This year marks the 40th anniversary of the Ramones seminal self-titled 1976 debut. So it’s fitting that the Queens Museum, which is literally in the Forest Hills backyard of the four founding members, is the site of the Hey! Ho! Let’s Go: Ramones and the Birth of Punk exhibit.
Co-curated by Marc H. Miller and Bob Santelli, the 400 or so pieces being showcased here include album covers, concert posters, high school year books, paintings, photos and instruments. Monte Melnick, a childhood friend of Ramones drummer/producer Tommy Erdelyi (Tommy Ramone), lent 170 pieces from his personal collection to the exhibit and can often be found here answering visitor’s questions when he’s not busy working over at the nearby Queens Hall of Science. Having had a front-row seat starting from when the band was a three-piece to when the Ramones called it a day in 1996, Melnick is pretty succinct in defining the band’s everlasting influence.
“I call them the Johnny Appleseeds of Rock and Roll because they went around and played all these small clubs throughout the United States and the world,” he explained. “People saw them, saw they had something simple to say and it was well done. You didn’t have to be an amazing musician to get the word out.”
With all four founding members being deceased (Erdelyi was the most recent to pass in 2014 as a result of bile duct cancer), the closest fans can get to experiencing the band’s music is through the audiovisual components of the exhibit—a bank of televisions showing Ramones videos and a separate screening room that has a 1977 New Year’s Eve performance of the band playing at London’s Rainbow Theatre (that Melnick was the soundman for) on a continual loop. And then there’s the contributions of the late Arturo Vega. The close friend of the band not only designed the Ramone’s iconic logo that was a riff on the presidential seal of the United States, but was also the group’s graphic designer and artistic director. The Mexican-born superfan (he only missed two of the 2,263 shows the group played) who was often called the Fifth Ramone, was the creative mastermind who incorporated much of the band member’s love of pop culture cues into the myriad t-shirt designs that far outsold the records the band recorded. The quartet’s influence clearly carried over to a younger generation including Joe, a Port Washington native visiting the exhibit from his current home over in New Jersey.
“The merch sampling is awesome and the handmade things are the coolest things here,” he said. “To me, it’s very underground music and I always forget how huge they were. My memory is always burned in them playing to 500 people at CBGBs. It’s amazing how something that objectively good could be that big.”
The Hey! Ho! Let’s Go: Ramones and the Birth of Punk exhibit will be on display at the Queens Museum, New York City Building at Flushing Meadows Corona Park, Meridian Road through July 31. For more information, visit www.queensmuseum.org or call 718-592-9700.