Irish echo logo 750x550

Back to the basics and the simple

Black 47 played the recent Joey Ramone birthday party at Irving Plaza.

Now lest you think we were kissing the pinky rings of the men in suits, let me explain that Joey was lead singer for the punk rock band, The Ramones. He tragically passed away ten years ago and proceeds from the annual bash go to the Lymphoma Research Foundation.

Back in the 70s rock music had become so complicated you needed the chops of a Franz Lizt or Django Reinhart to cop a gig. Then came The Ramones - play loud, fast, hard, simple and to hell with the consequences, the same spirit that had inspired Eddie Cochran, Jerry Lee Lewis and Gene Vincent a generation earlier.

Sign up to The Irish Echo Newsletter

Sign up today to get daily, up-to-date news and views from Irish America.

The Ramones got their start in CBGB's, a dump on the Bowery. Coincidentally, I happened to be there for their first performance. They weren't very good, but who was back then? Debbie Harry had trouble singing in tune; Talking Heads were still searching for a sound.

But The Ramones knew exactly what they were after and within three months they were knocking cobwebs off the walls.

CBGB's is gone but The Ramones legacy lives on, and at Irving Plaza many survivors of the original bands and audiences strutted their stuff.

Most everyone looked in decent shape; then again, the lights were low and shades were de rigueur. Black leather for the men, black lace and micro-skirts for the ladies and it was the 70s all over again.

"Sheena Is A Punk Rocker," "Rockaway Beach," "I Wanna Be Sedated" still sounded fresh and immediate. Those Ramones songs have morphed into nostalgic fun-filled anthems, but how strange to think that a hole-in-the wall scene at CBGB's had such an effect on music and the general culture.

As I took in the scene from the balcony I was struck by how much things had changed. Although the stage was in full view, many people watched the show through the ubiquitous closed circuit TV monitors. The only television I ever saw in CB's was the one a near naked Wendy Williams of the Plasmatics chain-sawed through.

The audience was lit up by cell phones held aloft to take pictures while many tapped away on keyboards, no doubt updating their Facebook pages - all well and good, but when I watched The Ramones, Television or the Dead Boys back on the Bowery, all I cared about was being blasted by the white heat that each of those bands was creating. I have no need of pictures; those fiery nights are forever stamped on my consciousness.

I left before the final song. I didn't care to be there when the lights came up. The past is better preserved in darkness and as I strolled down Broadway through the midnight crowds - most of them hooked to iPods like junkies to the needle - I wondered why people choose to block out the distinctive beat of New York City.

Joey Ramone, Lou Reed, Bob Dylan and Dion DiMucci tapped into this perpetual poetry in motion. Then again, those guys were all about the music and taking it to another plane - they didn't give a damn about celebrity, the modern Holy Grail.

The beat of the city turned them on, that holy rhythm that cares nothing for nobody just pulses on regardless. Walt Whitman identified it first; it's unique and God given and you wonder why people have such a need to shut it out.

Joey, you were many things to many people. There were times I thought you'd stepped full-blooded out of a comic book. You were always a gentleman to me and I have many memories of you, but the best is seeing you stand alone on a hot, rancid East Village street, long, lean and lanky, soaking in the metronomic music of the streets.

Hopefully, there are kids out there who are just as disgusted with today's music as you were back in the early 70s. They've seen the light, they know just what they want to do; they've just got to find their own dump on the Bowery to do it in!