22 Mar The Ramones’ New York: A look at the famous punk band’s city spots 40 years after their debut
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The Ramones were the quintessential punk band in the late 1970s — largely credited with pioneering the rebellious rock scene in New York City.
On Feb. 4, 1976, the Ramones staple “Blitzkrieg Bop” was released as the debut single off their first album, “Ramones,” which followed a couple of months later.
Amazingly, “Ramones” sold only 6,000 copies in its first year — but eventually went gold in 2014.
Despite lackluster sales at the outset, there was an instant connection between fans and the Queens-based group that has only grown stronger after 40 years.
“Ramones are a great New York story,” John Holmstrom, founder of Punk magazine, said.
The four original band members — who went by Joey, Johnny, Dee Dee and Tommy — bonded over their love for The New York Dolls and The Stooges and their discontent with boring, middle class life in the Forest Hills section of Queens.
Although the four guys, who weren’t related, had roots in Queens, they became synonymous with lower Manhattan after playing clubs like CBGB and Max’s Kansas City.
“It wasn’t cool to be from Queens,” Dee Dee Ramone said in the 2004 “End of the Century” documentary about the band.
“You would lie about it if you went into Manhattan; you would pretend ‘oh I got an apartment in the city.’ Then you’d go back to your mom’s house,” he said.
Forest Hills was a middle class neighborhood and the guys didn’t fit in there one bit, according to Dee Dee. The spoiled kids in the neighborhood inspired the song, “Beat on the Brat.”
All of the Ramones attended Forest Hills High School and would hang out on the playground behind the former Thorneycroft apartments where Johnny once punched a kid’s dad in the face.
Joey lived in the Birchwood Towers on 66th Road with his mom and brother. Johnny also lived in the complex with his family. At one time, a few of them lived in the basement of Joey’s mom’s art gallery, Art Garden, on Yellowstone Blvd.
Local musician Andy Shernoff, founding member of the band The Dictators, called Queens “The Borough of Rock,” crediting the nickname to the Ramones, Johnny Thunders and Gene Simmons.
In the Ramones’ early days, they would trek down to the Bowery on the subway, hopping on a car at 71st Ave.
The band’s first public gig on Aug. 16, 1974, at CBGB, located at 315 Bowery, embedded them in the Bowery music scene by the latter half of the decade. The alley behind the club served as the backdrop for the cover of the 1977 album “Rocket to Russia.”
“It was the stage of all stages,” according to Jimmy Webb, manager and buyer at Trash and Vaudeville, the St. Marks Place clothing store where the Ramones shopped.
In the 1970s and 1980s, the Bowery was covered with bums and trash. It was nothing like the upscale shops and restaurants that line the street today.
Even famed CBGB, which was once filled with grime, is now an expensive John Varvatos store.
As the band brought their fast and loud energy to a growing number of New York City stages like CBGB, Max’s Kansas City, Coney Island High and The Ritz, they started to move closer to the Bowery.
Joey and Dee Dee shacked up with creative director Arturo Vega in his loft at 6 E. Second St. during the mid-1970s.
The album cover for “Ramones” was shot by photographer Roberta Bayley just steps from Vega’s loft in Albert’s Garden.
New York City was the subject of several Ramones songs, most famously “Rockaway Beach” and “53rd and 3rd.”
In “Sheena Is A Punk Rocker,” Joey proclaims, “New York City really has it all.”
After spending a few years living with Vega, Joey found his own tiny studio at The St. Mark on E. Ninth St.
“It was a sign of prosperity for them to move to Manhattan,” Holmstrom, the Punk magazine founder, said as he walked by the Ramones’ old apartments.
Johnny Ramone moved into an apartment at 85 E. 10th St., which overlooked Joey’s building, and wedged in between the two blocks was Paul’s Lounge, one of the band’s hangouts.
Two minutes away from their pads was St. Marks Place — a popular street where the band would hang out and Joey would discover his favorite restaurant, Dojo, now a Caffé Bene.
On St. Marks, the band would form a lifelong bond with Webb, the manager at Trash and Vaudeville.
“We were a part of each other’s history,” Webb said.
The passion the manager felt about the band was evident as he held back tears while reminiscing about selling Joey his last pair of pants before he died of lymphoma in April 2001.
The classic black skinny stretch jeans still hang on a rack in the famous shop.
“Who else could make a pair of pants famous?” Webb said.
Only Joey Ramone.
The lead singer was so beloved that, in 2003, the intersection at Bowery and Second St. was named Joey Ramone Place by the City of New York. The street sign is the most stolen in the city.
By the mid-1990s, Johnny had moved to California and Tommy and Dee Dee had headed back to Queens.
But Joey was always a neighborhood guy: “I’m proud to make my home in New York City,” he famously sang on his solo album, “…Ya Know?”
Joey’s Christmas show on Dec. 11, 2000, at The Continental on Second Ave., just steps away from his apartment, would be his last performance. Later that month, Joey slipped on ice near the bar and was rushed to the hospital where he later succumbed to the cancer on April 15, 2001, one month before his 50th birthday.
His funeral was held in Forest Hills.