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 it’ll 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 Junction’s mini–Melrose 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 d’être cool and a herd of customers
who desperately desire to possess that look.
Not that these customers don’t have it already, mind you — no
trucker hats or faux-hawks here. They’re almost as cool as the “50-70%
Off” merchandise they’re 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
The closing announcement came as somewhat of a surprise. You’d
have figured that if anyone could survive moribund economic activity in this
hipster quadrant, it’d 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 that’s
the case, Vice couldn’t give a drowning rat’s 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 Vice’s blueprint for media takeover.
“Honestly, we didn’t 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, Vice’s plans for world domination
are content-based. They involve front-burning movie and music deals in which
the magazine’s editors are writing films for Spike Jonze’s 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, Vice’s 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 trash–conscious — 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 o’clock shadow. He’s been spying
on my note-taking since I entered, but at this moment his retort doesn’t seem
filled with the privileged knowingness of hip brand association. He’s 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 Ramone’s widow. Various celebs milled about, including Anthony
Kiedis, who showed up wearing a Johnny Ramone–style 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 Friday’s 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 can’t dig up Johnny’s 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 Johnny’s 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 Cage’s 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 Ramone’s friends to speak at the podium.
Stein, who signed the band in 1975, added that one of Johnny’s 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 wasn’t just music he influenced; I’m
here to tell you that I’ve 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 Linda’s
friend I had to be friends with Johnny, and he seemed so crotchety and mean
and nasty. I’m more avant-garde than Johnny. Of course, I liked the Ramones,
but I was more into more arty bands. It wasn’t like I needed to meet Johnny
Ramone. I would have preferred the guitar player for Magazine or Ultravox or
Then he went on to subtly explain that he was more intelligent
than any of Johnny’s 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 Johnny’s
favorite things to do was to keep reminding Linda what a lucky woman she was
to be living with a legend. [Impersonating Johnny] ‘Linda, I’m a fuckin’ legend.
You’re living in the lap of luxury because of me. Without me, you’re nothing.’
So I thought I’d 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 don’t 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 it’s made out of bronze.”