It seems we are approaching a jump-the-shark moment for “Good Old Bad 1970s New York” nostalgia.
Everybody’s cool uncle or aunt who moved to the Lower East Side in 1973 has dusted off their box of Polaroids, resulting in a golden age (glut?) of coffee table books featuring spiky hair and pictures of CBGB’s bathroom. Tuesday Nights In 1980, the highly praised new novel by Molly Prentiss, basically announces the next mythologizing trend for the zeitgeist intelligentsia, as does Richard Linklater’s new film, Everybody Wants Some. And don’t get us punk obscurants going on that mostly lame ‘70s-set HBO show, Vinyl. I mean, it’s called Vinyl, for fuck’s sake. Thanks HBO, now my Record Store Day purchases will be even more expensive.
Punks are an intrinsically suspicious group, and many are already griping about things that aren’t in the exhibit, largely overlooking the fact that if someone told them in 1976 that the world would someday have a Ramones exhibit at a major New York museum, you’d either laugh or be proud of the future.
It’s apparent while shuffling through the four rooms that the Ramones were a perfect combo of youth, pissed-at-the-world attitude, groundbreaking music and art-project winkery. Among the impressive piles of ephemera—old posters, fliers, personal photos, beat-up tour equipment, even more beat-up vintage tees, some original lyrics and album art and one room with just a loud running loop of cool live footage projected on a big wall—one piece sticks out.
It’s a huge (about 4’ x 4’) doodle/collage thingie that Joey Ramone made for his pal/Ramones and Punk magazine artist John Holmstrom. Packed with in-jokes and nods to long-gone haunts and friends, it’s inspiring to peruse for Joey’s humor, attention to detail and heretofore mostly unknown cartooning ability.
Without wading into possibly litigious territory, I feel obliged to mention that there are two bickering branches in what remains of the Ramones family tree. That might explain the shortage of anything about or from the collection of Marky Ramone, the band’s longest tenured drummer who, when just about anything else concerning the Ramones happens in NYC, shows up to tell tales. Marky was at neither the press run-through or the official opening day on April 10. It might’ve behooved the Queens Museum to get certain people to shake hands and make up for a minute. But ask anyone versed in NYC punk rock grudges about the near-impossibility of bridging those gaps.
And no, the conundrum of an essentially rebellious music and lifestyle being carefully curated inside white-walled rooms for reflective chin-scratching has not been solved. Better probably to find the scroungiest DIY space in your town tonight and drink the $2 Pabst they’re illegally peddling while some shitty band plays. After all, that band—and virtually any other worthwhile r'n'r act since 1975—has a little of the Ramones in them.
While walking through the Queens Museum exhibit, you’ll catch the Unispshere out of the corner of your eye. Then you realize the Ramones grew up on the other side of that same neighborhood in Flushing. And in a way that maybe no other museum could accomplish, the Ramones are well-placed here as giants in the history of 20th-century American art. That pang of pride might be challenged when the show moves later this year to the Grammy Museum in L.A., where supposedly more artifacts from other bands and scenes will be added. This one, it’s all Ramones pal! And that’s enough.
But wait, maybe not! Original Ramones manager, preeminent first-era punk talent scout and all-around music biz legend Danny Fields has a beautiful book, out today via First Third, that he culled from his personal stash. Yeah, I know, another coffee table book. Only this ain’t your cool uncle’s Polaroids; it’s fucking Danny Fields. The guy also signed and/or managed the Doors, the Stooges, MC5, the Modern Lovers and more, and he still hangs out in punk dives with good-looking boys. A more reliable Ramones documentarian you won’t find, especially as it pertains to their most vital years of the late-70s into the early ‘80s.
Tenderly titled My Ramones, the book is primarily a massive photo collection (many never before seen) that basically wanders chronologically through the Ramones life, usually on the road, hanging with other beloved bands or fans, and always with one more heart-stopping shot of Joey Ramone lost in thought, wondering if that perfect hit or girl will ever show up.
Given Fields’ personal commentary and close access, My Ramones is a perfect companion piece to the somewhat emotionally narrow if supremely fun Queens Museum show. And you can take it with you down to Rockaway Beach. Don’t worry, no sharks to jump down there… yet.