Punk godfather Joey Ramone dies of cancer at 49

A powerful blow was dealt to the music community Sunday afternoon when Joey Ramone, front man for the legendary New York-based punk-rock outfit the Ramones, died after suffering from lymphatic cancer. Born in 1951 as Jeffrey Hyman, he died at age 49 after entering the hospital a month earlier for treatment of the disease.

Ramone sang and acted as the iconoclastic head of the influential ’70s punk outfit. The group formed in Queens, N.Y., in 1974, adopting its name from a musical alias of one of its major influences, Paul McCartney. The Ramones was best known for its catchy tune “I Want to be Sedated,” an acknowledged punk classic.

While group members might have lacked technical brilliance with instruments, they made up for it by creating a totally new style of rock `n’ roll music. Characterized by buzzing three-chord riffs, catchy melodies and absurd and gusty lyrics, the Ramones is often considered the founder of the “punk-rock” genre, even coming before other popular early punk acts such as the Sex Pistols and The Clash. The Ramones was the first visible American punk band, influencing all bands after it.

The group’s songs are characterized by one-minute tracks divided only by a simple 1-2-3-4 count, rapid-fire four-on-the-floor drumbeats and equally quick guitars. The group’s lyrics cover a wide spectrum, from circus freaks to lobotomies to cheesy B-horror flicks.

The Ramones’ stage presence was equally unique, as guitarists stood wide-legged pounding out chords while Ramone leaned over his mic screaming the group’s unofficial mantra, “Gabba Gabba Hey” and pumped his fist constantly into the air. Band members even wore a standard dress code of leather jackets, neck-length hair, ripped jeans and Converse All Stars. Their music and overall style has influenced the punk-rock scene from its inception.

The Ramones played its unique brand of rock `n’ roll for more than 20 years, gaining underground fame in the United States and overseas. While the band’s importance to music is unquestionable, the group struggled for financial and commercial success. The group scored a few radio hits, but failed to break into the Billboard charts.

The Ramones appeared in a 1979 teen comedy Rock and Roll High School, directed by Roger Corman, and performed the title track. The group also wrote the theme song for Stephen King’s Pet Cemetery. The group most recently made a cameo performance singing “Happy Birthday” to Mr. Burns on “The Simpsons” television show.

Band members played their final show as the Ramones in 1996, before breaking up to form other outfits and pursue solo projects. Joey Ramone kept a low profile, appearing at parties to sing with friends.

Ramone was an American icon to his fans. Green Day lead singer Billy Joe Armstrong named both his children, Joey and Ramona, after the punk godfather. Ramone’s overwhelming presence and talent is undeniable, and groups such as Blink-182 and the Go-Go’s are joining fans to honor him and his music.

Although Joey Ramone is gone, the group’s music and his influence will live on. He will always remain, as the group’s 1984 album title states, Too Tough to Die.

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