Joey Ramone: Don't Worry About Me

Adrien Begrand

Joey Ramone

Don't Worry About Me

Label: Sanctuary
US Release Date: 2002-02-19

After nearly a year of mourning the passing of a rock and roll giant in Joey Ramone, after all the post 9-11 anxiety, the whole War on Terrorism aftermath, how fitting, how wonderful, it is to hear from Joey Ramone one last time, and how punk of him to do it from beyond the grave. His posthumous solo debut CD, Don't Worry About Me is now out, and its release couldn't be more timely. Joey's back, in a sense, for one last time, and if he has anything to say about it, to paraphrase one of his songs, we're gonna have a real good time, and everything's gonna be real fine.

It's easy to assume Don't Worry About Me is nothing more than a shallow cash grab, the usual dog and pony show we always see when a rock icon passes away, but after one listen, you're hit with the stunning fact that this is one great record. Almost End of the Century great, or Leave Home great. Let's face it, Joey was the Ramones (the classic Ramones eagle logo is even used in the CD artwork), and this is the best Ramones album since 1981's underrated Pleasant Dreams. Produced by latter-day Ramones cohort Daniel Rey, the album bursts with vitality, mixing the giddy, bubblegum pop of classic Ramones songs like "Oh Oh I Love Her So" with heavier fare like "I Wanna Live".

Nobody from the punk era -- besides maybe Pete Shelley -- sung about love better than Joey Ramone. People are quick to remember his sardonicism, his dark humor that overflowed in songs like "Beat on the Brat", "I Wanna Be Sedated", and "The KKK Took My Baby Away", but his best songs were always his most optimistic ones -- the stories of how he wanted to be a girl's boyfriend, about falling in love by the soda machine at the Burger King, about missing his girl while on tour in Idaho, how she was the one. In fact, on Don't Worry About Me, Ramone sounds the most optimistic he's been in a long time, going back to when he sang "She's A Sensation" twenty years ago, and the album's first four songs get things off to a spectacular start in similarly ebullient fashion.

What a stroke of genius it was to cover "What a Wonderful World"! In just over two minutes, Ramone claims Satchmo's long-overplayed standard as his own, and manages to put just as much emotion into it, perhaps even more. Daniel Rey launches the song with an opening riff that sounds neatly lifted from End of the Century's "The Return of Jackie and Judy", before the rest of the band, which includes Marky Ramone on drums (he plays on six of the CD's 11 tracks), raucously (but tightly) chugs in. Ramone's vocals resonate with joy, and he hits the high notes in the song with relative ease. The performance of the song is note-perfect, shamelessly positive, and packs a huge emotional wallop to boot.

"Stop Thinking About It" is a classic Ramones song in every sense, three minutes of Rocket to Russia harmonies, something you'll be singing along with at first listen. "Mr. Punchy" is simple, goofy fun, and features whimsical guest vocals by British singer Helen Love and The Damned's Captain Sensible. The closest thing to a throwaway track on the CD, it leads up to the album's shining moment.

Ramone's ode to CNBC reporter Maria Bartiromo, aptly titled "Maria Bartiromo", is the kind of song only Joey Ramone could write, and easily fits in with the best songs from the first five Ramones albums. Here he shows the connection he shared with all of us: he was a normal guy (albeit very tall and odd-looking), not exactly a ladies' man, and was in no way ashamed of having crushes on television reporters. A stock market enthusiast, Ramone conveys his interest, singing, "What's happening on Squawk Box? / What's happening with my stocks? / I want to know". but then unabashedly (and charmingly) gives away his real reason for watching: "I watch you on the TV every single day / Those eyes make everything okay".

By the time the fifth track on the album comes along, things get a bit more interesting. The songs become considerably heavier (but not enough to contrast too much from the first four tracks), and the lyrics become more introspective. At times, painfully so, considering the illness Ramone was battling at the time. "Venting (It's a Different World Today") is exactly what the title indicates, with Ramone confessing, "I just don't understand". "Spirit in My House" hints at paranoia ("I got demons in my head and I should have stayed in bed"), while "Like a Drug I Never Did Before" paints a disturbing portrait of Ramone's condition: "My head's gonna blow brains all over the floor / Pressure like I never knew before". What will undoubtedly be the most quoted of all the songs on Don't Worry About Me, the powerful yet simple "I Got Knocked Down (But I'll Get Up)", deals with Ramone's illness in blunt fashion: "Sitting in a hospital bed / Frustration going through my head . . . I want my life".

The whole key to Don't Worry About Me isn't the accounts of the pain Ramone was going through, it's his undying optimism. Times were very trying for him, but he describes his predicament in dry, self-deprecating fashion. The album resounds with life, not death, and in his cover of the Stooges' classic "1969", Ramone's vocals sound urgent, determined not to be beaten. Like the late filmmaker Kieslowski wrote in his legendary Decalogue, being alive is a gift, and that's precisely the theme Ramone successfully gets across, albeit in more succinct, New York fashion: "Live your life to the fullest and fuck everything". As he sings "Don't worry about me" at the end of the CD, it's as great a ride into the sunset as you'll ever hear. It's bittersweet, and I'm sure Joey won't mind if you shed a tear or two, for just a minute, but I'll bet he'll be a whole lot happier if you simply dig the hell out of his album, and then go out and enjoy being alive.





Uncensored 'Native Son' (1951) Is True to Richard Wright's Work

Compared to the two film versions of Native Son in more recent times, the 1951 version more acutely captures the race-driven existential dread at the heart of Richard Wright's masterwork.


3 Pairs of Boots Celebrate Wandering on "Everywhere I Go" (premiere)

3 Pairs of Boots are releasing Long Rider in January 2021. The record demonstrates the pair's unmistakable chemistry and honing of their Americana-driven sound, as evidenced by the single, "Everywhere I Go".


'World War 3 Illustrated #51: The World We Are Fighting For'

World War 3 Illustrated #51 displays an eclectic range of artists united in their call to save democracy from rising fascism.


Tiphanie Doucet's "You and I" Is an Exercise in Pastoral Poignancy (premiere)

French singer-songwriter Tiphanie Doucet gives a glimpse of her upcoming EP, Painted Blue, via the sublimely sentimental ode, "You and I".


PM Picks Playlist 3: WEIRDO, Psychobuildings, Lili Pistorius

PopMatters Picks Playlist features the electropop of WEIRDO, Brooklyn chillwavers Psychobuildings, the clever alt-pop of Lili Pistorius, visceral post-punk from Sapphire Blues, Team Solo's ska-pop confection, and dubby beats from Ink Project.

By the Book

The Story of Life in 10 1/2 Species (excerpt)

If an alien visitor were to collect ten souvenir life forms to represent life on earth, which would they be? This excerpt of Marianne Taylor's The Story of Life in 10 and a Half Species explores in text and photos the tiny but powerful earthling, the virus.

Marianne Taylor

Exploitation Shenanigans 'Test Tube Babies' and 'Guilty Parents' Contend with the Aftermath

As with so many of these movies about daughters who go astray, Test Tube Babies blames the uptight mothers who never told them about S-E-X. Meanwhile, Guilty Parents exploits poor impulse control and chorus girls showing their underwear.


Deftones Pull a Late-Career Rabbit Out of a Hat with 'Ohms'

Twenty years removed from Deftones' debut album, the iconic alt-metal outfit gel more than ever and discover their poise on Ohms.


Arcade Fire's Will Butler Personalizes History on 'Generations'

Arcade Fire's Will Butler creates bouncy, infectious rhythms and covers them with socially responsible, cerebral lyrics about American life past and present on Generations.


Thelonious Monk's Recently Unearthed 'Palo Alto' Is a Stellar Posthumous Live Set

With a backstory as exhilarating as the music itself, a Thelonious Monk concert recorded at a California high school in 1968 is a rare treat for jazz fans.


What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .


Jonnine's 'Blue Hills' Is an Intimate Collection of Half-Awake Pop Songs

What sets experimental pop's Jonnine apart on Blue Hills is her attention to detail, her poetic lyricism, and the indelibly personal touch her sound bears.


Renegade Connection's Gary Asquith Indulges in Creative Tension

From Renegade Soundwave to Renegade Connection, electronic legend Gary Asquith talks about how he continues to produce infectiously innovative music.


A Certain Ratio Return with a Message of Hope on 'ACR Loco'

Inspired by 2019's career-spanning box set, legendary Manchester post-punkers A Certain Ratio return with their first new album in 12 years, ACR Loco.


Oscar Hijuelos' 'Mambo Kings Play the Songs of Love' Dances On

Oscar Hijuelos' dizzyingly ambitious foot-tapping family epic, Mambo Kings Play the Songs of Love, opened the door for Latinx writers to tell their stories in all their richness.


PM Picks Playlist 2: Bamboo Smoke, LIA ICES, SOUNDQ

PopMatters Picks Playlist features the electropop of Bamboo Smoke, LIA ICES' stunning dream folk, Polish producer SOUNDQ, the indie pop of Pylon Heights, a timely message from Exit Kid, and Natalie McCool's latest alt-pop banger.


'Lost Girls and Love Hotels' and Finding Comfort in Sadness

William Olsson's Lost Girls and Love Hotels finds optimism in its message that life tears us apart and puts us back together again differently.


Bright Eyes' 'Down in the Weeds' Is a Return to Form and a Statement of Hope

Bright Eyes may not technically be emo, but they are transcendently expressive, beatifically melancholic. Down in the Weeds is just the statement of grounding that we need as a respite from the churning chaos around us.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.