A few hours after receiving the e-mail announcement that the Vice store in Silver Lake would be closing, I arrive at Sunset and Sanborn on a recent Saturday to see if the boutique bearing one of the most popular brand names in hipster culture will depart quietly, groaning the soft moan of other declining mom-and-pop shops, or if itll go down with the self-important panache its clientele projects at every opportunity.
At about 2:30 p.m., I enter the one-room storefront, which for the past three years has anchored Sunset Junctions miniMelrose commercial strip. Indiscriminately parked racks of everything-must-go designer clothes, mountainous stacks of moving boxes, and what appears to be a last-minute installation of pink and yellow galoshes all fight for meager amounts of floor space with employees sporting knowing grins of raison dêtre cool and a herd of customers who desperately desire to possess that look.
Not that these customers dont have it already, mind you no trucker hats or faux-hawks here. Theyre almost as cool as the "50-70% Off" merchandise theyre sifting through especially the Scylla-and-Charybdis Valley girls planted at the front of the store in homemade off-shoulder blouses and pointed-toe pumps who are rummaging through hangers while double-fisting Charlotte Lorday dresses and ignoring polite requests to "excuse me" because the ubiquitous iPod buds in their ears drown out not just the mediocre drum & bass blasting the entire store, but needless social interaction as well.
The closing announcement came as somewhat of a surprise. Youd have figured that if anyone could survive moribund economic activity in this hipster quadrant, itd be Vice, which formed as an underground zine in Montreal in the mid-90s and has since become a small, Brooklyn-based media empire involved in the career rise of numerous internationally known artisans, from photographers Terry Richardson and Ryan McGinley to Brit-rap storyteller The Streets. If this primary troth of cool, relied upon by young irony-saturated fake nihilists to maintain their vaguely depraved art-fashion cachet, was closing its Silver Lake outlet, could it spell the beginning of a hipster sunset on Sunset? If thats the case, Vice couldnt give a drowning rats ass, discounting the Silver Lake store as expansion baggage left over from the dot-com boom, baggage that had less and less to do with Vices blueprint for media takeover.
"Honestly, we didnt start the magazine to sell $300 pants," says one of its reps, when reached by phone in the 718. Instead, like any company that helped earmark and popularize an aesthetic, Vices plans for world domination are content-based. They involve front-burning movie and music deals in which the magazines editors are writing films for Spike Jonzes production company and pushing records that Beauty Bar DJs will soon tell you they heard way back when (the shit-hot U.K. grime-rap compilation called Run the Road being the most immediate example).
But of course the DJs and the ghetto-fabulous slummers will always have to look the part. So when I return to the store on Sunday afternoon, mere hours before its final curtain, Vices business is still booming despite the biblical rain trying to wash this particular corner clean. Some racks are noticeably thinner the Morphine Generation tees and sweats seem to have been attacked by the designer trashconscious while others spotlight an expiring 15 minutes: "Free t-bag with every t-bag purchase" reads a sign beside an overstock of Day-Glo aerobics skirts.
In the very front of the store is the kind of mix-and-match pile you see on a sidewalk at the end of a moving sale or an eviction. Boxes of old videotapes and catalogs, a knife set, a computer monitor and printer, a tub of plaster.
"Are these for sale?" I ask incredulously.
"Anything in particular you interested in?" answers the clerk with the faraway eyes and the five oclock shadow. Hes been spying on my note-taking since I entered, but at this moment his retort doesnt seem filled with the privileged knowingness of hip brand association. Hes just another hourly worker ready to go home.
Rock & Roll Cemetery
Linda Cummings arrived at Hollywood Forever Cemetery in a white, backless, nearly see-through mini-halter dress, white fur jacket and white high-heeled go-go boots. Not exactly site-specific attire, but then again, she is Johnny Ramones widow. Various celebs milled about, including Anthony Kiedis, who showed up wearing a Johnny Ramonestyle hairdo to go with the anorexic-model type on his arm. The crowd included everyone from mohawked gutter punks in leather jackets and bondage pants to businessmen in three-piece suits.
They had all come for last Fridays unveiling of the Johnny Ramone memorial statue. Ramone (born John Cummings) died in September from prostate cancer at the age of 55. But unlike Rudolph Valentino, Virginia Rappe, Mel Blanc, Peter Lorre and bandmate Dee Dee Ramone, whose remains all reside at the cemetery, you cant dig up Johnnys bones here he was cremated instead (and his wife kept the ashes).
Ramones tunes blasted over the sound system as people took their seats and purple-permed punk photographer Jenny Lens passed out fliers to promote her Web site. The festivities began 45 minutes later than scheduled, and disc jockey/Sex Pistol Steve Jones was visibly annoyed, pointing to his wrist as if it held a watch.
A group of Johnnys friends finally appeared from behind a mausoleum. Nicolas Cage waltzed down the steps with his former sushi waitress and current wife, Alice Kim. Lisa Marie Presley (one of Cages ex-wives) was with some dude dressed like Kid Rock.
"More than any other band, the Ramones were responsible for the punk and new wave explosion of the mid-1970s," said president of Sire Records Seymore Stein, the first of Ramones friends to speak at the podium. Stein, who signed the band in 1975, added that one of Johnnys last wishes was for Cat Stevens to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Tommy Ramone, the only founding member of the group who is still alive, described growing up with Johnny, playing stickball. "He was murderous," Tommy recalled. "He loved to terrorize the batters, and when he became a guitarist, he transformed his pitching style into his playing technique, amazing Ramones fans with his speed and ferocity."
C.J. Ramone, who joined the band on bass in 1989, was so choked up, he could barely get through his tribute. His eulogy caused a few people in the audience to break into tears.
Cage removed his hot-pink sunglasses and delivered an Oscar-worthy monologue. "[Johnny] willed the Ramones to happen, and he changed the face of rock & roll music forever. Now, it wasnt just music he influenced; Im here to tell you that Ive been ripping Johnny Ramone off in movies for years."
Pete Yorn, John Frusciante and Eddie Vedder (with his baby girl, Olivia, in tow) also spoke, but Vincent Gallo gave a truly Galloesque eulogy, spending more time discussing himself than Johnny and letting everyone know that he only befriended Johnny because he liked Linda. "I knew to be Lindas friend I had to be friends with Johnny, and he seemed so crotchety and mean and nasty. Im more avant-garde than Johnny. Of course, I liked the Ramones, but I was more into more arty bands. It wasnt like I needed to meet Johnny Ramone. I would have preferred the guitar player for Magazine or Ultravox or something."
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Then he went on to subtly explain that he was more intelligent than any of Johnnys friends or family members. "[Johnny] told me that, other than him, I was the smartest person he knew."
Eventually, Gallo stopped, and everyone followed Linda to the statue, from which she removed the velvet draping to reveal the replica of her late husband playing guitar. Prominently displayed in front of a beautiful lake, his likeness was perched on top of a huge stone cube that was engraved with tender and banal words from his wife and friends ("He was a great American and the greatest friend, I love you John Eddie Vedder").
Rob Zombie explained how the statue came to be. "One of Johnnys favorite things to do was to keep reminding Linda what a lucky woman she was to be living with a legend. [Impersonating Johnny] Linda, Im a fuckin legend. Youre living in the lap of luxury because of me. Without me, youre nothing. So I thought Id have my friend Wayne [Toth] sculpt an award that just said, Legend. One day we were talking and at this point Johnny was very sick we sort of talked about what was inevitably going to happen and about having some sort of headstone or memorial, and I said, Johnny, why dont you make a giant-sized one of this fucking thing as a joke? And now that joke is sitting over there, weighs 50,000 pounds, and its made out of bronze."