When I got an advance copy of Joey Ramone’s new CD a chill went down my spine. When I saw the promo sheet that came with it, giving me the history of the Ramones and of Joey, I quickly tore it up and threw it away. Who the fuck did they think they were sending this to?

Of course, on the top of the form letter it read, "Dear Editor," or some such horseshit. Fuck them. I saw the band when they started. I saw them when they ended. They were not some flavor-of-the-month band I was supposed to give a written blowjob. Fuck. They were the Ramones. And this was Joey’s last album. How dare they try to tell me the importance of a guy who changed my life forever? Who cares if Spin just voted them the second-best band, ever? Who cares that they’re getting into the Rock and Roll Hall of Shame? It all means nothing to me. Or millions of other Ramones fans worldwide. We don’t need the validation of the suck-ass music industry to tell us how important the band was, because they certainly didn’t treat the Ramones like the gods they were when they were around. And now that Joey’s dead, I hear him singing on car commercials and being praised like John Lennon or something. Fuck it all.

We’re all gonna die in the end, and thank fuckin’ God Joey had one more album in him.

And a good one at that. Don’t Worry About Me is, well, for lack of a better word, Ramones. Nothing less and so much more. It starts with a cover of "What a Wonderful World" that begins with an over-the-top nod to the Sex Pistols’ "Pretty Vacant." Joey and company take the Louie Armstrong-stamped tune to its pop-punk conclusion in a brilliant rendition recorded while the late lead singer was already diagnosed with cancer. To hear him sing about "skies of blue" truly tugs at your heart. Or at least mine.

"Stop Thinking About It" is like any Ramones song off one of their later albums. Actually, it may as well be. With the exception of C.J., it seems Joey’s band and the studio Ramones are the same. And with production here by longtime Ramones producer Daniel Rey, why should it sound any different? "Mr. Punchy," with a "La-la-la-la, whoo-hooo!" chorus, is more of the same, as is "Like a Drug I Never Did Before." Not the greatest, but certainly miles above anything Blink-182 or Sum 41 or any of those other new so-called punk bands could ever do.

When Joey sings in true Ramones fashion about how he has the hots for Maria Bartiromo, the "Money Honey," and wonders how his investments like Yahoo, Intel, AOL and Amazon are doing, it’s midlife punk rock at its best. "Spirit in My House" sounds like a track from Animal Boy. "Venting" is perhaps my favorite song on this album. Singing along to a very kickass guitar riff, Joey complains about "a sick fucking world" and begins the tune with, "Just blow up your school and have a nice day." In a way, it’s very ironic. The Ramones’ big break came when they in fact did blow up a high school in a movie. Now Mr. Ramone questions what kind of world we live in when these things happen for real. Brilliant.

An almost acoustic song, "Searching for Something," has that "I Want You Around" feel to it, but with lyrics much more insightful that come with age and wisdom. Here Joey sings about Suzy, who used to be a headbanger, but who has moved to Rochester, where she enjoys the fresh air and the great outdoors. In the chorus of the song Joey sings about visiting her: "I felt like a million dollars–something money just can’t bring." Again, remember Joey already had cancer when he wrote this.

"I Got Knocked Down (But I’ll Get Up)" will knock you down. And I doubt you’ll be getting up anytime in the near future. Joey sings over and over, "Sittin’ in a hospital bed, I want my life." Visions of him in that hospital bed have been the subject of many recent nightmares, and this song certainly doesn’t help. You can hear the desperation in his voice. There’s "1969," a cover of the infamous Iggy Pop song. I believe the same version already appeared on an AIDS compilation a couple of years back, but it’s great to hear it again. Joey Ramone has always been great with covers.

Last is the title song. Of course, with the world the way it is, and the way life just seems to work out, this is probably going to be Joey Ramone’s biggest hit. Ever. The song is perfect. Kickass chords that will haunt you forever, a title that makes you want to cry and lyrics that take you by surprise. Funny how easy it is to forget that Weezer and Nirvana and zillions of others really just copied this guy and his band. Anyway, fully expecting the lyrics to finish crushing my soul, I held my breath as I listened to this song for the first time. But instead of Joey singing about how we’re all gonna miss him, it turns out he’s singing about some psycho ex-girlfriend who is suicidal and all, and how he has to say bye-bye. Quite a surprise. Instead of walking away from this album with my guts strewn about, I danced away with a smile. And with that smile came a laugh. Joey pulled a fast one.


Less than a year removed from Joey Ramone's death at the young age of 49, the singer's first posthumously-released solo album proves to be an illuminating, exhilarating, and depressing listening experience. With songs reflecting the late Ramones front man's journey through the various stages of death and other adult issues he rarely addressed within the context of his band, as well as two covers and a few good ol' Ramones-styled numbers, Don't Worry About Me reads like the chilling diary of a dying star. This is personal stuff, which is a bit unsettling coming from the man who made a living singing about pinheads, shock therapy, and sedatives. This final work from Joey Ramone, though uneven and unfinished, is completely indispensable for any true Ramones fan.

Regardless of their groundbreaking music, which helped jumpstart the punk explosion on two continents, at their leather-clad core, the Ramones were a pop band; the quartet's simple three-chord strategy came straight out of love for the music its members heard as teenagers, from Phil Spector's Wall of Sound to Motown to garage rock and beyond. By starting Don't Worry About Me with a cover of "What A Wonderful World," Joey Ramone makes a statement about both his musical past and his rapidly-coming-to-a-close present. Hearing Joey sing this song - as he faces death - is powerfully affecting; rarely has a rock star recorded an album while battling to stay alive, and the resulting material is some of the most resonant music Joey Ramone has ever written. While the Ramones expressed somewhat similar sentiments in a classic like "I Wanna Be Well," there was emotional safety in that song, as if the main characters were as ludicrous as Ramones creations like Suzy the Headbanger and Sheena the Punk Rocker. Here, the line separating Joey Ramone from his lyrical creations is razor thin; thus, when Joey sings, "Sitting in a hospital bed/I want my life/It really sucks!" in "I Got Knocked Down (But I'll Get Up)," it is hard to keep the tears from your eyes when thinking of the punk icon. Likewise, more indirect songs, like "Stop Thinking About It," "Like A Drug I Never Did Before," and "Don't Worry About Me," pack an emotional wallop most Ramones fans may not be prepared to handle.

The whole record, however, doesn't wallow in this misery, which helps make it a very enjoyable listen. "Mr. Punchy" is one of the finest Ramones songs of the last decade, featuring a guest appearance by the Damned's Captain Sensible. "Maria Bartiromo," while both crunching and catchy, is about the CNBC stock market anchorwoman, which could freak out some Ramones fans when they think about Joey's very un-punk Wall Street fixation. The album's only major misstep is a cover of "1969," the Stooges anthem. Joey doesn't do much to the arrangement to make it special, and unlike "What A Wonderful World," it just seems unnecessary.

Clocking in at under forty minutes, Don't Worry About Me sounds like a pretty typical, though more adult, Ramones record. Joey's backing band, which includes guitarist Daniel Rey, bassist Andy Shernoff (of the Dictators), and drummer Frank Furnaro (Cracker), does a credible job of bringing these song sketches to life - in some cases, after Joey had already passed away. As with Marley's Confrontation or Hendrix's Cry Of Love, Don't Worry About Me might have been an even stronger album had Joey Ramone been granted more time on earth. As it is, this is a fitting send-off to one of rock's most original artists and a life-affirming creation that shows how art can be sustained even in the face of a terminal disease.