Hey! Ho! Let’s Go … to the Ramones Exhibit at the Queens Museum

Posted on: April 8th, 2016 at 9:23 am by

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Map by John Holmstrom. Photo: Lori Greenberg.

Unless you liked spending time in elevators or supermarkets, the music scene in the mid-70s was not terribly exciting. Mainstream radio specialized in “Lite FM” tunes and bubblegum pop songs. Concerts were headlined by “arena rock” bands, specializing in 30 minute drum solos.

During this time, there was also nothing terribly exciting going on in Forest Hills. Well, except for four guys who would soon upend things.

Bonding over favorite bands from the 60s – surf music and the British Invasion – they decided to take their name from Paul McCartney’s pre-Beatles alias, “Paul Ramon.” This is how Johnny (John Cummings), Joey (Jeffrey Hyman), Dee Dee (Douglas Colvin) and Tommy (Thomas Erdelyi) Ramone were born.

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Photo: Lori Greenberg.

Did the Ramones ever think they would make such an enormous impact on music, film, art, and, yes, even fashion? Or have their work end up in a museum?

Just a few days after the 40th anniversary of the Ramones self-titled debut album, “Hey! Ho! Let’s Go: Ramones and the Birth of Punk” opens this Sunday at the Queens Museum, just a stone’s throw from their Forest Hills origins.

The exhibit, which we got a sneak peek at, traces the quartet’s roots in Queens and explores their influence on music and visual culture. Organized into four themes – places, events, songs and artists – the exhibit includes artifacts and artwork from Arturo Vega (the Ramones art director, who designed their iconic logo), Sergio Aragones (cartoonist for Mad magazine), John Holmstrom (Punk magazine co-founder and cartoonist) and artists Shepard Fairey and Yoshitomo Nara.

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Legs McNeil hand wrote the lyrics to “Pinhead” on the wall. Photo: Lori Greenberg.

After all these years (and all of those Ramones t-shirts), it was still pretty exciting to see over 350 objects, posters, musical equipment, merchandise, hand written song lyrics, videos, flyers, posters and photographs, all in one place.

As a teen punk musician, this reporter went to too many Ramones shows to count, many of them at CBGB. The famous corner of Second St. and Bowery is now known as Joey Ramone Place. As we viewed the exhibit, Ramones tour manager Monte Melnick pointed out a Joey Ramone Place street sign on display. Known for being the most stolen street sign in New York City, the East Village sign now has to be hung at an unusually high elevation to try to deter fans. (We doubt it’s gonna work, though.)

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Photo: Lori Greenberg.

The exhibit reignited memories of two-minute songs that blew your hair back (their first eponymous album consisted of 14 songs and clocked in at a fast-and-loud 29 minutes) and were the perfect antidote to Top 40 Radio. This Whitestone-raised reporter also recalls the excitement in the neighborhood when Dee Dee moved nearby. High school friends would knock on Dee Dee’s door, some with guitars in hand, asking his wife if Dee Dee “could hang out and jam for a little while.” (Needless to say, none of them were terribly successful.)

A fan can really never quit the Ramones. “Many aspects of culture changed as a result of the genre of music, attitude and style the Ramones established 40 years ago, and ‘art’ is certainly among those aspects,” said Joey’s brother, musician and writer Mickey Leigh.

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Video of Joey Ramone. Photo: Lori Greenberg.

Co-curator Marc H. Miller mentioned that the working title for the show had been “Ramones Come Home.” Though they became a global influence, Johnny, Joey, Dee Dee and Tommy were really just four guys from Queens.

“Hey! Ho! Let’s Go!” runs until July 31. The show opens to the public this Sunday, April 10, from 4pm – 8pm, featuring live bands. Part II of the Ramones exhibit moves to the GRAMMY Museum in Los Angeles in September.

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