Dee Dee, Joey, Johnny, and Tommy started rocking the world 40 years ago. Now, they’re returning to their home borough for an encore.
On April 10, Queens Museum will unveil Hey! Ho! Let’s Go: Ramones and the Birth of Punk , a new exhibition celebrating the rock group from Forest Hills that is credited with spearheading and popularizing the punk genre. Using memorabilia selected from more than 50 public and private collections from all over the world, the spectacle will emphasize the entertainers’ local roots and explore their influence on comic books, fashion, film, and even fine art.
Organized under the categories of Places, Events, Songs, and Artists, visitors of this retrospective will first encounter a commissioned cartoon map by Punk Magazine co-founder John Holmstrom that traces the band’s path from Yellowstone Boulevard to the Manhattan nightclubs Max’s Kansas City and CBGB, where they were regular fixtures in the 1970s and 1980s. Then, attendees will be able to check out such objects as press packages, ticket stubs, and tee shirts while video monitors present early live gigs. Another section will depict life on the road—and on stage—as per images taken by venerable rock-and-roll photographer Bob Gruen and peerless punk shutterbug David Godlis. Other items will include a colorful wall of concert posters that spans five continents and three decades and a specially commissioned billboard by Yoshitomo Nara, the illustrator, painter and sculptor who pioneered the Japanese Pop Art Movement.
Like Warhol, the Ramones used branding as an art form. Art director Arturo Vega turned his iconic eagle logo into a pioneering range of T-shirts and other merchandise, and the origins of that now ubiquitous band symbol are traced. Vega also encouraged Dee Dee Ramone’s idiosyncratic paintings, several of which are on view.
The Ramones’ unchanging image is preserved in album covers and outtakes by Roberta Bayley, Mick Rock, and George DuBose. Cartoon drawings by Sergio Aragones (Mad magazine) and John Holmstrom illuminate the humor in the band’s caustic lyrics, some of which are written graffiti-style on the museum walls. Original lyric manuscripts by Joey and Dee Dee, and guitars and leather jackets used by Joey and Johnny, bring the band that much closer.
The exhibition will stay at the Flushing Meadows Corona Park space until July 31, 2016. Then, a related show will open at the Grammy Museum in Los Angeles on September 16, 2016. To run through March 2017, the West Coast leg will focus on how the Ramones fit into music history and pop culture.
It was certainly a long, strange trip for these boys, who met at Forest Hills High School. The original members—John Cummings (Johnny, guitar), Jeffrey Hyman (Joey, lead singer), Douglas Colvin (Dee Dee, bass), and Thomas Erdelyi (Tommy, drummer)—adopted their artistic first names and their shared surname “Ramone.” (Later colleagues included drummers Marky and Richie and bass player CJ.) They shot to fame via their self-titled album, which was released on April 23, 1976.
With no songs that lasted more than three minutes, their sound mixed minimalist tunes with slapstick lyrics, buzz saw guitars, and a lightning-fast tempo known as the “blitzkrieg bop.”
“The Ramones all originate from Forest Hills and kids who grew up there either became musicians, degenerates or dentists. The Ramones are a little of each.”Tommy Ramone, wrote in the band’s first press release. The band never lost its outer borough edge. One of its most well-known songs is “Rockaway Beach” an ode to summer fun in the sun.
In addition to the compositions, their general image defined the Punk Rock movement. Their costumes consisted of ripped blue jeans, leather jackets, sunglasses, and lightly combed hairdos. Their attitude was confident, stubborn, and ornery with no smiles. Their music was always loud.
The Ramones lasted for 22 years, releasing 21 albums and offering more than 2,200 live concerts before a farewell performance in Los Angeles in 1996. The group was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland in 2002 and received a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 2011. However, all the original members are dead.
Getting there: Queens Museum is located in the New York City Building just west of Avenue of the States in Flushing Meadows Corona Park. It is about 100 yards from the Unisphere. There is a free parking lot to the north, but the venue suggests that visitors take public transportation because space is limited. By subway, take the 7 train to the Citi Field-Willets Point elevated station and walk over a switching yard on a pedestrian footbridge called “The Passerelle.” Then enter the park and follow signs. The entire walk from the station to the site is about 15 minutes.
Rob MacKay is the director of public relations for the Queens Economic Development Corporation. He loves the borough's diversity, restaurants, cultural venues, public spaces, and most of all, people.