As two of the most iconic figures from New York’s downtown punk scene, Debbie Harry and Joey Ramone have come to embody the ethos and legacy of CBGB. In the mid-1970s, that small, dingy nightclub in Manhatten’s East Village became the incubator of a new wave of artists, each pursuing a distinct aesthetic but united by a common vision.
While often lumped together, Blondie and The Ramones were poles apart. Where Debbie Harry and company absorbed everything from disco and early hip-hop, The Ramones were more puritanical – favouring the scuzzy riffs of early rock groups like The Kinks and The Who. In the US at this time, punk was far less concrete than it was in the UK, allowing for a sense of camaraderie amongst disparate groups that would have beaten the shit out of each other in London’s 100 Club.
The fact that Debbie Harry was unable to speak at the concert held in honour of Joey Ramone shortly after his death tells us everything we need to know about their relationship. “Once a cretin, always a cretin,” she told the crowd with a wry smile. The pair were close friends during the CBGB era, having met at a small venue where lots of the downtown groups showcased their material. As Debbie recalled in an MTV interview in 1990: “I think it was a little place on 18th on Broadway. There was this little space where everyone used to go to showcase, and I think that’s where we met. You [talking to Joey] fell down the stairs, and I picked you up.”
The obvious intimacy – whether platonic or romantic – between Debbie and Joey is one of the most endearing things about this stunning rendition of Harry’s 1993 Debrevation single ‘Standing in My Way’. With its 100mph guitar lines and sparse textures, the cover evokes the classic punk sound that The Ramones were so famous for. Even the original track stands in stark contrast to the early house infusions of Debravation. Is it possible Debbie was growing nostalgic for the 1970s by the early ’90s?
She would certainly have a lot to be nostalgic about. Talking to The Guardian back in 2019, the Blondie singer said: “You look back and everything looks a little bit rosier, but it was a good time. It was a good time to be a young person.” She could even afford to live in New York and make art at the same time: “Everybody in the 70s was living in squats and everything; it was kind of romantic.”
If you haven’t already, make sure you check out the Debbie Harry and Joey Ramone’s duet on ‘Standing In My Way’ above.