28 Aug Billie Joe Armstrong, Shepard Fairey on why the Ramones never go out of style
Read Steve Baltin’s entire story at Forbes.
At one point in the makeshift backstage at Hollywood Forever Cemetery during the annual Johnny Ramone Tribute Sunday (August 26, 2018) Green Day’s Billie Joe Armstrong, Morrissey, Guns ‘N’ Roses Duff McKagan and the Sex Pistols’ Steve Jones stood around talking outside of a trailer.
There they stood, luminaries from the absolute top echelons of hard rock, new wave and two generations of punk, all gathered by one common love — the Ramones.
Twenty-two years after their last gig, the New York kings of punk, one of the most influential and enduring American bands of all time, continue to be loved by musicians from all walks of life.
After the little acoustic set Armstrong performed with Jones, McKagan and Fred Armisen, of Saturday Night Live and Portlandia, the Green Day punk icon told me Johnny Ramone was his favorite guitarist of all time and Joey Ramone was his among his favorite singers ever.
But the Ramones legacy is so much more than the music, as powerful as that is. It is the attitude, the look, the style, the swagger. That is felt in the multi-platform event at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery.
Taking place in multiple areas of the cemetery, the long-running event, a testament to the will power and determination of Linda Ramone to keep the legacy of her husband Johnny not just alive, but vibrant and vital, featured an art exhibit, curated by Lethal Amounts’ Danny Fuentes, in the mausoleum, the aforementioned acoustic set and a screening of the camp sci-fi classic Barbarella.
Linda says it’s because of Johnny’s love for visuals arts that the event covers so many mediums.
“Johnny was very passionate about collecting, especially movie posters. He had every inch of the house covered. And we talked about how they looked all the time with our pals. That’s why we show a movie every year and have an installation of art and memorabilia at the tribute, because it’s what Johnny loved,” she said, adding, “It’s great seeing all these new artists inspired by Johnny too.”
Fuentes was a first time participant, as was Armstrong. Morrissey was a first time attendee to the event, which was co-produced this year for the first time with Cinespia, the company that produces the wildly popular movie series at Hollywood Forever. With their involvement the event grew in size and production values this year, adding immensely to the grandeur of the festivities.
That the event is still growing more than a decade after it began is the biggest tribute to the fact the Ramones’ impact continues to expand in the areas beyond music. Walk into any mall in America and the chances feel better than 50/50 you will see a kid, often not even yet a teenager, wearing a Ramones or Led Zeppelin shirt.
Shepard Fairey, a longtime attendee of the Johnny Ramone tribute and devotee of the Ramones, believes that has a lot to do with the powerful simplicity of the band’s image.
“The Ramones’ influence on visual culture, or at least counter-culture is profound. Their logo, which subverts the presidential seal by adding a baseball bat and the band member’s names is a celebration of their version of America on their terms. The formula of appropriating known iconography and tweaking it for one’s own agenda became standard practice in punk rock, skateboard culture, and street fashion in general. The Ramones filtered a lot of pop-culture staples through their mischievous celebration of the grimier side of things,” he says.
“Their Beatles haircuts coupled with leather jackets, ripped jeans, cartoon thrift store t-shirts, and sneakers were a stand-out unique presentation at the time, but at least the jeans, sneakers, and leather jackets remain obligatory rebel culture staples to this day,” Fairey continues. “The Ramones came across as both rag-tag and cohesive, giving them an iconic brand consistency that always appeared effortless rather than forced. The band deserves a lot of credit for their image vision and consistency starting with them all assuming the last name Ramone which presented them as a gang of quirky brothers whose last name became the band name.”
Armstrong felt that same power and nationalistic pride. “They seemed like a family, with the name and a gang or something like the Del-Lords or some kind of New York bunch of barbarians that could wield around a baseball bat,” he says. “They’re known, just the leather jackets, the jeans and the thing I liked about them is they didn’t really play up the fashionable English mohawk punk. They were very American and very Americana. They got what the aesthetic was, especially for Johnny, who was a very proud American. So that sort of symbolized the Ramones.”
To Fuentes, it was about that logo. “It was simple, direct, iconic. The most iconic things are usually simple, they burn an image into your brain. You see it, it’s all impact. You don’t have to translate it and it stays with you. You can identify it from a mile away right away. ‘Oh, there’s a Ramones shirt,'” he says. “And the simplicity behind it and the attitude behind it of it was just all impact. I think that’s what made them stand out even then. Arturo Vega putting together pretty much the whole artistic design behind it.”
For Armstrong, that logo is forever part of his consciousness. “When I was a kid I watched on late night TV was a show they were playing in Ann Arbor and if you look it up it’s on You Tube,” he says. “They sounded so f**king good and the energy in the crowd was so completely into it and they had the big banner behind them with the big symbol and I always remember that. The imprint is permanently imprinted into my brain.”