Jeffrey Hyman, a.k.a. Joey Ramone, lead singer of the New York punk band the Ramones, died of lymphoma on Sunday, April 15. He was 49 years old.
As the singer for the band that for all intents and purposes invented punk, Ramone was very much the personification of the genre. Unlike the show-offy macho/femme strutters and preeners of the pre-punk era that generally fronted groups, Ramone was a spindly 6-foot-3, leather-clad praying mantis of a man. His main vocal influence seemed to be the clipped Brit bark of Peter Herman Noone, but physically he had no precedent, neither beautiful nor ugly. In that he was the ideal icon for the music he and his bandmates DeeDee, Johnny and Tommy created the Ramones eliminated solos and fills and dispensed with any unnecessary flourishes, stripping rock & roll to its essence of speed, power and pure joy.
Like their forefathers and mothers, the Velvet Underground, the Ramones influence went far beyond their sales. And unlike the other punk bands of their day, the Ramones recorded and toured long after the first flash of punk faded, long enough to see the style they created finally reach mass acceptance in the mid-90s, even if they themselves never did. This never seemed to bother Joey much; in latter-day interviews he commented that Everyone looks or sounds like us now. And he was right.
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He was a beautiful soul. My band and I had the pleasure of opening a few shows for the Ramones over the years, and Joey was always a sweet, bemused gentleman. The private Joey belied the public figure whose songs extolled glue-sniffing and bashing in the skulls of rotten rug-rats with Louisville Sluggers, though his ironic deadpan was in the true spirit of punk: intelligent more than belligerent. In his own way, he was the Everyman, the unlikely hero who will always bring happiness to those who heard or saw him over the course of his 22-year career with the Ramones. He lives with the giants now, and forever.