Love It To Life

First: Happy birthday a day late, Karl! Your blog rules.

Soooo…I have had the most writerly and rock and roll weekend without actually doing any writing or any rocking.

Friday, which is supposed to be my writing day, found me happily long lunching it with Storm instead. She has been in and out of town for various reasons which I will not divulge publicly, and I am so happy to have her around. Storm is, on top of all her other projects, writing a book, and is already signed to a book deal and under a deadline. It is most helpful to me to have someone I am so close to further along in the process than I currently am, and we talked about words and phrases and our history and although it wasn’t maybe truly productive on my end, it actually 
was, if you know what I mean.

Drew is in Germany at the moment playing drums for Walter Shreifels, so the pets and I are home alone and I had planned on turning Saturday (yesterday) into a writing day. But I just wasn’t feeling it. I will admit here that I spent the entire afternoon watching movies (Tsotsi – so sad but great) and playing Borderlands on the Xbox, with curlers in my hair. I am currently a level 24 Siren with a Firefly class mod, if anyone wants to know. I felt guilty but the idea of writing about my crap just did not appeal.

Then last night I met up with my gorgeous friend Zoe for dinner at the Stanton Social Club. Zoe is a wonderful writer with a fascinating history, and is also working on a book (check her 
HERE). I love her stories and sense of humor and we have been trying to get together for months. We have led different lives but we are both rock chicks close to the same age, so we have lots to talk about. Zoe was very helpful with her thoughts on book proposals and agents, which was something I needed to hear, and we ate a truckload of delicious food (including 3 desserts sent out by her friend the chef) and dished about anyone and everyone. It was fabulous, albeit fattening.

Afterward we moved on to Bowery Ballroom to see my ex and our good friend Jesse Malin play with his new band the St. Marks Social Club. The band was great, it’s a bit edgier and more rock based than he’s been in the past, and we truly enjoyed the show. But of course we stood in the back, away from the fray, and continued to drink and gossip mercilessly the whole time. When we met up with Jesse sometime later he said he saw us standing in the very back yapping. The man always catches my bad behavior. I do pay attention, but I am notorious for watching shows from the back bar.

And then after that we wobbled to Manitoba’s for the after party. Zoe is married to Handsome Dick Manitoba and he was working his ass off because the place was jammed. We ran into Mickey Leigh, who is not at all pleased with me because of my
previous blog in which I questioned some of the intentions pointed in Joey Ramone’s historical direction. I thought I was diplomatic enough but Mickey was not having it, though he did hear me out and I stated some things drunkenly which I will now try to clarify in the light of day.

Joey was my friend and I loved him very much. Without Joey I may not have gotten as far as I did in the music business (for whatever that’s worth) and he was a lovely soul. Although we were not super close on a day to day basis I considered him a good friend and hold his memory dear. I knew him to be a private person and I do question whether what has unfolded since his death would have been his first choice of outcome.

That being said, it was never my intention to hurt anyone with my most decidedly outside assessments, and I fully acknowledge that Mickey is Joey’s brother and has the absolute right to his opinions and to write about their history together, and he certainly knows more than I do about the inner workings of the man. And. I have not read the book and I have prefaced anything I’ve said with that caveat. I may read it at some point; I don’t know if I’m ready to go there just yet. But I am honestly sorry for any damage my opinions may have caused, and I gave Mickey a hug and told him that just because I don’t necessarily agree with everything I’ve heard, it does not mean that I would ever wish him harm or ill will and I am truly sorry to be a source of upset. I respect his position as Joey’s brother and a member of the rock and roll “community”, and it is my firm belief that you can disagree with people and still be friends.

So Mickey, here it is for the record: I apologize for upsetting you with that past blog, and of course am incredibly flattered that anyone pays any attention whatsoever to what I have to say, so with that in mind I promise I will keep my public mouth shut on the subject from here on out.

Lastly, I know this is going to make me out to be more of a wackjob than ever, but since I gave up any pretense towards sanity long ago, here it is: I have had a couple of conversations with Joey since his death and he seems to have a good sense of humor about everything. He is just as generous with his time as ever and will show up to talk whenever I ask it of him, even though I’m sure he has better things to do on the other side. So whatever emotional opinions people may have towards his legacy, don’t worry about Joey, he’s doing great.

It’s a rock and roll life and I’m grateful for every single, stupid second of it. 

Old Friends

My lovely friend Mike Dolan (not to be confused with the other Mike that I’m always blogging about) was going through some old VHS tapes and in the middle found this…ahem…gem video from the way back files. He burned it for me and the results is at the bottom of this blog. I’m proud of myself for figuring out how to convert a VOD file to an MPG and then managing to upload it onto the web. It only took me three days…

The video features footage from a local cable show called Overnight Sensation and features a fairly early, definitely pre-record deal inception of Cycle Sluts from Hell backstage with friends. Those friends are Ryan Maher from Circus of Power (very brief – right at the beginning), my future ex-husband/boyfriend at the time, Curt Fleck, for one second getting stickers slapped onto him and then I’m assuming running out of the dressing room in a rush to locate strippers with drugs and cash (but that’s another blog), and his bandmates in Blitzspeer–Phil Caivano (later of Monster Magnet) and Scott Lano. I don’t know what the host’s name was but I’d like you all to pay attention to the very trendy ear cuff he was sporting. Delightful! 

I am slightly suspicious that despite the anti-drug/pro-beer stance I may have been in a chemically enhanced state as I seem a little twitchy and desperate for a drink in the corner there, but I truly can’t remember so those rumors will remain unsubstantiated. It could have also just been the gum-chewing and side-of-mouth talking, both of which I thought made me appear more of a bad-ass.

Then it moves to The Throbs live onstage–Ronnie Sweetheart in his thousands of bracelets, skinny leather pants and giant hair, then on to a brief moment with Joey Ramone, and then CSFH live, sounding pretty crappy, but enjoying ourselves nonetheless.

I wasn’t expecting to see Joey, so when he popped onscreen my heart cracked a little bit. It felt so good to hear him say “Cycle Sluts” one more time.

I have not said anything up until now about the book that recently came out about him because it didn’t feel to be my place. I wasn’t one of Joey’s closest friends and I certainly don’t know what his intimate family life was like beyond what we all know and have read. I also have no personal beef with authors Legs McNeil and Joey’s brother Mickey Leigh, both of whom I know personally. I have no wish to cause ill will and have shot my mouth off so many times in this life to invariably painful results, so in my dotage I strive for a modicum of diplomacy when posting my business for the world to see.

A few days before viewing this video I got a facebook message from a friend who had read the book and wanted my opinion. He was very upset with the way Joey was portrayed. And a day after viewing this video Joey was firmly on my mind so I asked another friend who was close to Joey for his opinion. This person told me that he felt misrepresented and maligned in the book, and said that he believed that the things written about other close friends of ours and Joey’s were either distortions or untruths. 

But I haven’t read it, and probably won’t after hearing all of the personal reviews from friends who knew Joey. So it’s not fair or responsible for me to give too much of an opinion without firsthand knowledge. But after seeing him again on film and thinking about it in a deeper way, I have come to the conclusion that I do have some right to a blogging opinion about Joey, as he was my friend and a special part of my life. He was the first rock star I met when I moved to New York, he was instrumental in my music career, and I could call him or email him any time I pleased.

Joey was, in my experience, a kind, generous, lovely, funny, person. When I see him laughing on film I want to hug him one last time and tell him that I love him. He went out of his way to help the musicians around him and he was a vital force in the New York rock scene. I had some of the funnest times of my life in his presence, and although I have seen him in a bad mood and unhappy, I never experienced the darkness I have heard is expressed in the book.

The Cycle Sluts used to make our friends do this thing with us when we were out partying: It was a very bad group arabesque, which involved locking arms over shoulders like Rockettes and then lifting on leg off the ground behind you and balancing. We made every rock star we knew do it at least once as we thought it was hilarious, and we made Joey do it all the time. Joey had bad balance and OCD issues, so he was not the best person to force into drunken ballet, but he gamely did it anyway. He would laugh and just lift his foot very low off of the ground. He always let us push him around and we loved him for it, and there was always love behind it.

Everyone has their dark places and bizarre foibles, and Joey was certainly human and had his. When I met him we were all partying quite a bit and that took a toll in his life and eventually he quit all drugs and alcohol. I gave some crying shoulder time to a couple of his girlfriends so I knew he could be obnoxious just like the rest of us. But the Joey that I knew was wonderful and gentle and that is how I choose to remember him.

I also believe that when famous people die, the lowest common denominator energy can sometimes take over in the ensuing feeding frenzy. Because that person is gone they cannot defend their own memory or property, intellectual or tangible, and history, as we all know, is written by those left standing. Sometimes there is an agenda that has nothing to do with the person in question, but much more to do with the ego or needs of the persons writing the history. I believe this to be the case this time.

And that is all I’ll say without having read the book. It is only my opinion, so take it as you will. And now, without further ado, let’s take a little trip back to summer of 1988:

Joey Ramone

My friend Kat is working on a piece for college about Joey Ramone. I thought some of you might like to see the answers to the interview she gave me. Please do not borrow any of this as it’s exclusively hers.


How did you discover the Ramones? Roughly what year or age? 

I was 15 or 16 and I would buy every rock magazine I could get my hands on, so I’m sure I read about them before I heard them. This was before you could see bands regularly on TV and eons before the internet so all information on music was garnered from Creem, Circus and Rolling Stone. Then I would have to go talk the guy that owned the only record store in town into special ordering albums for me, bc no one wanted the shit I was into. I finally got Rocket to Russia and ran home to play it right away. On my way home I ran into my neighbor and showed it to him. He said, “Thats punk rock, isnt it?” And I said “Yep…”
Then I went home and put the record on and wondered what the hell was wrong with the guy singing, he sounded like he had marbles in his mouth. But I loved it and played it over and over, hopping around the room.
What were your impressions of Joey as a fan? (assuming you were a fan before you were a friend).
I loved that he looked so gawky and strange, and that the way he pronounced words when he sang was so weird. He was like a glorious punk rock alien. I tore all the knees out in my jeans because of Joey, I liked the way his skinny legs looked poking through the holes.
What went through your mind the first time you saw the Ramones live? When and where was this?
I saw them at the Ritz, where heinous Webster Hall is now. It was one of the first shows I went to when I moved to NYC so it must have been around 1983. My friend Leslie made me come really early so we could be at the front of the stage and I ended up getting in a physical fight with a girl who kept trying to get in front of me. She grabbed onto my hair and I couldn’t fight her properly because she held my head down with it. I was so frigging mad. That was probably the first and last time I stood right in front of a stage. Anyway, the show was awesome, of course. I think the first thing that went through my mind was, “Shit, they’re playing so FAST.”
How did you meet Joey?
Around that same time I went to Danceteria to see Hanoi Rocks play. When I walked in Joey was standing at the third floor bar by himself. I couldn’t believe it and immediately went up and introduced myself. I said, “Hi! I’m Raffaele.” And he said, “Hi. I’m Joey.” And that was it, I didn’t know what else to say. He was the first official rock star I met in NY. I met Michael Monroe and Rik Ocasek that night too.
How did your opinions of Joey change as you went from fan to friend? (again assuming you were a fan first).
I just grew to have a great fondness for him. My opinion didnt change, I always thought he was the coolest, but my personal affection grew.
What do you think made Joey special/different/great as a friend/person?
Joey and I were never super close, like I was close enough to have his phone number and email but I never called him and rarely emailed. So I can’t say that I knew all of his secrets as a friend or anything. But to me he was always very sweet and humble, and he was easy to hang out with, no entourage or bullshit. Joey was very generous with his time and energy as far as helping out bands that he like and he really loved music and always worked to help out local bands and make things happen in the scene. He never acted like he thought he was better than anyone and he came out regularly to see bands and socialize.
What do you think it was about Joey that captivated audiences and also people on an individual basis?
That he was such a weird looking and sounding guy with so much charisma onstage. He made you realize that you didn’t have to be Robert Plant to be a frontman for a cool rock and roll band. He made it all seem possible.
As a friend, what role did Joey play in your life?
Joey was my first indication that my rock and roll dreams could actually happen. I bought his records and read about him and then I came to NY and there he was, just standing there. So he was my first rock star friend. Then when I was in Cycle Sluts From Hell he helped the band immensely, and I have often said that he is a big reason we got so much attention quickly. So his friendship helped my own musical career. Our second gig ever was opening for the Ramones (at the Ritz again) and that was huge, and completely due to him. We spent a lot of time hanging out partying with him late at night, often in our apartments until well after the sun came up. After that era things mellowed out, Joey stopped drinking and the scene changed, but I would still see him out and about. Then when I started running Coney Island High and going out with Jesse Malin we spent more regular time with him, going to movies or barbeques or whatever, because they were very close friends. Joey was just a part of my NY experience from the time I got here to the time he died.
What did he mean to you personally? (because I am trying to express his impact on the people around him in this paper)
I’m not sure how to answer this. I loved Joey and I’m very grateful that I got to have him in my life. He was the personification of NY rock and roll and a lovely person.
What kind of impact do you think Joey had on the world?
The Ramones changed everything. There was nothing like them before or since, and they still have rabid fans all over the world. As I said, I think Joey made people see that they didn’t have to be Adonis with a perfect voice to be a great frontman.

I’ve heard vague evidence that Joey was a warm, loving person. What are your thoughts?
Most definitely.
Something I would like to convey in this project is Joey, like others, had some kind of adversity that he in a sense overcame to achieve the things he did in his life. I know he had OCD and would like to know what you think about the role that aspect of his life played to influence his professional life. Since I am having a difficult time structuring questions around a subject I find sensitive I would love it if you would share your thoughts on this. Basically did you see this side of him and how do you think it affected him. Also if you think that was a big factor in his drive and heart for his music.

I know that Joey had OCD but I didn’t see evidence of it very often. I know he had a little thing where he would have to step up on curbs more than once. And physically he was just fragile, like he had really bad balance and moved slowly. I know he was never that strong physically and I would imagine the OCD made touring harder for him, but I never heard him discuss it. Joey was very private about that kind of stuff. I don’t think it affected his drive for music, except maybe that he loved rock enough to get out there and do it regardless of the issues that could have held him back.

I’ve heard it said that Joey was a very complex person. Do you have any opinions or explanations about this?
He was complex, as we all are. He also wasn’t perfect, as none of us are, but any opinions or explanations I might put here wouldn’t be fair because I wasn’t privy to his very personal life. I wouldn’t want to speculate or open up things that he might have wanted to keep private. 
What were you doing and how did you feel when you heard the news that Joey had passed away?
I was on a train with Jesse. We knew he wasn’t doing well in the hospital and we were waiting for news. Jesse got a message on his cellphone that Joey was gone and we didn’t talk, just looked out the window feeling sad for the rest of the ride.
Having recently lost Biscuit of the Big Boys I really felt the energy change in Austin. Did you have any similar feelings with Joey gone? Or is he gone?
Yes. For me it was the end of the rock and roll era in NYC. 
How do you think Joey’s passing affected people in the scene in NYC?
I don’t know for sure. I know he’s missed. I know that the bands he was trying to help out were sorely affected by his loss. He was in the middle of shooting a video that he was funding and directing for his favorite local band The Independents when he died (I played a vampire queen in it btw, I don’t know what happened to the footage). So those guys were just crushed, they loved him personally and all the help he was going to give them was gone, it was a double blow. I think we all just miss him and his name still comes up a lot in conversations when I’m out. 
Was there any social evidence in the week following?
There are always a lot of people trying to get in on the drama when someone famous dies. Everyone wants to be at the funeral and feel a part of it. I hate that kind of stuff and didn’t participate. I mourned Joey in my own way. I think I had a conversation with him while I was doing the dishes, sort of telling him I hoped he was okay and wishing him well on the other side. I did go with Jesse to the unveiling of the tombstone a year after he died, that was much quieter.
When the Ramones were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, were you at the ceremony, watching it on TV. Where were you?
Jesse went, I watched it on TV.
What were your feelings on the induction, and what was said by Tommy?
I don’t remember what he said, actually, but I always thought Tommy seemed pretty cool. Definitely the most rational of the surviving members.

Were you at the dedication of Joey Ramone Square? How did you feel? Please describe a little about what it was like.
No, I had to work. I saw people waiting around CBs when I walked past in the morning. Again, Jesse was there so I got the lowdown from him. I think it’s wonderful that they named that spot after Joey, I pass the sign often and it makes me feel hope that rock isn’t completely dead. I’m sure Joey loves it.
Did you have to travel specifically for the event? If so could you describe what the circumstances were that compelled you to go?
Nope, it’s in my ‘hood.
In closing I would like to ask if you have anything you would like to add: comments about Joey, memories, observations, etc.
Joey was a lovely person and a real rock star and I am grateful I knew him.

Memories of Joey Ramone

Today in the freezing, freeeeezing cold I walked past Joey Ramone’s old apartment building on 9th Street. It made me think of other winter nights on that block and what a special guy he was, and what a loss it is not to have him around. 
Here are some of my memories: 
When I was a teenager I brought home Rocket To Russia from the record store (where I had it ordered specially) and my neighbor got off his bike to take a look at what I’d bought. He said, very quietly: “That’s punk rock, isn’t it?” I said, “Yeah…” 

Joey was the first rock star I met when I moved to NY from the sticks of Michigan. He was leaning up against the bar at Danceteria not really talking to anyone. It was the same night Hanoi Rocks played, and I couldn’t believe one of my rock heroes could be found just loitering around the bar. I went up and said, “Hi, I’m Raffaele.” He said “I’m Joey,” and shook my hand. A couple of hours later I picked up Blixa Bargeld for about two minutes, until he tried to dangle me off of the balcony of the Limelight (the fact that he had bits of his wife’s hair stapled to his leather vest should have been a tip-off).

A few years down the road Joey gave my band the Cycle Sluts an opening slot for The Ramones at the Ritz. It was our second gig ever and it put us on the map. He was always such a champion for new bands, he just really loved rock and roll. During that period we were constantly yanking on him and screaming drunkenly, in unison, into his face. We had this drunken, bastardized ballet move we made everyone do with us and Joey didn’t have the greatest balance so he would just lift his foot off the floor a few inches to shut us up.

The Sluts hosted many after-hours parties at “Slutquarters” on 4th and B that featured him as a regular. We all did a ton of coke in those days and one night he had some very friendly South American dealers with him that had mounds of the stuff. One kept waving the loaded mirror in my face and saying, “For you, for you!” Joey was always quiet and we were always really, really loud. I think he liked the noise. Later that night (morning) he fell asleep in a chair and we just continued to party around him.

One night at the Lismar Lounge, where we all worked and hung out, a few members of a certain bike club who also hung out there decided they had a problem with Joey. I don’t remember why, but it was a dangerous situation. There were a few truly terrifying minutes when they locked him and someone else (Daniel Rey, maybe?) into the deli next door. One of the Lismar bartenders, who somehow was seeing both one of the bike club members and Joey at the same time, ran out and threw herself at the door and begged them not to hurt him. It was one of those scenes that make you feel so scared you get nauseous inside, but somehow it ended up all right. I think Joey was so gentle that they just decided not to bother.

Joey wearing only his leather jacket and ripped jeans in the freezing cold at the Pet Sematary video shoot.

Joey on the roof of Coney Island High for a barbeque, eating a hot dog and smiling.

The sound of his voice, saying “Hey Raff…”

Going to the cloisters to film a video for Joey’s protégées, The Independents. I was dressed as a vampire queen and I walked slowly, trying to look very serious without cracking up, down cement stairs in a cape towards Joey, who was standing a few feet behind the camera. He said, “That was great, Raff.” Later in the car he put some money in my hand, which I hadn’t asked for or expected.

Being on the train w/my ex Jesse after we got the news Joey was dead, just staring out the window and feeling sad.

I wasn’t one of his closest friends, but I like to think that he counted me as more than an acquaintance. I know I’ll never walk past the corner of 9th Street and 3rd Avenue without thinking of him with affection. He was a true rock star and a truly lovely person, and I’m looking forward to seeing him on the other side.

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