Arriving less than a year after his death from lymphatic cancer, Joey Ramone’s first solo album, Don’t Worry About Me, feels especially poignant. Lyrics like ”Sitting in a hospital bed…I want my life” remind you that Joey was working on these songs as the spectre of death hovered near. Yet far from being a bummer, Don’t Worry is a testament to the uplifting power of rock, and a welcome addition to the Ramones’ oeuvre.
Things begin with a rollicking run-through of the Louis Armstrong-associated chestnut ”What a Wonderful World.” It’s one of those wacky covers that shouldn’t work but does, radiating a beatific joy that sets the tone for much of what follows. Among the highlights are the acoustic ”Searching for Something,” a droll ditty that answers the question ”Whatever happened to Suzy the Headbanger?” (”She’s clean and sober now” and into hanging out at ashrams, Joey informs us.) Then there’s ”Maria Bartiromo,” an ode to the CNBC reporter. (Apparently, he don’t wanna be a pinhead no more, he just met a financial analyst that he could go for.) ”Venting” finds Joey lamenting the dismal state of the world, taking aim at Columbine, ”politicians talking through their a–holes,” and dog-eat-dogism. ”Mr. Punchy,” with its chirpy la-la-la-las, is like a theme to some alternate-universe kids’ show, delivering the jolly message ”Everyone’s screwed up in their own special way.” The Ramones’ gift was turning negatives inside out: Mental illness, substance abuse, dysfunction, failure—all were fodder for perfectly realized mini-epics, and Joey continues that tradition. Charles Bukowski once said that sex is like kicking death in the butt while singing. If that’s true, ”Don’t Worry” is like really good sex.