Henry Rollins: The Column! Joey Ramone's Legacy Is in Danger
[Look for your weekly fix from the one and only Henry Rollins right here on West Coast Sound every Thursday, and come back tomorrow for the awesomely annotated playlist for his Saturday KCRW broadcast.]
I have been listening to a record that is one of the strangest things I have heard in a long time. From its description, it wouldn't necessarily strike anyone as all that strange, but it really knocked me off balance.
It's the "new" album by Joey Ramone -- iconic vocalist of the Ramones and sadly gone since 2001 -- called ...Ya Know? Apparently, the songs were culled from demos that Joey made over a period of years. Musicians have come in after the fact and overdubbed instruments around some of the tracks, giving the songs a somewhat disembodied feel. I can't think that was the desired effect, but what really can you expect when you do something that is so completely dubious from the start.
It was a hell of a thing to listen to Joey's voice come through the speakers, singing songs I had, for the most part, never heard before. Joey's voice is one of the most distinctive I have ever heard. The songs are OK to good, but the joy of hearing unreleased Joey Ramone songs is overwhelmed by the voice-from-the-other-side-ness of this collection.
I don't think there would have been a better time to release this, as any time would have been weird. Surely there is no shortage of posthumous Ramones income; perhaps the estate figured we fans would like to hear some more and so they did the best they could with what they had?
On the other hand, motive means nothing next to what the result is. I wonder if this record really needed to be released, despite how many of us miss Joey Ramone.
If Joey had liked the songs, then, arguably, he would have released them. If he thought they were worthy, then why aren't any of them on Don't Worry About Me, the album he made right before he passed away? The fact that Joey had no choice as to what has happened to his songs makes ...Ya Know? seem like much too much work. The unnatural feel of it is, at times, unnerving.
Perhaps my hesitation to more fully embrace this album is personal and selfish. Take the final track, an acoustic version of "Life Is a Gas" that's different from the version featured on the last Ramones studio album, Adios Amigos! When I first heard that song, it made me sad because I thought it was Joey saying goodbye to the world. It still gets me, and this new version is so up-close it's almost impossible for me to listen to.