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Name: Adam Bernard
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Remembering Joey Ramone
Friday, May 18, 2007

It seems as though the majority of musicians who make a lasting impact are taken from us early. From John Lennon, Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix, to Bob Marley, to 2Pac and Eazy-E, musical legacies always seem to come at the price of a shortened life. In 2001, less than a month before his 50th birthday, Joey Ramone’s name was added to that list when he succumbed to lymphoma. Ever since Joey’s brother, Mickey Leigh, has fulfilled a promise to him, throwing him a huge birthday event every year. “We promised my brother we would do it when he was in the hospital in 2001,” he explains, “when it was going to be his 50th birthday and he was going to have a big 50th birthday bash and we promised him that either way, whether he was still in the hospital or out, we would make sure we would have this big party planned for him.” This Saturday, May 19th, marks the seventh year of the event and Leigh feels it’s going to be the biggest one yet.

The party will be held at Irving Plaza (which as of last month changed its name to The Fillmore New York at Irving Plaza, but you’d be hard pressed to find a single person in the city calling it that) and features a performance by The New York Dolls and the debut of Slinky Vagabond, a band comprised of Glen Matlock from the Sex Pistols, Clem Burke from Blondie, Earl Slick from David Bowie’s touring band, and Keanan Duffty. According to Leigh, “we decided to keep it going for the various reasons, the first reason being mainly to have something for me and the rest of Joey’s family and friends to occupy us on his birthday. We also wanted to keep his tradition going, to keep his legacy going, to keep the essence of his previous birthday bashes, to get exposure for unsigned local bands, and to raise money for Cancer research, and the amount we’ve been able to raise has increased every year, so that’s nice.”

The legacy of The Ramones is one of rock’s most impressive as fans of all ages still “wanna be sedated.” Leigh notes that at these birthday events he sees everyone from sixteen year olds to their fifty year old parents rocking out together in the crowd, which is quite the visual illustration of how the band’s music has crossed generational lines. HBO’s hit show Entourage even had a number of Ramones references last season when Vincent Chase was going after the role of Joey Ramone for a biopic. Leigh notes that for him the plot line came at a very appropriate time. “At the time that show was airing I was in negotiations with a friend of mine, Rory Rosegarten, who was an executive producer of Everybody Loves Raymond, for the movie rights for the book I’m writing on Joey’s life. So right when those shows were airing I was in negotiations for somebody doing the real thing.” The book, which will be called I Slept With Joey Ramone, a reference to when Leigh was three and used to climb into Joey’s bed during thunderstorms or after a scary movie, is set to be completed by the end of summer.

If anyone is fit to tell the story of Joey Ramone it’s certainly Leigh, who not only grew up with him, but was also a roadie for The Ramones for two full years when they were just getting started. He remembers “I started roadying for them in 1975 when they were paying at CBGBs and there might be 12 people in the place, and I quit roadying for them in 1977 after the first European tour. After that tour they did, I think, four nights straight at CBGBs and that last night I was working for them I remember standing on the stage, seeing a CBGBs that could not possibly fit one more body into it, with the place going crazy, and thinking wow, I’ve had the best seat in the house for the past two years. That was a poignant moment for me.”

CBGBs, of course, is no more, but according to Leigh he pretty much saw it being on its way out for a number of years. “I was definitely sad to see it go,” he said of the memorable rock club, “but that neighborhood has changed so much down there it almost doesn’t seem to fit anymore there anyway. I miss that whole area being what it used to be, it’s not anymore, but that’s life.” A block of East 2nd street near where the club used to be is now named Joey Ramone Place in remembrance of both the band and that era.

Leigh has plans to eventually open up a bar and name it Joey Ramone’s and to continue with his own musical career, which has been put on hold since his brother’s passing six years ago. Even with all the work he’s been doing, however, he says it’s all been worth it to help keep Joey Ramone’s legacy going strong. “He accomplished far more than most of us ever will,” Leigh says of his brother with pride, “and far more than he was ever expected to because he was a guy who was told when he was a kid, because of his extreme OCD problems, that he was not going to be able to function in society on his own ever and here he is now an idol to millions of people. He did pretty damned well for those 49 years and with the hand he was dealt.”

The sold out Joey Ramone Birthday Bash will be held on Saturday, May 19th (which would have marked Joey’s 56th birthday) at The Fillmore New York at Irving Plaza. For more information check out JoeyRamone.com.

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