Hey! Ho! Let's go to New York

The Ramones hailed from Queens in New York City. Photo / Supplied
The Ramones hailed from Queens in New York City. Photo / Supplied

You don't have to be a dedicated Ramones fan to be inspired by a new exhibition celebrating the quintessential New Yorkers.

It's been 40 years since the release of the band's self-titled debut album.

After playing 2280 gigs and releasing 14 studio albums, they split in 1996.

But that hasn't stopped the global phenomenon of infants, seniors and everyone in between sporting t-shirts with their iconic logo.

Their powerful visual almost cartoonish image, their distinctive minimalist music and their deadpan humour make a great basis for celebrating the 40th anniversary.

Hey! Ho! Let's Go: Ramones and the Birth of Punk is on at the Queens Museum, a fitting venue for a show on the foursome who went to high school in the borough.

Guest curator Marc H. Miller cites their 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."

Miller's take on dentists is that they drill, kind of like the incessant drive of the music.
He guides AAP through the exhibition, which contains a small Aladdin's Cave of memorabilia.

There are excerpts from the Forest Hills High yearbook, early photos including a 1972 portrait of Joey by his artist mother, tour itineraries, a demo-tape preceding the first album and original lyric manuscripts.

"Joey's handwriting was so bad even he couldn't read it, so his then girlfriend Linda - who ended up marrying Johnny - would transcribe lyrics in progress and then he'd keep working on them," says Miller.

Tour posters include a colourful example (then again weren't they all) designed by Richard Allan for their 1989 Australian tour.

"Here's photos that Roberta Bayley took for Punk magazine - this one is rare, because they're smiling."

Miller describes the cover of their Phil Spector-produced album, End of the Century, as their "most compromised moment".

They are all wearing bright t-shirts without their leather jackets.

The momentary glitch doesn't detract from their otherwise unchanging image depicted everywhere in the show, which includes actual leather jackets, torn jeans and sneakers.
Miller points out an old guitar owned by Joey's brother, Mickey, the original musician in the family.

"Joey learnt to play on this guitar and composed the very first Ramones songs on it."

There's a promotional letter-opener that looked like a switchblade, and a pinhead mask, dress and Gabba Gabba Hey sign used onstage when they played Pinhead.

An eye-catching billboard by Japanese neo-Pop artist, Yoshitomo Nara, features a "little demonic girl" called Ramona and the slogan Hey! Ho! Let's Go!.

"He's incredibly blue-chip and his paintings sell for as much as $3.5 million.

"He's a huge Ramones fan, and he approached the exhibition organisers, rather than vice versa, and pushed to be included."

Miller, who regularly saw the Ramones at CBGB in the '70s, curated previous exhibitions at the museum including one on another local, Louis Armstrong.

Three years ago he was speaking to the museum's then director who talked about doing a project on Queens hip-hop.

"I said the easy one would be a Ramones show - this would be the perfect place, at least symbolically."

Various Ramones songs play through headsets and in the last room footage from a London 1977 New Year's Eve concert is shown on the big screen.

But is the emphasis more on The Ramones' attitude than their music and sound?

"I'm a visual arts curator and I wanted everything to be as an image," says Miller.

"I see myself as telling stories with pictures - more emphasis on the visuals.

"I knew them and used to go and see them regularly."

And how does he sum up the Ramones?

"They have a lot of mystery and contradiction.

"Were they an art band or a bunch of punks?

"In fact it was both.

"They also were great complainers, but there's those uplifting slogans like Hey Ho! Let's Go!"

- AAP

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