Linda Ramone lives in an eccentric museum. The widow of iconic Ramones guitarist Johnny Ramone (who died in 2004 of prostate cancer) is dedicated to preserving her late husband's legacy, and his estate. She still lives in the home they shared in the Valley -- a wacky, charmingly garish house filled with things like original posters for Elvis Presley movies and stuffed foxes resting beneath punk memorabilia. And, of course, there's the shrine to Ronald Reagan in the kitchen.
Seated on one of her plush pink chairs in the living room, the ageless Linda conducts herself like the First Lady of Punk. Dressed in a flowing orange dress with red hair fluffed like a dyed cotton ball and plenty of eyeliner, she exudes a kooky confidence.
She tells her story with pride in the brassy accent of New York, the city where she met the Ramones at CBGB when she was still a teenager. One thing is clear: She loved Johnny more than anything in the world.
She maintains a cenotaph statue of Johnny at the Hollywood Forever cemetery, which depicts him hammering away at his guitar, and holds an annual memorial at the site -- near Dee Dee Ramone's grave -- in Johnny's honor. (This year the event is on Aug. 19.) Past guests have included Eddie Vedder, Lisa Marie Presley, Nicolas Cage and Pete Yorn. Linda says she curates the event so that it would be a party her husband would want to attend; this year she's showing the 1958 Elvis film King Creole.
Johnny was a massive Elvis fan -- there is an "Elvis room" in the house -- and he differs from traditional punks in some ways. For one thing, he was a diehard conservative and a staunch supporter of Reagan. Further, he was a notoriously frugal man, claiming in his autobiography, Commando, that Linda was the first woman who made him want to spend the money he made with the Ramones. "[Interviewers] would ask [him], 'What's it like being a legend?' " Linda recalls. "I was like, 'You're a legend and we live in a one-bedroom?' "
She is referring to the two small apartments they shared in Chelsea for the first 15 years of their romance. But Johnny's financial strategy showed foresight, as the Ramones never had a big hit single, and a band can tour for only so long. His savings allowed them to buy their home in Los Angeles, where they moved in 1996.
"We couldn't retire in New York -- we didn't want to see anybody," Linda says. "It would be weird going down the street and seeing Joey or Dee Dee or whoever. You weren't in the band anymore." One suspects it might have been particularly strange seeing Joey, whom Linda dated before Johnny.
She says what's most important about her husband's legacy is the impact he had on youth culture, convincing kids everywhere they could simply pick up a guitar and become a punk rocker. "You still see little kids wearing Ramones shirts," she says. "Johnny would have loved that."
And it's clear that as she goes on living in her zany mausoleum, his loves are hers.
Johnny Ramone's eighth annual tribute takes place Sunday at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery. Featured guests include Tommy Ramone, Priscilla Presley, Henry Rollins and many more. Linda will be on hand to sign Johnny's memoir Commando. Tickets and more information available here.
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