Ramone's Life Remembered As A 'Gas'

At an event pulled together by his family and friends, the late Joey Ramone (real name: Jeffrey Hyman) was toasted Saturday night in New York by an all-star cast of characters. Emceed by E Street Band

At an event pulled together by his family and friends, the late Joey Ramone (real name: Jeffrey Hyman) was toasted Saturday night in New York by an all-star cast of characters. Emceed by E Street Band guitarist and "Sopranos" cast member Little Steven Van Zandt, the four-hour "Life's A Gas -- Joey Ramone's Birthday Bash" at the Hammerstein Ballroom fell on what would have been Ramone's 50th birthday. But the event was far from mournful, as a host of bands powered a rave-up celebration of the punk rocker's life and impact on the world of music.

"Joey would have got a kick out of this," Van Zandt said as he strode across the stage, following a handful of video clips of Ramone and his band in action. "Jeffrey Hyman willfully died so that Joey Ramone could live ... That takes courage," he said. "Because of Jeffrey Hyman's courage ... Joey Ramone will never die."

From there, the event attempted to replicate one of Ramone's own annual self-produced musical birthday bashes, featuring musical performances from the likes of Blondie, Cheap Trick, the Damned, the Independents, Bellvue (fronted by ex-D Generation singer Jesse Malin), and Ramone's brother Mickey Leigh's band, Stop. Ramones covers were tactfully sprinkled into the short sets, most notably with Bellvue's rendition of "I Just Want to Have Something to Do" and Blondie's take on "I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend."

With a New York drawl similar to his brother's, Leigh also fronted a tribute band that included producer Daniel Rey on guitar, and featured a guest turn by Cheap Trick guitarist Rick Neilsen. The collaboration tackled such numbers as "I Want You Around" and "I Remember You," leaving an emotional Leigh to conclude the segment by saying, "Thank you for letting me do that."

In between acts, several individuals connected with Ramone offered testimonials, including Richard Hell, CBGB club owner Hilly Kristal, Patti Smith guitarist Lenny Kaye, original Ramones drummer Tommy Erdelyi, Ramones manager Danny Fields, "Uncle Floyd" Vivino, "Rock'n'Roll High School" director Allan Arkush, Reprise Records president Howie Klein, and Punk magazine founders John Holmstrom and Legs McNeil. Though sound problems thwarted the comments of Kristal and Fields from penetrating the crowd's short attention span, most were well received.

Among the most interesting was Kaye's reading of a heartfelt letter from famed producer Phil Spector, who produced the Ramones' 1980 album "End of the Century," and a collection of messages the late artist left on McNeil's answering machine. Of all though, it was Klein who neatly summed up the feelings of most when he said flatly, "Joey Ramone changed my life."

Also shown were taped segments interspersing Ramones videos with tributes by friends and fans who could not attend. Among the well-wishers were Sire Records founder Seymour Stein and his ex-wife Linda, Skid Row's Sebastian Bach, Metallica (whose Lars Ulrich drew a rousing chorus of boos from the crowd), New York DJ Vin Scelsa, Joan Jett, former Talking Heads member Joey Harrison, Green Day, Primal Scream's Bobby Gillispie, Anthrax, and CNBC commentator Maria Bartiromo, who Ramone recently immortalized in a song that will appear on his upcoming posthumous solo album.

As the celebration wound down just past midnight, Ramone's brother and their mother, Charlotte Lesher, thanked the crowd and the participants for helping them through "a hard day." Before a chorus of "Happy Birthday" was sung by the crowd (led by erstwhile Ramones mascot "Pinhead"), Van Zandt read a proclamation sponsored by Congressman Gary Ackerman of Queens, N.Y., that declared Saturday as Joey Ramone Day "throughout the land."

With that, volunteers passed out thousands of packaged Drakes junk food snacks to end the celebration on a festive note. Like clockwork, concert-goers were throwing the chocolate treats at one another, perhaps rejoicing in the freedom of spirit enabled by the Ramones' 20-year career. Somewhere, Joey Ramone was looking down, with a big smile on his bespectacled face.