When someone at the Queens Museum asks if you’d like to attend the friends and family party for the Ramones exhibit opening this Sunday, there’s only one thing to say: “Hey! Ho! Let’s Go!” And those words (also the name of the sprawling exhibit) are exactly that greeted me as I entered the museum and saw this massive painting created by Japanese artist Yoshitomo Nara.
Nara wasn’t among those in attendance last night, but plenty of other Ramones friends and fans were there sipping Rockaway beer (which, thankfully, wasn’t hard, not far to reach). Among the minglers were David Johansen of the New York Dolls, band manager Jeff Jampol, East Village photographer Godlis, gallerist Jeffrey Deitch, producer Daniel Ray, Joey Ramone’s brother Mickey Leigh, and Johnny Ramone’s widow, Linda. John Holmstrom, who illustrated covers for the Ramones and founded Punk magazine, was also circulating, and his map of New York was a centerpiece of the exhibit.
According to curator Marc H. Miller, Linda’s participation was a huge boon to the exhibit, since, in addition to contributing keepsakes like Johnny’s treasured belt from when he was an army cadet, she went to the trouble of acquiring Johnny’s old Rickenbacker guitar and the leather jacket he wore most every day during the 80s. It’s at bottom in the photo below. Those amps, by the way, came from Guitar Center on 14th Street, which bought them shortly after the Ramones stopped touring in 1996 and had been displaying them in its store window.
Linda led us to some of her most treasured items and pointed to a black and white, 1950s photo of young Johnny holding a baseball mitt. “Everybody goes, besides the Ramones, what’s Johnny’s passion? Baseball. He was a baseball fanatic.” Though he rooted for the Yankees and not his home-borough Mets, he did go to Shea Stadium at least once, as evidenced by a prized concert ticket from a 1965 concert. “Can you imagine?” Linda said. “Johnny Ramone kept that since he went to see the Beatles.” The exhibit’s program points out that the band got its name from Paul McCartney’s hotel check-in pseudonym, Paul Ramon.
Also on the wall is a t-shirt advertising The Uncle Floyd Show, a wacky local tv program (think Howard Stern meets Sesame Street) that the Ramones often appeared on. “When he played, he would cut the sleeves off and it would be like a Ramones shirt,” Linda said of Johnny, who died in 2004. “But he liked The Uncle Floyd Show— and Joey did, too— so much that he would wear that shirt all the time, just out.”
Speaking of shirts, the ones below were designed by Arturo Vega, the band’s artistic director. They hang over a photograph of Vega, whose tattoo lists his own name alongside those of Johnny, Joey, and Dee Dee.
Vega was one of the many Ramones associates Miller met while he was hanging out at CBGB in the ’70s. Back then, Miller was living at 98 Bowery (the name of his online gallery dedicated to downtown ephemera of the ’70s and ’80s), and working on a series called “Bettie Visits CBGB.” He’d take photos of his then girlfriend alongside acts like Talking Heads, John Cale, Debbie Harry, Richard Hell, Suicide, the list goes on. A painting of one of those photos, depicting Bettie and the Ramones, hangs in the exhibit.
Vega, along with tour manager Monte A. Melnick, was one of the first to come on board when Miller started planning the exhibit about three years ago. When the “fifth Ramone” died in 2013, it was a “big setback because Vega had an incredible collection,” Miller said. The curator added that “there’s a lot of infighting in the Ramones family, if you could call it a family,” which limited the amount of items he could procure. In the end, Vega’s estate did end up lending a massive painting of the band created by Richard Hamilton.
On a nearby wall is a Bradley Castellanos painting and photo collage of Joey Ramone Place. It was commissioned by Vega, whose nearby loft served as the Ramones’ unofficial HQ.
Next to it is a collage created by another East Villager, Fly-O, shortly after Joey’s death in 2001. The posters for Joey’s 4th of July Blitzkrieg Bash at bygone St. Marks club Coney Island High are from the late ’90s, when Joey lived on East 9th Street and Third Avenue.
Japanese customs papers show Joey’s exact address, 115 East 9th Street. Johnny also lived in the East Village at the time, at 85 East 10th Street.
Other pieces show the degree to which the Ramones were rooted in the East Village. This poster for the first annual Punk Magazine Awards Ceremony, “a high class affair!”, indicated that tickets for the Oct. 13, 1978 event were available at Trash & Vaudeville as well as two other places you’ll no longer find on St. Marks Place: Manic Panic and Defiant Rose.
Even if the band ended up being a creature of the East Village, its four original members all came from Queens and went to Forest Hills High School, as evidenced by a press release written by Tommy Ramone that circulated widely when the group’s originator died last year. “The Ramones all originated from Forest Hills and kids who grew up there either became musicians, degenerates or dentists,” Tommy wrote. “The Ramones are a little of each. Their sound is not unlike a fast drill on a rear molar.”
Among their early fans were Shepard Fairey, who, in 1970, created the decal at bottom left.
The exhibit includes photos by Danny Fields, Jenny Lens, Ian Dickson, and others.
These are Joey Ramone’s handwritten lyrics to “We Want the Airwaves,” from 1981, courtesy of Linda.
Riders for some of the 2,263 concerts the band played during its 22 years show that the Ramones had a weakness for Yoo-Hoo and cheese pizza, and yet they insisted on dining with proper linens and metal utensils.
The band used this Louisville Slugger on stage as a prop during “Beat On the Brat” and later signed it.
This Gabba Gabba Hey sign and costume were used on stage when the band closed their shows with “Pinhead” during their final tour in 1996. The lyrics to Pinhead were handwritten on the wall by none other than punk chronicler Legs McNeil.
“Hey! Ho! Let’s Go: Ramones and the Birth of Punk” runs April 10 (opening reception 4pm to 8pm) to July 31 at Queens Museum, New York City Building, Flushing Meadows Corona Park.