The Queens Museum looked like CBGB’s as thousands of people in leather and denim packed the main floor on Sunday to celebrate the Ramones, the legendary punk band from Forest Hills whose original, hard-hitting music remains as vibrant today as it was 40 years ago when their legendary first album was released on April 10, 1976.
The occasion was the opening of “Hey! Ho! Let’s Go: Ramones and the Birth of Punk,” an exhibit of signed guitars, battered Marshall amps, original albums, rare photos and an array of memorabilia lovingly organized by the Queens Museum and the GRAMMY Museum in Los Angeles, in collaboration with Ramones Productions, Inc., JAM Inc. and Silent Partner Management, with production support by Pace Gallery. It’s co-curated by Queens Museum guest curator Marc H. Miller and Bob Santelli, executive director of the GRAMMY Museum.
The project has been years in the making, explained Miller, whose last show at the museum was dedicated to Louis Armstrong, who also resided in Queens.
“In the end it all came together,” Miller told the Press as he gazed at the crowd waiting to get into the special galleries, culminating in a 60-minute film of the band’s ’77 London concert. “I got the opportunity to do the show I wanted here.”
He selected the objects and picked their spots.
“Curating is about rejecting stuff as much as it is about what you’re putting in,” Miller said. “With the Ramones, there were a gazillion photographers, and everybody has their favorite photograph so the trick is not to get seduced by a photograph that only stands by itself. I always like having little stories within the exhibition.”
This exhibit runs at Flushing Meadows Corona Park in Queens until July 31, when everything is packed up and moved to L.A., where it will be on display from Sept. 16, 2016 through March 2017. Visitors to the Queens show can take away a great map of the Ramones’ New York City, drawn by John Holstrom, that shows their roots as well as important landmarks in their life. On the flip side is an illustrated account of their career and lasting influence.
Over the years the band’s mantra “Hey Ho, Let’s Go!” could be heard blaring over the sound system in nearby Shea Stadium and later at Citi Field when the Mets—or their fans—needed a lift. But the refrain wouldn’t last long, depending on the action on the field. Here at the Queens Museum, the cultural contribution of Joey, Johnny, Dee Dee and Tommy get their full due with a tribute that honors them for their legacy and influence. Talk about New York values, what other band embodies it better than the Ramones?
Their self-titled debut album, recorded at Plaza Sound Studios on the 7th floor of Radio City Music Hall, introduced the world to the uncompromising music known as punk. Recorded in three days for a total cost of $6,400, the first album raced through 14 songs in 29 minutes. Despite its seminal influence, it actually took years until it went gold, in part because at the time of its release rock radio stations did not know how to handle its ground-breaking, genre-defying style.
But the Ramones found a receptive audience—and they never looked back.
As the exhibit’s brochure relates, the Ramones’ “minimalist tunes, slapstick lyrics, buzzsaw guitars, and blitzkrieg tempo became the wellspring for a new music and culture.” Their music “lifted listeners out of the bleak world described in its lyrics, providing anthems for a worldwide fellowship of the disaffected.”
It was the time of New York City’s bankruptcy, high crime and graffiti-covered subway cars, when tenement buildings were crumbling and people were scrambling in the shadows just to get by.
None of the original band survives: Joey died from lymphoma in 2001, Dee Dee overdosed in 2002, Johnny succumbed to prostate cancer in 2004 and Tommy fell to bile duct cancer in 2014. But their presence was on full display Sunday in Queens. How they’d react to all the attention is hard to say. No doubt they’d smirk.
“I don’t even know who the Ramones are!” admitted a woman who was standing near the stage where a live band was performing “The KKK Took My Baby Away” in the main hall. She’d come to the museum because WNYC had said on its broadcast that “it was the top thing to do in Queens!”
On hand for the opening was Queens Borough President Melinda Katz, who was very pleased with the turnout. Outside the museum the parking lots were full and more cars were parked over the curb and on the grass. Asked what her favorite Ramones song was, Katz thought for a moment and picked two: “I Wanna Be Sedated” and “Pinhead,” which is memorable for its refrain, “Gabba gabba hey!”
Nearby in the lobby entrance stood Monte A. Melnick, the band’s tour manager, who also helped compile the show’s collection. He was pumped up by the size of the crowd, which vindicated all the time and effort the organizers had devoted to making the show possible.
As Tommy Ramone, the drummer, put it in the band’s first press release, “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.”
“Hey! Ho! Lets’ Go: Ramones and the Birth of Punk” runs until July 31 at the Queens Museum, at the Flushing Meadows Corona Park [exit 9P heading west off the Grand Central], 718-592-9700.
Queens Museum guest-curator Marc Miller holds the Ramones map at the opening of the exhibit on the legendary punk band.