#TBT From the vaults, here is my segment from Wild Chicago circa 1990. This clip documents my solo show era and Tiny, the late great Skafish fan whose entire home was a Skafish museum.
Enjoy — Skafish
#TBT From the vaults, here is my segment from Wild Chicago circa 1990. This clip documents my solo show era and Tiny, the late great Skafish fan whose entire home was a Skafish museum.
Enjoy — Skafish
I am thrilled this compilation finally was able to be born! Featuring the first underground/punk/new wave/alternative/indie recordings by a Chicago artist (dating back to 8/76), liner notes by rock legends Cheap Trick, and so much more, this is a timeless document of the multidimensional rebellion that has always been Skafish. Enjoy!
Feel free to check out “Roll the Tapes,” the second video in a series of nine clips (including the complete version), which tell the story of the new Skafish release, “BOOTLEG 21-35,” the first ever official live Skafish album. In this clip, I discuss the various technical issues and challenges involved in getting the bootleg prepared to be released, as well as sharing behind-the-scenes anecdotal stories that came into play with the project.
If you want to be notified first when each of the remaining clips will be posted over the next several days, subscribe to my You Tube channel by clicking here.
For more information on “BOOTLEG 21-35,” visit http://www.skafishbootleg.com/. The album is available on iTunes, Amazon, CDBaby, and other digital outlets. It’s great to know that thirty-five years later, the bootleg can now be shared with all of you.
I hope you enjoy its spirit, and please spread the word,
Since Sid Vicious’ last public event occurred at my concert in New York at Hurrah’s in December, 1978, the story has never — not even one time — been reported accurately by anyone in the media. And not one person from the media has ever made any legitimate attempt to interview me about what happened back then, even though all the action took place at my performance, literally a few feet in front of me. No one could ever claim that I’m not easy to reach, and no, my band and I weren’t drunk or high that night either….
As far as for my part, I have accurately described this event on skafish.com, spoke about it in the commentary section of my CD release “What’s This? 1976 – 1979,” and have truthfully referenced it occasionally on my Twitter, Facebook, and MySpace pages.
I had that pesky little sneaking gut level feeling that, just like everything else I’ve ever read and heard about Vicious’ last public event, “Who Killed Nancy” would also be filled with falsehoods, erroneous information, and omissions. Still, I wanted to keep my promise to my Facebook friends, so I finally watched the DVD on New Year’s Day, 2011. Just as I suspected, the film barely mentioned anything at all about what occurred that night, and, of the little that was said, much of it was startlingly inaccurate.
First, here is the miniscule bit of information contained in the film that was correct: This occurred at Hurrah’s in New York City. A band (merely referred to as a “loud band” in the film), was playing. Sid Vicious attacked Todd Smith (the brother of singer Patti Smith), and glass was everywhere.
Here are the “let’s make up whatever we fancy” falsehoods that were stated in the DVD: Todd Smith was referred to as “some drunk moron,” who deserved to be attacked. It was erroneously claimed that Sid was dragged out of the club by his buddies.
Now, for those of us who care about that old dinosaur, the truth: First, Todd Smith was absolutely not drunk that night. Of course, he didn’t deserve to be attacked, and was hardly just “some drunk moron.” He was unassumingly doing his job, which was to watch the stage so that he could help out in case any equipment malfunctioned or anything else went wrong at my show. Todd was his sister’s (the legendary Patti Smith) road manager; he was only working the Skafish show that night as a favor to us since Patti was not on tour at the time.
Secondly, Sid was not dragged out of the club by his friends or anyone else, but by then Skafish road manager, Jimy Sohns. At the time, Sid Vicious was out on bail for the alleged murder of his girlfriend Nancy Spungen on October 12, 1978. He specifically came to Hurrah’s to see Skafish play, even though in the movie, the actual name of my band was not mentioned even one time.
He was brought to the show by Danielle Booth, who hung around with my band back in 1976-1977. Danielle, who claimed to have been a groupie for The Rolling Stones when she was 14, was from Dune Acres, Indiana, and her family had money. When Skafish first played CBGB’s on April 12th and 13th 1977, she hitched a ride with us from the Chicago area to New York. A while later, Danielle and Sid Vicious became friends and bonded through doing drugs together.
When Vicious came to see our show, he stood right at the front of the stage and was staring intensely at us during our set. Artist Robert Mag snapped the picture of Sid (above in this post) minutes before the attack. During our performance, Sid first began making gestures from the audience at my guitarist/vocalist Karen Winner. As our set progressed, Sid took notice of Skafish female drum roadie Tara, and started making flirtatious advances toward her, including pinching her.
For those of you who aren’t familiar with Tara, she once dated Cheap Trick singer Robin Zander, and was brought to her first Skafish show in Chicago in the fall of 1976 by the band. She then may have become the first female drum roadie ever when she started working in that capacity for Skafish shortly after she saw us perform.
I was not surprised that Sid noticed Tara, as people were often attracted to her. In February, 1978, when Skafish headlined the Whisky A Go Go in Los Angeles, Doug Fieger (who had yet to form “The Knack”), was at the time a member of the opening band, “The Sunset Bombers.” Fieger, like Vicious, took strong notice of Tara, and subsequently wrote the song “Oh Tara” about her, released it on the Knack’s debut LP “Get The Knack” and dedicated it to her. At the time, Tara completely rebuffed Fieger’s gesture of the song’s dedication to her, and in the same way, she was not in the least bit interested in Sid’s flirtatious advances either.
By the time Vicious was making overtures to Tara at our show in New York, we were all used to unpredictability at our concerts, so no one lost their cool. Todd Smith (who was dating Tara at the time, and subsequently married her) simply went up to Sid and politely asked him to just wait to flirt with Tara till after the show, as she and he were watching the stage for us that night. In addition to what I observed from the stage, Tara later confirmed to me that was exactly how Todd dealt with the situation, as he was not confrontational, upset, or territorial in the way he approached Vicious regarding his making advances toward Tara on any level.
That’s when Vicious, totally unprovoked, suddenly smashed a beer bottle right across Todd’s face. Smith did not fight back. As for the Skafish band, since we were so used to all kinds of violence at our shows, we just played on. Ironically, at the time of the attack, we were performing the rather sedate “She Lives For Love.” Sid’s ambush-style assault caused Todd to be rushed to the hospital to receive multiple stitches.
Reacting immediately to the attack, our then road manager Jimy Sohns (singer for the legendary “Shadows of Knight”), rushed from behind the mixing board where he was doing sound. He punched and strong-armed Vicious, dragged him through the club and threw him down the flight of stairs that led up to Hurrah’s. Amidst the unpredictable insanity, we completed our performance that night, as usual.
Then, a little less than two months later, Sid Vicious unfortunately and sadly died on the morning of February 2, 1979 from a drug overdose taken the night before….
For me, as I look back on this event that happened a little over 32 years ago, it is still crystal clear to me. Since I’ve been victimized by revisionist history throughout my entire musical career, I once again felt it necessary to set the record straight after watching the DVD “Who Killed Nancy.”
In most versions of Vicious’ last public event, the majority of the actual story is simply left out, and the blanks are filled in any way that fits someone’s preposterous flight of fancy. I have read various contradictory accounts by several people who all claim that THEY were the ones who actually grabbed Sid Vicious that night and removed him from the club. Some associates of Vicious assert that it was HE who was the victim of an unprovoked attack by Todd Smith, and that the glass from Todd’s assault is what actually cut him, not Sid.
I’ve been in disbelief every time I’ve read that the person Sid flirted with was one of my band members, instead of Tara. I don’t know where people got this one, but I’ve read that the assault occurred at 2:30 AM, way AFTER my band and I finished our performance. Oops – and one more for the road: I’ve noticed multiple accounts that this occurred at Max’s Kansas City. The erroneous misinformation that’s falsely sold as “history” just gets more “colorful” all the time, especially the inaccurate and utterly ludicrous claims about Todd Smith’s role in all of this.
I learned a long time ago both as an artist and as a person that unfortunately, truth is not something that people as a whole value, even though everyone would swear that’s exactly what they want. After all, who would admit to lying and/or wanting to be lied to? What people perceive as truth, though, is often what is emotionally convenient to them, and bought into via those who know how to effectively manipulate the media and get their point of view out there, no matter how inaccurately.
I find it compelling that this piece of rock ‘n’ roll history unfolded right in front of my very eyes. It fascinated people in December of 1978, and as I’m sure that we’ll see even more “versions” of that night popping up from here on out, I’m more than willing and happy to tell anyone who genuinely cares to know what really happened back then the actual truth.
All photos taken by and courtesy of Robert Mag.
Once again, the strange and twisted saga of the film Urgh! A Music War logs another installment in its nearly 30 year history, as Warner Brothers films has released it as a made for order DVDR from their website on August 4, 2009.
I’m sure that many of you will be excited to finally see this legendary live concert film re-released, but from the point of view of someone who has been in the film, I have a more complex perspective about all of this. Even though it’s Warner Brothers releasing the film as opposed to bootleggers, it may not be a legal release to begin with.
There are at least two factors that come into play: First, the original contracts with all of the artists only allowed Urgh! to be released in the physical formats that existed at that time. As inept as this may sound, there were no standard provisions written into those original contracts to allow for the film to be released in any all formats available now and those that would be created in the future.
Therefore, new contracts would need to be renegotiated with each of the artists to allow the film to be legally released. With Klaus Nomi and Lux Interior of The Cramps already dead and 33 total acts in the film, getting everyone to sign off would be quite problematic for sure. For me, I would have no problem signing off, as I would be elated to see things done correctly.
In addition, all of the intellectual property/copyright owners of the film (besides Warner Brothers) include at least Michael White, Derek Burbidge, and Miles Copeland. They, presumably, would all need to agree to this release as well. So to make sure what was really going on with all of this, I decided to call Miles Copeland on Friday, August 7, 2009. His office told me that they had not heard anything at all about Urgh! being released by Warner Brothers.
As of this writing, I have not been contacted by Warner Brothers or anyone else involved in the project either. I would be willing to bet that Warner Brother’s lawyers simply advised the company to just put it out and hey, if they get sued, just take it down off the internet.
On top of the legal issues brewing here is the fact that Warner Brothers indicated right on their website that they have not remastered the film, or done anything to insure it being of the highest quality possible. They stated that all they did was take the best tape copy they had which will be dubbed onto each DVDR order that comes through. So they spend no money and can perhaps make a lot of money without paying any out. How clever and corporate!
This film may not mean anything to them, but because of how big they are, I would expect more from a major film company such as Warner Brothers regarding a release of Urgh!: Remastering the footage, and remixing the audio into 5.1 surround sound would be great.
The original release of Urgh! A Music War only featured one song by each artist, with the exception being The Police, who appeared at the beginning and at the end of the film. However, back in 1980, three songs were actually filmed by each artist and hopefully, the inclusion of all three numbers would help to offer a richer package. Also, wouldn’t it be great to interview everyone who was involved in the project to put the film in perspective? Now that could make a worthwhile release on DVD — not DVDR.
With this new less than stellar release, it underscores the many problems that have plagued Urgh! for decades. The origins of the project date back to 1980, when various cutting edge acts were filmed performing live in several locations throughout the world, including London, France, New York, and various parts of California.
My band and I were filmed in Frejus, France on August 28, 1980 in an ancient Christian Coliseum in front of 20,000 people. For us, it was perfect: The first blatantly sacrilegious rock song ever written being performed in an ancient Christian coliseum and in gorgeous sunlight which made our segment look like a Catholic Holy Card! We couldn’t have been luckier.
At the time, Skafish was on tour with Sting and the Police, XTC, UB-40, Squeeze, and U2 and everything seemed possible in that moment. When the film was theatrically released in 1981, Skafish appeared twice in the original edit: performing Sign of the Cross, and appearing in the film’s finale on the song So Lonely with Sting and the Police, members of XTC, UB-40 and Jools Holland. When it was first released theatrically in 1981, the film clocked in at 124 minutes. Also, the soundtrack double LP was released on A&M Records – and for just a few years, everything regarding Urgh! seemed good.
However, the film was only in release for a short time and after it went out of circulation, bootleggers took it upon themselves to blatantly and aggressively pirate copies, making up to hundreds of dollars of profit per copy. They even posted erroneous information all over the internet to justify their thievery that because Urgh! had fallen into the public domain, it was ok for them to do this, which is absolutely not true.
Then, they attacked me for trying to stop some of them, as if I was the ogre of Urgh! simply because I didn’t want them ripping off the artists who made this film what it is. These greedy parasites claimed to be so about punk (like “Hey man, this film is for the people so let’s get it out there for everyone”). However, at $80.00 per DVDR sold plus S&H, they were so about profit – not about punk. One of them even tried to cut me in on the profits if I would just go along with the scam, which of course, I didn’t consider.
Yet another icky twist occurred in recent years when the film was censored and cut down to 98 minutes when being shown on VH1 and The Sundance Channel. The Cramps number Tear It Up, and the Skafish number Sign of the Cross, both considered too controversial for television, were edited out. Being left out of the film that I helped to champion was of course, a very hard pill to swallow.
So when I received an email on August 6, 2009 from someone who wanted to let me know that Warner Brothers had just released Urgh! on their website, I certainly had lots of mixed emotions. If I wasn’t in this current release, that hurts because of being left out; and if I was in it, then there’s all of these questionable legal issues. It’s not about money for me at all; it’s about the principle of things simply being fair for all concerned.
Still, out of curiosity, I wanted to see if The Cramps, Skafish, and everyone else from before was in the film, so I purchased my own copy. At almost $27.00 including S&H, I got it in the mail a couple of days ago on Thursday, 8-13-09. When I opened the package, the cover of the DVDR box has some silly, random picture I’ve never seen before of a punk, club, new wave looking kid and the package has nothing but a DVDR in it. On the back cover is a short, meaningless written blurb with basic credits, so the package is unimpressive, to say the least.
When I put in the DVDR, the only menu features are the original trailer and the film. Each performance is not a separate scene, but instead, one has to select the scenes in 10 minute intervals, so finding your favorite act is not that easy to do.
So as I began watching the film, it was more like watching an old home movie for me: “Klaus is in,” I fondly noted. When Miles Copeland stayed at my tiny apartment in the spring of 1983, he told me that Klaus Nomi had died of AIDS – I barely knew what AIDS was back then.
“Even Gary Numan is in. I thought I heard that he didn’t want to be in the movie anymore,” I said.
“Oh! There’s Lux – The Cramps are in it! Good for Lux. I remember performing with the Cramps at CBGB’s in 1977,” I recalled.
“It’s Sign of the Cross — My nose, it looks so huge! It’s all over the screen — I love it – Larry’s drumming is so phenomenal and Barbie’s having her religious seizure — Go Barbie!” I cheered.
“There’s Sting and me on So Lonely – I actually threw fruit into the audience – I didn’t remember that…. Oh my God, Sting is smiling and he seems so much happier then!” I noted.
So it seems that all of the original acts, including The Cramps and Skafish are in this release. The picture quality is good (although I did watch it on an HDTV) and the sound seemed adequate.
However, in all of my momentary excitement, I knew that the mixed emotions were bound to creep up on me pretty soon, so I just went on about my day and tried to live in the moment. After all, it’s almost 29 years to the day that I was first filmed for Urgh! and what has happened since regarding this film has not always been pleasant to deal with, both artistically and from a business perspective.
So, now it’s Saturday evening, and I’ve been emotionally up and down, yet I refuse to wallow in the past; so as I’ve done my entire artistic career, I’ll find a way to do something positive with this energy like writing some new songs. I’ve always said that if I had the money, I would get everything worked out correctly regarding a proper and exciting release of Urgh! and pay for it myself.
However, for now, I can take comfort in knowing that the number my band and I performed for Urgh! A Music War was beyond the pale, tremendously courageous, and a musically/theatrically flawless performance of great artistic triumph. For that and the experience itself, I am forever grateful.
As the first Chicago punk/new wave/alternative artist ever to play the legendary CBGB’s in New York on April 12th and 13th 1977, my band and I were excited to first bring Chicago punk to New York. At the time, we were all between the ages of 17 and 20 with the only exception being my 23-year-old drummer. With all of us still living at home, our parents paid for our trip, thankfully, since we weren’t earning enough money as a band to pay for our little excursion. As we navigated the trip, some of the band and road crew decided to ride in my drummer Larry Mysliwiec’s old green van, while the rest of us flew. Along with my band came my road crew who were the people who assisted with the practical matters of musical gear, sound and stage set up. In addition, those wild freaky friends of mine notoriously referred to as the Skafish entourage also joined in for the adventure
Right as we were just beginning our descent from high in the skies to landing at JFK airport in New York, I noticed Skafish entourage member Steve who was sitting right next to me. He had cupped his hands together and was throwing up because he took too many drugs on the plane flight there. It added an extra sense of tension to the landing for all of us, but luckily, Steve didn’t OD through the plane touching down. Unfazed, however, he returned to doing drugs shortly afterwards. I was adamant that my band and I were to never do drugs or drink and we didn’t, but preventing my entourage was a different matter, of course. I wasn’t their daddy and mommy!
A while after checking into our hotel, it was time to go down to the club. Carrying an oversized powder blue suitcase, I remember walking down the street toward CBGB’s along with some of my road crew and entourage, taking in what was around me. The neighborhood looked dingy, dark, desolate and felt tough, just like the city I was raised in, East Chicago, Indiana. As this was my first trip to the Big Apple, I was somehow expecting that sense of “the glitz and glamour of New York,” but instead we were in the run down and dismal Bowery, not strolling down Park Avenue. As I entered the club, I psychically absorbed the feeling of a sense of cool detachment and dinginess, not the feeling of excitement that one would think comes with entering an important rock ‘n’ roll haunt. No one there really seemed to be thought of or treated like a star. I immediately met Hilly Krystal, owner of CBGB’s who was quite friendly and nice to me. My first impression of Hilly was that he was tough, not intimidated by anyone, surprisingly open and non-pretentious. “Welcome. You’re a member of the club” was the feeling I felt emanating from him toward me.
Along with my large suitcase, I settled monetarily in the dressing room while taking in the surroundings: the club house pooch, a Doberman pincher who pooped virtually everywhere and all of the Ramones who were in attendance for both nights of my shows. I also noticed Stiv Bators of the Dead Boys who seemed to be working as a waiter in the club at the time. Various photographers who were there to capture Skafish, local punks and a journalist from Variety magazine (who ended up writing a nasty review about us) filled out the room. My entourage for this trip included the Twiggy Girls: one 17-year-old girl named Donna and a boy named Michael who was 19, both of whom I went to high school with. They dressed as identical clones of Twiggy the model: mini skirts, matching wigs, identical outfits, giggling in unison while walking and dancing as one. As they settled in, the Twiggy girls started mingling around the room and flirted with everyone in sight. The dressing room, which was shaped and sized like a narrow pantry with no door on it, had tons of graffiti on the walls — repeatedly saying, “Brian Jones is alive!”
I observed Joey Ramone walking from the front part of the club where the audience was all the way past the dressing room where I was to the back of the club which led to the john. Don’t call it a bathroom – certainly not a restroom! It had tons of graffiti, smelled horribly and lacked privacy, which made it really tough for girls. On his second pass by me, I yelled out, “Hey, Joey.” I remember not being sure if he just didn’t hear me or was ignoring me. Then, a few minutes later on his third pass, Joey stopped and looked at me and said, “Is this the world famous Jim Skafish?” I was startled, yet I also felt immediately comfortable in his energies, so we just started talking and got acquainted. After our conversation, I did my first set. The audience was into what we were doing, cool, (what does one expect – this was New York?) somewhat taken a back by the strangeness of the performance yet not violent as so many of the Chicago audiences had been toward us since we debuted in February 1976.
I next crossed paths a few months later with Joey and the Ramones in the summer of 1977 when the Skafish band opened for The Ramones at Club B’Ginnings in Schaumburg Illinois. All of the wonderful free spirited punk and punkette kids from the city hijacked a bus to the show, so this upper end rock club looked like it was invaded from another planet, the planet I come from. I like to think of it as Planet Skafish, where anyone can look like and absolutely be anything they want to be and the idea is to perpetually not conform. That is the real spirit of punk! As a true event to remember, there was such a tremendous aura of excitement for both the Ramones and my band from the audience that night. Right after I stripped down to an old ladies old-fashioned one-piece bathing suit with babushka, we went into our set finale, “Sign of the Cross.” I was dousing the audience with authentic blessed Catholic holy water (from a religious supply store) when I noticed Taco Ramone coming on stage in sunglasses defiantly holding a beer mug in his hand. Taco Ramone wasn’t actually a Ramone, but a really great guy who worked at La Mere Vipere, the club which converted from being a gay bar to Chicago’s first punk dance club in May 1977. At first I was confused, as I was used to being physically threatened and attacked while on stage, but Taco wasn’t doing anything except standing at one end of the stage, looking tough. Later that night he told me that he was on stage just in case anyone there got out of hand and tried to rush the stage to harm us. He was ready to protect us, but there turned out to be no need, luckily.
We played CBGB’s again back to back for two nights in early December of 1977, this time with the Cramps. There was an obsessed Cramps fan at the front of the stage who literally screamed throughout their entire set at such an ear shattering volume that I could continually hear her above the PA back in the dressing room directly behind the stage. The Ramones were on tour at this time, so we didn’t get to see each other this trek. At one point during my set, Skafish guitarist / vocalist Karen Winner was singing a portion of the Bobby Darin classic, “Beyond the Sea.” For this piece, I was sitting down like a toddler on stage playing with a bright rainbow colored beach ball. Then, I kept giving it to a guy at the front of the stage but he didn’t want it at all… so he gave it back to me – then I gave it back to him more forcefully… then he threw it back at me — I threw it harder at him…this kept going on and on until he turned around and stormed out of the club in disgust — but I did get to keep my beach ball. Both our April and December 1977 shows at CBGB’s led to our first international feature story in England’s New Musical Express in April 1978. Written by legendary punk writer Mykel Board and entitled: “New Messiah Scores With Deviants,” the story also featured pictures he had taken of us at CBGB’s. His story introduced Skafish into international consciousness.
In the summer of 1978, we opened for The Ramones a second time at Club Monopoly in Chicago. We finished sound check around dinner time, and Joey came up to me and said, “Come on with me.” When I first met Joey in April of 1977, I felt an immediate connection, kinship and camaraderie with him as we were both social misfits; he didn’t fit in and I obviously didn’t either. Joey always seemed quite introverted to me and in a way, uncomfortably shy. He wasn’t stereotypic in any way, didn’t open up to people easily, had a hard time finding a girlfriend, all of which I quite loved about him. So I thought it would be great to go wherever Joey wanted me to go and we left the club. As we were walking down the street I was not at all sure of our destination, how long it would take and what we were going to do, but I was fine. People were gawking at us a lot and I liked that.
Skafish: “Joey, why did you guys get a new drummer?” (Original drummer Tommy Ramone had been recently replaced by Marky Ramone who had previously played with Richard Hell.)
Joey: “Tommy just freaked out. One day when we were on tour, and he just jumped out of the van and completely freaked out.” Tommy said, “That’s it! I’m not going to tour ever again.”
Skafish: Is he OK? I hope he’s OK. What about your new album? (They were doing “Road To Ruin,” their fourth LP.)
Joey: “We did some county and western on it! We did some ballads too.” (The references here presumably are to the tracks “Don’t Come Close” and “Needles and Pins
About ten minutes later we finally arrived at our destination. No it wasn’t a hip record store or a thrift shop with bizarre tattered vintage clothes – of all places, it was a grocery store filled with suburban housewives and screaming kids. Why were we there? What could we possibly be doing at a grocery store? I walked in alongside Joey, who was a bit taller than me. I’m about 6’3” maybe 6’4” and I would put Joey at about 6’5” or 6’6.” Joey looked like he always did: ripped blue jeans, plain canvas tennis shoes, his trademark black leather jacket and sunglasses which I observed to be prescription sunglasses, not just vanity shades. I had on torn and tattered boys swim trunks, which I had pushed up my rear crack to let my fanny cheeks hang out and a too tight t-shirt on.
Right away, my first instinct was to go into survival mode. OK, who’s gonna attack us? Where are the exits if we have to make a run for it? If we have to, we’ll fight back! So we kept on walking and of course, the “normals” were staring. To me, it’s hysterical to speculate on what they could have thought: “Did they just get out of a mental institution?” Better yet, “Did they ESCAPE from a psych ward and should we call somebody right away to take them back where they belong, maybe the fire department or the police?”
There’s a reason why I’m saying “mental institution.” In April of 2007, I was speaking on the phone with Dave Frey, the manager of the Ramones. He told me a story that years ago, the Ramones pulled into a 24 hour self service gas station/quick mart late one night in Texas. All four Ramones and their road manger went into the store while getting gas and bought a couple of items. When the band went back to the van and their road manger was still in the store at the counter, the cashier, an elderly woman said reverently and sincerely to him, “Sir, it is so kind of you to take them out of the mental institution and watch over them like this. God bless you.”
Back to the grocery store — Somehow, reflexively, my next mode of thought was to observe Joey and how he was handling all of this. I started monitoring him as I tuned out the surroundings: bright garish overhead lighting, sales on produce signs, screaming kids etc… Joey remained stoic and unfazed, walking deliberately with a sense of being quite closed off to whatever and whoever was around us. That was his way of being cool, as if he had already learned survival skills for these types of situations. In that moment, I remember admiring his detachment, as I was much more sensitive to whatever and whoever was around me.
Then we reached our destination. No it wasn’t for beer, Coca Cola, or even a little snack before the show – It was… cosmetics!? I was in disbelief. Not because I wouldn’t go to cosmetics, but because I would have never thought that Joey Ramone would be shopping in cosmetics. Why were we in cosmetics amidst a bunch of made up sales women trying to sell Estee Lauder and hypo allergenic foundation to upper middle class housewives? As we were standing at the cosmetics counter, looking like the oddest freakiest couple on planet earth, it dawned on me that everyone in the grocery store might just be afraid of us – in their minds, we could maybe be criminals… So I just stood alongside Joey, quietly and observationally. He bought two items: cover stick and face powder. I probably looked like a person who had just been punked, or frozen in time – like when you’re mind goes completely blank for a moment…Where am I? What’s my name again? What day is today? I can’t quite recall…
Then all these analytical thoughts started racing through my head: If Joey is wearing his sunglasses which he always wears on stage, why would he buy cover stick, you know, to put under his eyes to hide bags and dark circles? Who would ever see under his eyes anyway with his sunglasses on? Why face powder? His hair covers most of his face on stage, the glasses cover the rest, so what is it for? I never did bother to ask him why, but I figured, “Hey, it’s perfect. Why not?” We maybe startled some housewives and that’s good enough for me. In a very nonchalant way, Joey simply took some bunched up crumpled up cash out of his pocket, no wallet but just out of the front pocket of his jeans. He paid for his items and we were on our way back to the club.
When we got back to the club, it was mid evening. All of us were in this rather small dressing room at Club Monopoly before the show: the Ramones, Skafish band and my road manager Jimy Sohns. (Jimy Sohns is the singer of the legendary Chicago band “The Shadows Of Knight,” who first hit it big in 1966 with the classic “Gloria.” That song alone went on to sell 4 million copies worldwide and several hits followed for the band. As Jimy’s career had gone through those well known ups and downs of a life in rock ‘n’ roll, he recently had become my road manager.) Jimy Sohns was casually strumming his vintage Rickenbacker guitar and no one was paying much attention till the subject of the guitar came up: “Oh, this is the guitar we used to cut Gloria with,” Jimy stated.
Johnny Ramones’ eyes lit up and seemed to bug out of his head. “I’ll give you a thousand dollars cash for it right now,” Johnny offered for the guitar. Jimy, as one would assume, refused to part with his historical axe. Johnny still persisted for a while as he really wanted it, but Jimy wouldn’t part with this piece of rock music history. As I was exiting the dressing room, I don’t remember Joey having done any vocal warm ups before his set, but I do recall that later down the road, he did study opera for a while to train his voice which is a great idea, one I highly recommend for any singer.
That evening, we did our performance and the Ramones followed with theirs. Joey was in good voice and the band played their songs about the same speed on their records; maybe a bit faster. At tempos similar to their studio recordings, the lyrics and vocal melodies were still quite audible. I really loved the Ramones clever, well-written songs of this era featuring Joey’s very distinctive voice. The audience was fantastic – not as wildly dressed as the July 1977 show, but a bit more laid back and hip.
Months later, I was told that The Ramones were looking for me to see if I was lurking around at a show of theirs at The Aragon Ballroom in Chicago, which I couldn’t attend. Different Ramones were asking where I was hiding as that was something I might have done. “OK, where is Skafish? Is he around the corner or something?” Right after my first LP was released in the May of 1980, I went backstage to a Ramones show at a Chicago college and I gave Dee Dee Ramone my first LP. I remember him repeatedly saying, “Now which track is the best one?” I surmised that he would probably recall the first track, as he wouldn’t have to think about it. So I told him, “The first track is the best one.” This way, he could put on the record and not have any trouble remembering which track is the one I recommended for him to listen to.
Back in the day, Joey did find a girlfriend who moved in with him and accepted an engagement ring, only later to break up with him. After the break up, she ended up marrying Johnny Ramone and consequently stayed married to Johnny until he passed on. This disappointment further emphasized Joey’s alienation and for the rest of his life, he never made a serious or long lasting commitment to another woman. This contributed to Joey and Johnny not speaking for many years, which required an intermediary to be on tour. Even in the small confines of a tour bus, they didn’t speak to each other, so the intermediary would have to pass messages between the two of them. The intermediary would speak on John’s behalf, “John says our shows are selling out in Spain, so we should add some more tour dates to make some money.” Joey would then respond, “Tell John that I am – thinking about it.” As one their albums was aptly titled, “Too Tough To Die,” the Ramones weren’t going to merely fade off into the sunset, even amidst financial stress and personal issues. Now that Johnny and Joey are both in spirit, it is my sincere hope that they can resolve whatever barriers came between them.
In 2001, I remember getting the mail and preparing to read the new Rolling Stone, when my eyes caught part of the cover: “Joey Ramone 1951-2001.” I was stunned and felt paralyzed. All of the images: memories, performances, scenes and experiences I shared with Joey and the rest of the band started racing through my mind, like a flash slide show I wasn’t in control of. I felt resentful and sad that Joey didn’t achieve the success he rightfully deserved and now it was simply too late for him. He was gone… At first, it didn’t seem real to me, as most of us initially feel when someone we know leaves this dimension. I started to cry and I was quickly going into emotional overwhelm, when I rushed downstairs into my basement where I keep a little spinet piano just to privately write songs on. I took all of the pain, sadness and disappointment of that moment and channeled it into an alternative rock / pop song for Joey named “Forever Fetal,” a song I do plan on recording. I co dedicated the song to my band member Barbie Goodrich who transitioned into spirit, also from cancer, about 6 years prior.
It’s ironic to me that as I’m writing this over thirty years after I first met Joey Ramone, I recently noticed that Joey and I crossed paths again, this time on the Internet in rock ‘n’ roll cyberspace — as both being included on a list entitled: The 16 ugliest men in the history of rock ‘n’ roll. My, oh my, how flattering! Wouldn’t my mommy and daddy be proud of me? (LAM=Laughing at myself!) Yet to me, Joey Ramone represented everything that is beautiful about rock ‘n’ roll: a home for the disenfranchised, a special singing voice, a unique individual with a one-of-a-kind essence and a timeless icon…