Tehee: Tommy Ramone and the year of celebrity deaths

The Fresno BeeJuly 16, 2014 

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Tommy Ramone

TOMMY RAMONE — Tommy Ramone

A few weeks ago my dad asked me if all of the Ramones were dead.

You'd have to know my dad to know that, not being morbid, this is the kind of out-of-left field music trivia he sometimes asks of his son the music writer.

My brother gets the sports questions.

I was reminded of the conversation last Friday, when Tommy Ramone, the last of the iconic punk band's original members, died of cancer at the age of 65.

While the band's legacy will no doubt continue, it is now officially deceased. R.I.P.

This has been a year of celebrity death.

In the first half of 2014, we've lost actor Philip Seymour Hoffman and Shirley Temple, folk hero Pete Seeger and Phil Everly (of the Everly Brothers), author Gabriel Garcia Marquez, wrestler James Hellwig (the Ultimate Warrior) and Dave Brockie (Orderus Urungus of the metal band Gwar).

And that is not a complete list.

It's hard to tell if the number of deaths is greater than in any other year. It feels that way though, because we process information at wireless speed and communicate 24-7 across vast networks of social media.

So, James Avery dies (on New Year's Eve, no less) and it feels like a huge, communal loss. Even though few of those talking about it knew the actor personally, and many of us hadn't watched an episode of "Fresh Prince of Bel Air" since the show was taken off local syndication, the guy who played uncle Phil was gone and that was sad.

American pop culture has always felt celebrity death, going back to James Dean, or to Buddy Holly and the plane crash that killed all of music (at least according to the song "American Pie").

I was a sophomore in high school when Kurt Cobain died.

It's hard to fathom how anyone learned about his death in the days before Twitter, but it must have been on the radio.

I remember it being after lunch break.

I remember friends in tears.

In truth, I couldn't understand it, the intimate connection others felt toward his death. I didn't get all those mourners, traveling across the country to camp out at his home. Call me callous, but I still can't.

Nor do I understand those who flocked to the scene of the crash that killed actor Paul Walker last November.

I do understand the feeling of loss.

I was in college when Joey Ramone died. He was the first Ramone to go, and he was taken by cancer, which seemed about the least punk rock way to die. I wrote a eulogy in the college paper lamenting the loss of an icon (and my chance to see the band play live).

We make deep connections with those who provide us escape from our everyday lives. It makes sense that we feel loss — both personal and cultural — at their passing.

 

This columnist can be reached at (559) 441-6479, jtehee@fresnobee.com and @joshuatehee on Instagram and Twitter. Read his blog at www.fresnobee.com

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