The Ramones will always be inextricably linked to New York. To the punks and Bowery dwellers, Da Bruddas are as iconic in their city as the Statue of Liberty, Times Square or the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree.
And yet, from 1996 until his death in 2004 at the age of 55, guitarist Johnny Ramone (real name Cummings) lived in Los Angeles with his wife, Linda, whom he had married in ‘94. The pair moved west a couple of years after the Northridge earthquake; Linda Ramone says that people told them they were crazy, but Johnny would answer, “What are the chances that there’ll be another one?”
“Oh God, we lived in a one-bedroom [in New York],” Linda says. “We come out here, and the first house we visit that we’re gonna look to rent, it had a pool. The Ramones never really made a lot of money. The idea that we could have a house — we couldn’t believe it. And the weather. We came out in October, and you could go swimming. The whole thing is crazy, because Johnny was the happiest he’d ever been. He retired, and everybody wanted to be friends with Johnny because he didn’t need anything from anyone. From day one, he always talked about retiring. He thought The Ramones would be the biggest band in the world, he’d make a lot of money, retire and make B-movies. But it never happened that way — he never could retire from The Ramones. He never made enough money.”
The tragedy, of course, is that by the time Johnny was finally in a position to kick back and enjoy life, he was diagnosed with the prostate cancer that ultimately took his life. The influential guitarist is buried at Hollywood Forever Cemetery, near his former bandmate Dee Dee Ramone.
“While he was sick, we planned a statue because he didn’t want a regular plot,” Linda says. “Rob Zombie had given him a present, a bust of Johnny by Wayne Toth, and it was an amazing present. When Johnny got sick, Arturo Vega was here and he said, ‘Let’s do a plaque.’ I said, 'No, let’s do a statue.' When Dee Dee died, [his widow] Barbara Ramone put him at Hollywood Forever. When Johnny got sick, he desired to go to Hollywood Forever too. The area Dee Dee is in is called Garden of Legends. At Dee Dee's funeral, Johnny said, ‘Let’s put me in this plot — I want to be close to Dee Dee but not too close because I want my own spot.’”
So that’s where he is. The statue was unveiled in 2005 at a ceremony that included the likes of Nicolas Cage and Eddie Vedder. As per Johnny’s instructions, it was a celebration of his life. Soon afterward, the people at Hollywood Forever contacted Linda to say that Cinespia wanted to screen the Ramones movie Rock 'n' Roll High School for Johnny.
“I started calling all these people asking them if they wanted to come,” she says. “I know P.J. Soles [Rock 'n' Roll High School actress], then Steve Jones [Sex Pistols] said he’d host it. That’s how it started. We had over 2,000 kids at the first tribute, and it had a lot of do with Jonesy, who was plugging it all week on the radio. Ever since then I’ve tried to do it every year. I try to stick with a movie I think Johnny’s gonna like. Horror, sci-fi. We can’t do Rock 'n' Roll High School every year.”
The movie at this year’s event, on Sunday, Aug. 26, will be Barbarella, the camp Jane Fonda cult hit; Linda says she watched the film a lot with her husband.
“Does he like it better than Invasion of the Saucer-Men? Maybe not, but he loved it,” she says. “I think it’s an amazing movie to see outside. If Johnny were alive, he’d definitely go to an outdoor event to see a movie. He loved movies. He collected film posters. He collected baseball, horror and film. We have a Disney bathroom, an Elvis room, a horror room. He never would put up any Ramones stuff around the house, because The Ramones became more of a job. Me and Johnny would go to conventions all the time and get autographs.”
Actress Traci Lords will be hosting Sunday's event, which is appropriate because she sang on a cover of “Somebody to Love” on the Ramones album Acid Eaters. Steve Jones will return to perform, and he’ll be joined by Fred Armisen (Portlandia), Duff McKagan (Guns N’ Roses) and Duff’s daughter Grace (The Pink Slips).
Duff McKagan says that, while he has a long history as a Ramones fan, he didn’t ever meet Johnny, though he feels that he’s gotten to know him through Linda.
“Pre-Guns, I was a drummer, a bass player and a guitar player all at once,” McKagan says. “I couldn’t figure out what I wanted to play. I played drums in The Fastbacks in 1979 when I was 14. When I moved down here and Guns formed, and I realized I was going to be a bass player, it was definitely a mix between Dee Dee Ramone and Randy Rampage of DOA, who just passed. Add some Cameo in there and you’re good to go. … Johnny was a deity, a god. I don’t know if I wanted to meet him — it’s fucking Johnny Ramone.”
McKagan is looking forward to jamming on the night while paying tribute to one of his heroes. At the same time, he knows that there’s the important business of raising money for great causes to attend to.
“If I can do anything that raises money for medical research, homelessness or whatever, I’ll do it and it’s always an honor,” he says.
Of course, raising money while paying tribute to her husband is a double win for Linda Ramone.
“I feel like it keeps Johnny’s legacy alive,” she says. “We always have so many people who love doing it for Johnny. Each year,you want new fans to come. I’ve seen kids grow up coming to the tribute.”
The Johnny Ramone Tribute takes place at 6:45 p.m. on Sunday, Aug. 26, at Hollywood Forever Cemetery. For more information, go to johnnyramone.com.