This last terribly bright Sunday, around the time church would let out, people in dark clothing began to loiter at the corner of Bowery and Second Street. The focus of their sun-glassed attention was a black T-shirt tied around a street sign on the northeast corner. A few hours later, that T-shirt would be removed, and this stretch of East Second Street would be officially named Joey Ramone Place.
It was just a little street sign, of course-white type on that peculiar, fantastic chalk-board green of officialdom. But holy shit. Joey Ramone, born Jeffrey Hyman, the shy, outgoing, funny, nutty, long-haired punk rocker from Forest Hills, Queens, has a Manhattan street named after him. It’s hysterical, surreal, gorgeous.
Maybe Joey Ramone Place is a little promise that not everything that was the East Village will be forgotten. The assembled punks here are not young; many of them have young children, and some of them even live in Jersey now -defined by one attendee as “west of Fifth Avenue.” As they’ve grown up, their East Village has disappeared; now suburban 30-year-olds snack on fries in the Third Avenue McDonald’s on Thanksgiving afternoon, and punk is a section in Virgin Megastore. Brownie’s on Avenue A, the rock-show successor to CBGB’s, is a hangout bar called Hi Fi, with a digital jukebox. There is sushi on Avenue C. (Insult to injury, it’s not terrible sushi, either.)
Just a few dozen feet down the Bowery and inside the ancient punk club CBGB’s, everyone was looking pale and squinty, but no one was shooting any dope. Mostly what everyone said was: “God, when was the last time you were actually here?” Oh yeah, “that guy from American Fine Arts died and they did some memorial thing here,” offered one fellow at the bar. Hey, see you next memorial service!
Outside, “Jerry” was having an unsuccessful time getting in until Mickey Leigh, Joey’s brother, showed up and hugged him. “Is Arty in there?” people name-dropped to the list-guy.
Arty, of course, is the gray-chopped Arturo Vega, who has attended 2,261 of the Ramones’ 2,263 rock shows. At various times roommate, lighting guy, promoter and creative director to the Ramones, Mr. Vega is underappreciated in particular for his graphic design. For the band’s look, he took the trappings of republicanism and fascism-eagles, state seals, monuments-and fused them into bold masonic punk icons. The man’s probably 50 years old-and he still has a great rack.
Mr. Vega was soon to show off said rack. By 2 p.m., the crowd was 15 deep out into the Bowery, and on the low platform around Joey’s street sign, Mr. Vega peeled off his shirt to reveal his tattoo: the great circular seal of the Ramones, more than a foot high, on his back. The names surrounding the eagle are Johnny, Joey, Dee Dee and Arty, a memorial to a life almost in a band.
There was a giant papier-mâché head of Joey Ramone bopping about the crowd. It was not very good. “It looks like … Howard Stern,” the fake-fur-behatted East Village painter Nina Bovasso said. A crazed man in a cut-off T-shirt held aloft a “RAMONES” license plate- Blender magazine got the shot. A leering wasted guy in cords and a fake Carhartt jacket staggered up and took Ms. Bovasso’s picture. “How are you?” I asked him with real concern. “In and out of focus,” he cackled.
“The guy from the Misfits”-presumably Jerry Only-was also there. “You sell your book yet?” people asked each other. “Everyone else is cashing in,” someone laughed. Someone gestured at the rather pomo-Miami new building across the street and said something about “$8 million lofts,” certainly a wildly inaccurate if metaphorically apt description. (Reportedly, the condos in the space-age building at the corner of Bowery and Bond top out at a paltry $2 million.) And if it’s aesthetics one cares about, of course, the majority of the south side of Joey Ramone Place is punished with the giant sweeping face of 1 East Second Street, a complex of N.Y.U. single-resident dorms that looks as if it arrived from a city of the future-a really shitty beige future.
Under the signpost in the very center of the bored, chilled crowd, Mr. Vega and a swingin’ sort of guy reportedly named Kevin James did a little M.C. job. Mr. Vega read a letter to Joey aloud. We waited for five more minutes in quiet. Cameras, mohawks, people getting old. The event was as unchoreographed as a Ramones show, but without the smoke, drugs or sexual tension. Surely the network cameras were peeved; Eyewitness News wants its money shot delivered on demand. Arturo shed his shirt from a different angle. “Quick, stick a dollar in his pants,” said Kevin peevishly. Then the energy changed.
“Get off the sidewalk,” yelled a passing S.U.V. driver. “Hey ho! Let’s go!” the cold crowd chanted. “The politicians are never on time,” said Kevin. “Screw the politicians!” someone shouted. “Margarita, where are you?” asked Kevin through the P.A. system. Everyone turned to his neighbor and made a joke about wanting a drink.
At 2:19 p.m., someone yelled “Dee Dee’s not coming, you idiot!” Which is kind of rude, given that dead Dee Dee Ramone O.D.’d last year. There was a fresh round of “Hey ho, let’s go’s.”
The corner of Bowery and Second has the distinction of being the very intersection of two City Council districts. We doubled our pleasure with the joint appearance of District 2’s Margarita Lopez and District 1’s Alan Gerson. Ms. Lopez, Mr. Gerson, Joey’s mother and brother, Morris Faitelewicz from Community Board 3, and a guy from the borough president’s office took over the tiny platform.
The pols and family speechifed very quickly and inaudibly. “Take it off!” people shouted during Ms. Lopez’s speech, which is surely a first for her. She is a handsome woman, but they were referring, of course, to the T-shirt covering Joey’s street sign.
The last speaker said that this honor celebrates the city: “New York is about the freedom and the fun,” he said, without irony. And then, at 2:27 p.m., Arturo pulled a cord, removing the black Ramones T-shirt and exposing the street sign.
It was not anticlimactic at all. It was amazing.
“Let’s go party at CB’s,” yelled Kevin as he dismounted the ministage, but of course the good after-party was at Arturo Vega’s loft. At 2:45 p.m., the orange coffee-serving Mud Truck and its promise of hot beverages pulled off. “Hey little girl, I wanna be your boyfriend,” blasted the Ramones on the stereo from Arturo’s second-floor loft, on Joey Ramone Place just a few feet east of the Bowery. On the ground floor of Arturo’s building, the John Derian Company was doing brisk business. There are some really cute pillows on a chaise lounge in the front window, and an adorable metal garden table which is priced at $2,290.
There was a bouncer of sorts downstairs. “What do you say? Can you love me, babe?” sang Joey. A young and very pretty girl with purple hair sailed right into the party with a dreamy smile.