It snowed the day we visited Joey Ramone’s grave.
It wasn’t supposed to snow – it was supposed to be sunny, a little windy, with temperatures in the upper 30s. In fact, the sky still looked blue in patches, but when I knelt down in front of Joey Ramone’s grave, in the Jewish section of the Hillside Cemetery in Lyndhurst, New Jersey, the snow began to fall.
I am not a superstitious person, or someone who looks seriously for signs or omens, but it was a little spooky. In a nice way.
I spend quite a bit of time visiting the graves of famous people. It’s a thing that happens when most of the people you admire are dead, and also because I am a bit morbid and quite enjoy cemeteries. I usually take something with me to leave at the memorial – something that signifies what that person means to me. Pencils and small bottle of gin for F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald. Three cigarettes for Patsy Cline, since my favorite song of hers is Three Cigarettes in an Ashtray. This behavior really isn’t all that strange – my totem is seldom the only one left at a grave marker, and my city recently commemorated the 200th anniversary of the Star Spangled Banner by briefly reuniting the song’s manuscript with Francis Scott Key, who is buried almost literally in my backyard.
I didn’t have to think much about what I was going to leave on Joey Ramone’s grave. It was going to be a copy of Alice Cooper’s Love It to Death.
Here’s a fact – if you’re a rock and roll kid, chances are very, very good that you are not the sort of person who peaked in high school. You are likely the sort of person who tried to keep your head down and get through it until you could get out and be the person you really felt like inside. You’re the sort of person who found refuge in music and spent hours in your room or in your car, listening to escape. And you probably had that one album that, above all others, gave you permission to feel ok about being who you were. For me, that album was a cassette tape of Rocket to Russia.
“But she just couldn’t stay/she had to break away” from Sheena is a Punk Rocker repeating over and over in my head as I navigated the halls of my high school. I Wanna Be Well the day the doctor told me I had multiple sclerosis. I Can’t Give You Anything when I failed another math test. We’re a Happy Family when I was bored out of my mind and couldn’t bring myself to care about the expectations I wasn’t living up to. The sheer, delerius joy of Do You Wanna Dance? and Surfin’ Bird, songs I’d loved hearing blaring out of the oldies station on my dad’s transistor when I was a little kid. I could crawl inside that album, and not only feel like someone else understood about not fitting in, but like I didn’t have to. That is was ok not to want the same things everybody else wanted and to be the same things everybody wanted to be.
For a kid in Queens named Jeffry Ross Hyman, that album was Love it to Death. His brother, Mickey Leigh’s, book I Slept With Joey Ramone describes pre-Ramones Jeff listening to The Ballad of Dwight Fry repeatedly, and writing his first song, I Don’t Care (also on Rocket to Russia, and also in heavy rotation on days I needed to escape) based on I’m Eighteen. I’m Eighteen, coincidentally, is probably one of the first songs I knew all the words to, since my dad was a big Alice Cooper fan.
I spent a couple of weeks before our trip to New York sniffing around my local record shops for a copy of Love it to Death. I have a copy of my own, and I listen to it about once a week, and I was pretty sure Joey would be ok with me getting him his own copy and not sacrificing mine. Much of this time was spent in bargain bins, where I had two major thoughts:
1. Who the hell originally bought and listened to all of these Andy Williams albums?
2. It really serves Humble Pie right to be in the ten cent bin, after the way they bought Penny Lane for fifty dollars and a case of Heineken. (I am aware that Almost Famous isn’t real, and Humble Pie are probably very nice guys, but I have very strong feelings about that scene).
Getting to Joey’s grave from Manhattan is pretty simple. You just go to Port Authority and take the 190 bus to Lyndhurst, New Jersey. The Rutherford Avenue bus stop is literally across the street from Hillside Cemetery, which is located on Orient Way. Joey is buried in the Jewish section – New Mt. Zion, which is (appropriately) near the intersection with Second Avenue. Walk down the pathway until you see the marble entrance labeled “New York Social Club” – it’s the third one down. Joey will be on your left.
Getting back to Manhattan from Joey’s grave should also have been pretty simple. It would have made infinite sense to go across the street to the cute little 50’s diner (which I understand has great food, and also probably would have had heat, which would have been ideal on a day of unexpected snow) and then headed back to the same place the bus had dropped us off. But no. Mr. Lamarr (or, more specifically, Mr. Lamarr’s phone, which is quickly assuming a frighteningly HAL like position in Mr. Lamarr’s life) had other ideas. HAL the Phone felt, quite strongly apparently, that we ought to cut down Meadow Rd., which would, according to Mr. Lamarr “let us see more of the (random) neighborhood (in New Jersey).”
However. Meadow Road turned out to be more like Murder Road. It wasn’t even a road anymore – probably on account of all the bodies the Mafia has likely dumped back there. So then HAL the Phone instructed us to keep walking down Polito Road, which took us on an incredibly long (and often sidewalk-less) walking tour of a makeshift 9/11 memorial, a picturesque specialty chemical plant, and the world’s most depressing Medieval Times. When we finally got to the bus stop, Hal the Phone informed us that we had walked seven miles.
So. Visiting Joey Ramone’s grave is a really nice experience. If you go, please be respectful. Also, please end your visit by going to the cute little diner across the street before heading back to the same bus stop you got dropped off at. Do not go on a seven mile walking tour of potential body dump sites and specialty chemical plants.