” and “Afternoon Delight” made me embarrassed to have ears. I was still in mourning for Mod. The hot look for guys was a Qiana shirt unbuttoned to mid-chest and wide bell-bottom pants. So, here are “The Ramones,” I read, wearing black leather jackets, straight-leg Levis, and white t-shirts. I thought they were greasers with long bowl cuts and greasers were WAY WAY uncool. This was clearly some kind of strange New York City thing, I thought, and not for me. They’d never make it.

So when I finally heard them and their breakneck under-two-minute-long jackhammer songs, I took their appearance and the similarity of the songs and dismissed them more or less as a novelty act. I thought they were kidding. I didn’t at all dislike them, but I didn’t give them much of a shot. They certainly were NEVER played on mainstream radio, I can tell you that. It was not an easy thing to hear the Ramones, or find their records in Wisconsin. But I kept reading about them and CBGB’s and Max’s Kansas City and Patti Smith and Television and all the people over there who seemed so serious about their music. The “punk” I knew was garage rock from the ‘60s – I wasn’t really too thrilled about the term getting appropriated. I was still a young teenager, and bitter about how rock music had bloated and about died, and viewed anything at that time with suspicion.

I started perking up when it became clear to me that many of the punk and new wave bands of the ‘70’s were fans of the same music I loved – it was just coming out in a different way. I think I started “getting” the Ramones when the movie “Rock n’ Roll High School” came out in 1979. The deliciousness of the film was that the Ramones were featured as the world’s hottest rock band. It was so silly and implausible, and that made it wonderful. As teen rock fan “Riff Randall” (played by actress P.J. Soles) drooled over the decidedly-very-unhandsome Joey Ramone, the bands’ complete lack of acting skills just made it all even better.

The Ramones weren’t a joke band. They loved music, they had a sense of humor, and they were able to strip rock n' roll down to the bare bones minimum. They were always, always, THE RAMONES, and that was just fuckin’ awesome.

I became a fan, and remain so to this day. Happy Birthday, Joey.