Three years ago Joey Ramone, founder of the definitive punk-pop group the Ramones, began work on what he knew would be his last album. Having already been diagnosed with terminal lymphatic cancer, he spent three years between the recording studio and the hospital composing what he hoped would serve as his legacy.
It is all too common these days for record companies to exploit the publicity that accompanies the death of a famous artist, and it is equally common for post-mortem releases to be overproduced scrapbooks of discarded material. “Don’t Worry About Me,” however, was completed in its entirety before Ramone’s death, and after he succumbed to his cancer last year, the release of his much-anticipated solo album was delayed to allow for mourning.
The world is finally allowed to hear Joey Ramone’s last words, as they rise above the pure riot-starting joy of searing guitars and hard-hitting drums. In a way that only Joey Ramone is capable of, “Don’t Worry About Me,” is a heartwrenchingly beautiful album.
Never does Ramone stray from his signature four-chord punk style, and despite age and illness, his smart-aleck vocals have not lost their edge. In addition to sounding like a classic Ramones record, “Don’t Worry About Me” is conceptually poetic. It is both an emotional chronicle of his life’s end and an uplifting valediction to all those who loved him.
The album opens with a refreshingly noisy cover of “What a Wonderful World,” with Ramone’s immortally snotty voice taking on a new sense of sincerity. This is immediately followed by Ramone’s helpless mantra of terminal illness, “Stop Thinking About It,” a nevertheless upbeat blend of punk and pop that will make older fans nostalgic.
Ramone continues the tour of his final years, while laying out all of his feelings with typically honest and to-the-point lyrics. On “I Got Knocked Down (But I’ll Get Up)” Ramone begins by repeating the line “Sitting in a Hospital Bed” four times before he hopelessly pleads, “I want my life.” His pain reverberates through the distorted guitars, but still the song ends on a courageous note: “I got knocked down but I’ll get up.”
The final song, “Don’t Worry About Me” is a brave and comforting farewell to loved ones, fans, and life itself. As with his life and career, Ramone chose to end the album on a high note.
“Don’t Worry About Me” covers the spectrum from vulnerable to defiant, from somber to joyous, and from philosophical to just plain goofy. It is the perfect eulogy for a man who drew inspiration from so many sources, and whose influence will ensure his immortality.