Joey Ramone’s got a street corner now


By Jason Boog

Ramones’ fans came to Bowery and Second Ave. over the weekend, a corner now named Joey Ramone Pl.

Six hundred fans with leather jackets, tight jeans and a few baby strollers spilled into the street at Bowery and Second St. last Sunday, helping New York City honor a punk rock star. The city officially changed the East Village corner to “Joey Ramone Place” Nov. 30, in memory of the punk icon who died in 2001.

Joey Ramone fronted the New York-based Ramones for over 20 years and 20 albums, co-writing stripped-down, driving tunes like “Blitzkrieg Bop” and “Sheena Is a Punk Rocker Now.” The band gained international fame as punk rock took over the music scene in the late ’70s.

The ceremony began down the street at CBGB’s, the rock-and-roll bar where the Ramones played countless concerts. A life-sized pen-and-pencil sketch of the singer rested on the stage, and 200 fans packed the small bar to listen to various speakers. Joey Ramone’s mother joined former band-mates Tommy and Marky Ramone for the memorial.

After the tribute, fans gathered at the renamed street corner beside a giant paper mache rendering of Joey Ramone’s head — complete with grungy leather strip hair, red sunglasses and the singer’s “aw shucks” grin. A few hundred more fans arrived over the next half-hour, sipping coffee in the crisp, sunny afternoon.

Artist Arturo Vega, the Ramones’ longtime designer, began the unveiling ceremony around 2 p.m., saying, “Welcome to the coolest city on Earth!” Construction crews had already changed the signs, but Vega and other organizers wrapped the new street sign in a T-shirt and improvised a P.A. system out of a battered amplifier.

Vega spoke of his friend: “He had a deep-rooted determination to make things better. Today, we’ve made a lot of things better.”

The crowd cheered when Vega showed off the Ramones’ tattoo on his back, a logo of an American eagle carrying the band’s slogan “Hey ho, let’s go!” in its beak. Vega designed that logo and many others for the band during their career, and today he supervises the Web site, www.officialramones.com.

City Councilmember Margarita Lopez arrived a few minutes later. She waved at her East Village constituents, and said, “The City Council brings people together, but look what Joey did! He made us all feel like we are part of something bigger.”

Councilmember Alan Gerson made the presentation of a replica sign to Joey Ramone’s mother and brother. The corner is just inside Gerson’s district.

“It was a totally collaborative effort between myself and Margarita,” said Gerson later. “He was a great musician. There was a lot of love on the street at the presentation.”

Wearing a big grin and a Ramones’ baseball cap with American flag stripes, Vega pulled a rope and revealed the shiny street sign. Afterwards, fans lingered on the sidewalk for autographs and pictures with Joey Ramone’s former band-mates.

When the street cleared, Vega opened his nearby loft for a small gathering of East Village friends. The Ramones lived in this loft during their lean early years, practicing music and wandering the East Village. Around 100 guests mingled in the renovated loft. A bare patch of brick wall stands in the middle of the living room. The Ramones took their first band picture here, and Vega left the rock-and-roll souvenir uncovered.

The walls of the loft were otherwise plastered with Vega’s artistic collaborations with Joey and Dee Dee Ramone: black, white and Day-Glo-colored canvas squares decorated with graffiti scribbles by the two Ramones musicians. Dee Dee Ramone died in 2002, but his scrawled handwriting kept his place at the party.

In keeping with his punk-art aesthetic, Vega removed all the brand labels from the liquor bottles at the party. He replaced them with a cartoon logo of Joey Ramone and a new brand name: “Joey Juice.”

The singer’s friends, rock journalists, photographers, musicians and film directors, sipped Joey Juice and reminisced for the rest of the afternoon. It was an East Village family Thanksgiving reunion, all to honor Joey Ramone and his new street corner.

After the party, Vega said, “The ceremony was incredibly satisfying. We had to improvise, but we did the best we could. Joey always said, ‘Everything’s gonna be alright,’ and it was, in true punk rock fashion.”