Gabba Gabba Goodbye

102306 article classics Gabba Gabba GoodbyeOn Aug. 16, 1977–the day Elvis Presley died–Joey Ramone and a couple of his friends were moping around the Lower East Side, devastated. Still, nobody could think of a fitting homage to their idol. “Then somebody got the idea that we should buy some fresh brains,” said Joey’s friend, DeerFrances, who was there that day. She was speaking at a Ramones tribute on April 30 at CBGB, the seminal New York punk band’s home club on the Bowery, to mourn the passing of Mr. Ramone, who died of cancer on April 15. “We went to CBGB’s and we put the brains all over the place!” she recalled. “People played anyway.”

But the spindly singer’s death was not marked by any grisly tributes. In fact, his memorial service was almost strangely PG-13–further proof that while the days of guys in tight black jeans, Converse high tops and motorcycle jackets may almost be a memory, punk will always play with pissed-off kids. Outside the club were piles of cheap bouquets and notes to Joey signed by fans like “Kerry, age 11.” Waiting in line to get in, a 13-year-old with dyed-black hair said, “The Ramones are, like, cool. It sucks that that guy Joey’s dead. I was smoking up the other day with this guy I know named Vader, and he was like, ‘Dude, we totally need to get sedated for Joey.’ So we took this stuff–um, I don’t think I should be telling you about this.”

And then there was Charlotte Lesher, Joey’s mother and a picture of grace, who was schmoozing with her sixtysomething friends and Forest Hills neighbors at a table in the back. “Jeffrey was a good kid,” said one (Ms. Lesher and her friends still use her son’s real name). “Jeff was never a shnorrer, he never kvetched–what more could you ask?” said an elderly man who didn’t want his name used. “So what if he was a little bizarre?”

In the cavalcade of celebrity mourners was Joan Jett, who spoke about a tour she did with the Ramones back in the days of three-chord glory: “We played Bellville, Ill.,” she said. “You can just imagine how he said it: ‘HELLO, BELLVILLE!’ For some reason, that sticks in my mind. Joey, I love you and I’m going to miss you.” She later told The Transom that she hadn’t had the chance to give him a proper goodbye. “I just saw him out and about,” she said. “It’s really sad.”

Debbie Harry, looking harried, made an attempt at a roast: “Once a cretin, always a cretin,” she said. Later, Ms. Harry told The Transom that she was too upset to talk. “I just can’t do it,” she said. “We had a hard enough time getting her here,” her assistant confided.

Meanwhile, Ms. Lesher and her friends were growing impatient with M.C. “Furious” George Tabb’s stream of profanity. “Every other word out of his mouth!” Ms. Lesher said of the man who threatened to fight “any pussy” who spoke ill of his favorite band. “It’s terrible,” her friend replied. “There’s a lady in the house!” Ms. Lesher–still the faithful punk mom–was trying to rationalize it: “I guess that’s just his style.” But when one of the show’s organizers told her he was going to get Mr. Tabb off the stage, she looked relieved.

Mr. Tabb was replaced by Dick Manitoba of the Dictators, who introduced Joey’s brother, Mickey Leigh, who played a short set of Ramones songs. “Let’s hear it for George Tabb,” Mr. Leigh said. “He may have gotten my mom a little pissed off, but hey, Ma, it’s CBGB!”