The Ramones were an unconventional band. On the surface, they were a tight-knit punk family, and nothing could ever drive them apart. The reality, however, was less romantic. Joey Ramone and Johnny Ramone were total opposites; music was almost the only thing they had that kept them together despite their monumental differences. One incident, in particular, would put an end to their friendship.
The perfect example of the two men cut from different cloths is their political ideologies. Joey Ramone was a fierce liberal who had a progressive attitude towards life, and these beliefs went against Johnny’s world-view. On the other hand, the guitarist was an outspoken supporter of the Republican Party despite the punk movement and a love of conservatism being one of the greatest juxtapositions possible. These values would lead to the two men repeatedly butting heads, but, as time passed, they mostly agreed to disagree on the matter.
One instance in which their political ideologies became a stumbling block was when the band attacked President Reagan. Johnny was appalled at their track ‘Bonzo Goes To Bitburg’, the song directly aimed at Reagan and one Joey wrote in frustration at the President’s visit to a Nazi cemetery in Bitburg, Germany. Johnny was so incensed at the band undermining Reagan that he somehow managed to force them into changing the title to ‘My Brain Is Hanging Upside Down’.
The situation between the two members got even more complicated when Joey discovered that his girlfriend, Linda, had fallen in love with his bandmate and left him to pursue a romance with Johnny. A heartbroken and angry Joey, one who already had a strong antipathy for his bandmate due to the views he held, was left down in the dumps after discovering his first-real love would rather be with his nemesis than him.
Joey compiled this anger into a two-and-a-half-minute punk classic scathingly titled, ‘The KKK Took My Baby Away’. “The KKK took my baby away, they took her away, away from me, The KKK took my baby away, they took her away, away from me,” Joey sings with all his heart on the chorus.
Linda went on to marry Johnny, and they stayed together right up until his very last breath in 2004. However, after this incident, Joey and Johnny’s relationship was almost strictly professional. When Joey passed away from lymphoma in 2001, Johnny didn’t even attend his fictional brother’s funeral.
“I was in California,” he said at the time. “I wasn’t going to travel all the way to New York, but I wouldn’t have gone anyway. I wouldn’t want him coming to my funeral, and I wouldn’t want to hear from him if I were dying. I’d only want to see my friends. Let me die and leave me alone.”
Linda later commented on the affair to Fox News, noting: “People are always like, ‘Oh, she broke Joey’s heart.’ It was our first love, me and Joey. So it was very deep and it was amazing. But at one point, Johnny fell in love with me. When Joey [learned] Johnny was in love with me, it was either [accept it] or break up the band. None of us, the three of us, ever put each other first. The band always came first. That’s how it was. We all knew it.
“So when it came time for Joey and me to break up, we understood. It was time to move on. Johnny was in love with me, I had been falling in love with Johnny. Joey knew that. For the first couple of years, I didn’t speak to Joey and then of all a sudden, this guy was doing a Ramones book. And out of the blue Joey called me. From that moment on, me and Joey always stayed in touch. I know people go, ‘Oh, you broke his heart.’ But Joey got another girlfriend right away after I left!”
Perhaps Linda was much more well suited to Johnny than she was Joey and there was a reason why their relationship didn’t last. However, Joey could never forgive his bandmate for betraying him even if he could understand why Linda left him. The band’s fractious relationship was left-behind for the hour that they spent on stage. However, the moment they played the final note, they dropped the façade with Joey and Johnny returning to live completely separate lives.