I met Joey Ramone back around '89, which was a big, big deal for me. I had been doing promotions at KSJS and The Ramones were doing a local gig at One Step Beyond. I was friends with Stan, the owner of OSB, and had arranged for a ton of tickets for KSJS for the Ramones' shows. Best news of all was when Stan called, letting us know that the band was dropping by the station later on that day for an interview!
I got ahold of the best local pizza place and arranged for a bunch of comp'ed pizzas to be on hand for the band's arrival... we waited, and waited, and said nice things about the pizza place, and played a ton of Ramones songs and waited -- for a radio deejay, doing a musical tribute to the Ramones was really an honor, because keeping up with 2-3 minute songs and still fitting in a smoke/piss/PSA break and cueing up the next song on vinyl was a matter of endurance.
And just as the pizza started to get cold, the band finally arrived, looking like gods and icons. Real life Joey Ramone close up and in the flesh. The pizza disappeared in short order.
I was relatively new to college radio at the time, and amongst those who had been around, a Ramones interview was kind of like a cool joke -- the band weren't usually great at interviews, but they were still revered anyway. Joey didn't hype himself or sell himself or try to be something that he wasn't, and yet the cool part was that he was kind and quiet and understated and even a bit shy and humble, perhaps... except when he laughed or joked or talked about music or performed, at which point his lips -- which kind of remind me in retrospect of two giant earthworms stretched across his face -- would part into the biggest, funniest smiley grimace imaginable, revealing a set of crooked teeth and a smile that would be sinister on anyone who was less sincere.
We got tickets to the show and followed them back to the club before showtime and got to hang out with them... and when the show started, we got to see Joey leaning forward on his microphone stand and doing what he did best... and yes, he was an icon, and I wish I wish I wish I could see him perform again. His performances were so alive to me, it's hard to imagine that kind of immediacy no longer exists.
He made us college radio geeks feel at home... like he was one of us and that no matter how iconic he was, we were all nerds and dweebs and still cool at the same time. As Stan said about The Ramones on his site... "it was like being a part of a very different, dysfunctional family." The cool thing was that their fans were treated like part of the family too.
Joey wasn't a rich rock star. He didn't spend all his time in a mansion or a limo. He didn't go to fancy restaurants. His albums didn't even sell all that well most of the time. What made him great, however, was that he was real and that he was utterly, totally, and still to this day quite unfortunately unique -- an amazingly improbable person who played his role in life well. It's nice to know that there's still room for a person like him in the heart of NYC. He would never have expected it, but it's nice to know that someone like Joey can be honored so highly in today's tamer version of New York..
I can only hope that in the future, some kid will stumble upon a datacard or chip or cube in a store somewhere and be able to see Joey "live" again, because live is what Joey was all about. He was really, really live.