Hey! Ho! Let’s Go: Ramones and the Birth of Punk

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2016 art by Yoshitomo Nara.

The Ramones released their eponymous album on April 23, 1976, on Sire Records, and on July 4 of that same year played their first non-US show at the Roundhouse in London, igniting the Punk fuse under British bands such as the Damned and the Clash, some of whose members were in the crowd that night. It was a Punk Independence Day in the UK ushered in by four burnouts from Forest Hills, Queens.

To celebrate Punk’s 40th birthday, the Queens Museum is hosting a Ramones retrospective exhibition, which will close on July 31, re-opening at the Grammy Museum in Los Angeles on September 16. What sets this exhibition apart from others of its kind is the fact that it ties Punk to place, namely Forest Hills, and contains ephemera about (or belonging to) the band members and their friends and families before the Ramones formed. The concept of Punk-and-place is not new to this blog, and you can read more about that here.

The exhibition places the band inside the context of the fledgling Punk scene in New York City with posters and handbills from CBGB and Max’s Kansas City, and photos of Blondie, Wayne County, Iggy Pop, and others. There are handwritten setlists and lyrics, art made by the band members and their fans, fan letters, original album art, original concert merch, backstage passes. Artifacts of the band include gear and clothing, as well as elements of when the Ramones were “becoming”, including an original demo tape and press kit. Visitors tour three galleries arranged chronologically, encountering Joey’s “Gabba Gabba Hey” sign and memorabilia from the film Freaks and later from Rock and Roll High School.

We see the Ramones invent themselves and their sound, creating not just a Punk phenomenon, but a pop culture one as well, becoming part of the American vernacular as they played over 2,500 shows. Not only do we see the transformation, we hear it as well, as Ramones tunes invite guests in to learn about the origins and growth of a legendary band. Through the Ramones’ artifacts and an attempt to place the band in first a local context, then in the context of the Punk scene, and then on their own terms as a global juggernaut, the exhibition attempts to explain a legend through the sum of its interconnected parts. We don’t quite get a feel for the men themselves through what has been preserved. What we do get, however, is a look at the band-as-virus, spreading Punk wherever it touched down. It’s the creation and circulation of a blueprint. Or perhaps a ‘zine.

The final gallery is entered through a glass door installed in a vain attempt to dampen the sound of a Ramones concert film played on continuous loop. In the back of the room, placed almost as an afterthought, is a case containing the Ramones’ lifetime achievement Grammy and Rock and Roll Hall of Fame statues. This almost hidden placement is clever, though, reminding us that the band was not about achievement; it never was, instead focusing on communication through music to as many people as possible. Such is Punk rock.

When I visited, about eight other people were seated in chairs, listening to the concert footage and smiling. And it marked the first time that I’ve ever seen EVERY SINGLE PERSON smiling in a museum exhibit, without exception. The exhibit walked the nostalgic line to be sure, but did its best to address the Ramones and Punk generally on their own terms, a creative force.

Below is a gallery of images I shot while touring the exhibit. Click on an image to learn more about it, and to enlarge it.

-Andrew Reinhard, Punk Archaeology

1974-75 amp signed by Johnny Ramone.
The author at the exit of the exhibit.
Art by Dee Dee Ramone.
Gig-wear and gear.
The Ramones' first press kit.
Candid photos of the Ramones and friends. There are dozens of these on exhibit.
Ramones' exhibition booklet, about the size of a 45 record.
The exhibition handout includes all of the signage text.
Ramones map by John Holmstrom (2016).
Ramones handbills for CBGB shows.
Original demo by the Ramones.
Handwrtten handbill announcing Dolls and "The Hottest Band on Staten Island".
2016 art by Yoshitomo Nara.
Custom art (2016) by Yoshitomo Nara introduces the exhibit.
entry-signage
Fan mail protesting Dee Dee Ramone's departure from the band.
The Gabba Gabba Hey inscription.
Freaks memorabilia.
Freaks costume, album art, and the Gabba Gabba Hey poster. The case in the lower-right contains original, handwritten lyrics.
Panorama of the first gallery.
Panorama of the first gallery.
Inside the second gallery.
Panorama of the second gallery.
Panorama of the third gallery.
Gig-wear, mics, drumsticks, and guitar strap.
Panorama of Ramones gig-wear and some gear.
Joey Ramone's gig diary. He recorded the date, venue, and who else was on the bill for every show the Ramones played.
Gig logistics including hotel and driving information for the Impulse club in Mt. Vernon, New York. Not pictured: concert tour rider, which included four six-packs of Yoohoo chocolate drink, beer, snacks, and sandwiches.
The Ramones' lifetime achievement Grammy (2011) and two induction statues to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (2002).
Ramones 'zines, classics in handwritten text, collage, and art even as late as 1996.
Joey Ramone's 1965 spring term report card. The teacher comment at the bottom reads, "does not function as a member of class."
Art by Joey Ramone featuring friends of the band.
Johnny Ramone's 1981 travel visa to Japan. This proves that no one looks good in government-issued photos.
Handwritten lyrics for "Head Case". One wants to know who Heidi is, and the story there behind the lyrics. It's difficult to determine what was printed on the opposite side of the page, but it's clear that Joey Ramone was writing on whatever was to hand.
Handwritten lyrics for "I Won't Let It Happen". All-caps, the hastily written text shouts urgency. Urgency and speed.
Mailings from Max's Kansas City for the New York Rock Festival.
poster-signage
Ramones-inspired commercial art.
The fourth gallery space looped a  full Ramones concert video at high volume.
Band art by Joey Ramone of himself and Johnny Ramone.
1965 spring term report cards for Dee Dee and Joey Ramone.
Johnny Ramone's custom Simpson's high school letter jacket.
Matt Groening-signed animation cell of the Ramones as seen on The Simpson's, season 5, episode 4, Rosebud."
Concert poster featuring Dee Dee Ramone as well as Blondie, Wayne County, Divine, Richard Hell, Johnny Thunders. Note the door prizes that include albums, pictures, costumes, and memorabilia from Aerosmith, David Bowie, Wayne County, Kiss, Iggy Pop, the Ramones, and more.
1966 Forest Hills High School yearbook photo of Thomas Erdelyi, aka Tommy Ramone.
1977 concert poster with Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers (and Mink Deville) opening for the Ramones.

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