Everyone has a Ramones story. The band has been ingrained into our culture and, whether or not you are a fan (but how could you not be?), you have chanted “Hey! Ho! Let’s Go!” at a sports game or seen Rock’n’Roll High School if just to gush over a pigtailed, fresh-faced PJ Soles in her shiny outfits.
The Ramones have always been there. Cool without effort, fashionable without trying, Joey, Dee Dee, Johnny and Tommy changed the shape of underground music, ricocheting punk into a spectacular movement in the mid-1970s.
It’s only fitting that the new exhibition at the Queens Museum in New York City titled Hey! Ho! Let’s Go: Ramones and the Birth of Punk opens just down the street from where the Ramones grew up in Forest Hills, Queens. The exhibition is a celebration of the Ramones’ legacy: four rooms packed with memorabilia, images from legendary photographers, fan art and video installations (including their solo works as well).
The curator, Marc H. Miller, is no stranger to punk, having curated an exhibition of punk artists in 1978. I had the chance to interview him and asked how he approached the execution the Ramones exhibition:
“I know what’s authentic. I never once had to say ‘what is punk?’ [If a] younger curator was doing it they might want to put themselves into [that sort of mindset]. I knew a time when nobody took the word seriously.”
This sort of attitude shows in the exhibition. After looking through the rooms, there are no questions as to what is punk? but instead states this is why punk exists. Two very separate things. [Note: Don’t get me started on the PUNK: Chaos to Couture exhbition at the MET… perhaps for another day.]
I got to chat with Monte A. Melnick, the Ramones’ tour manager from their CBGB debut in 1974 to their final concert in 1996 (and he also wrote a book on his Ramones adventures). Not only did he grow up in Queens, he still resides and works there. Monte offered up a lot of his personal collection of posters, shirts, passport photos and tour itineraries to the Queens Museum. “Anybody that likes the Ramones [will like this exhibition]. There’s lots of history here.”
“They were like the Johnny Appleseeds of rock at the time. So they started off here in New York then they started playing all over the country and all over the world. All these kids went to see them and said ‘Hey look, they’re doing it. They don’t have to be an incredible virtuosos on the guitar. They’re saying their message and have simple songs that are played nice. Good music with good lyrics.’ So [The Ramones] planted all the seeds in these kids and they started groups after that.”
If you aren’t in the NYC area, the exhibition will travel to Los Angeles’ GRAMMY Museum on Sept 16, 2016. The Queens Museum show runs until July 31. You can also peruse this photo album for photos from the exhibition’s preview that took place last night, including snaps of a handsome David Johansen with Tish and Snooky.
– Andi Harriman