Spin Cycle (1.24.07)

Wednesday, 24 January 2007

Amidst the crumbling strip malls and donut huts of Santa Monica Boulevard, rests the Hollywood Forever Cemetery. With Paramount looming ominously across the street, the manicured lawns and stone mausoleums bask ‘neath sunny southern California skies and, during the summer months, become the setting for one of LA.’s most popular events: movie night at the cemetery!

For those living outside of Los Angeles, you probably think this equals a gaggle of Cure-coiffed urchins, huddling next to a grave while watching The Hunger and drinking Popov vodka out of the bottle. But, honestly, it could not be less Goth. Hollywood Forever screens celluloid gems such as Sunset Boulevard and Lolita on the wall of Rudolph Valentino’s final resting place. Allegedly, the prior owner let the cemetery fall into disrepair while embezzling endowment dollars to fund his own lavish lifestyle; so, the new owner refurbished the hallowed grounds and began screening films for $10 per person in order to keep the park looking SoCal spectacular. People bring Whole Foods-catered picnics, beeswax votive candles and low linen deck chairs for the viewings with nary a Siouxsie Sioux or Robert Smith look-alike in the vicinity.

In addition to being a glorified outdoor cinemaplex, there’s another reason to visit Hollywood Forever: the life-size bronze statue of Johnny Ramone. Entirely aware of his impending demise, Johnny spent the last days of his life arranging for the statue’s casting as well as its unveiling near the grave of bandmate Dee Dee Ramone. At the ceremony, his halter-clad, fur-bedecked grieving widow posed gloriously for paparazzi near the foot of the bronzed Johnny. Nicolas Cage, Lisa Marie Presley and Eddie Vedder turned out and spoke weepingly about Johnny’s contribution to the music world. Tommy Ramone (the least Ramone Ramone) suddenly gained importance (and credibility) as the last surviving member of the eponymous group.

I would like to say that I was an early adopter of the Ramones sound. That a mere year after my induction into the KISS army, I embraced the raven-mopped New Yorkers and bopped around in my black converse. I would LIKE to say that, but it wouldn’t be true. Despite my early love of British punksters The Sex Pistols and The Clash as well as my proclivity for adorning my junior high notebook with the logos of Black Flag and Dead Kennedys, the Ramones escaped my young punkier-than-thou grasp. Maybe, like today’s rap feuds, it was because they were East Coast and I was West Coast. I thought their matching leather jackets and haircuts were ridiculous. And not punk rock at all. I believe at one point I actually described them as “stupid-looking.” In hindsight, this is more than marginally hilarious considering, at the time of this pronouncement, I think I was sporting home-bleached fluffy blonde hair, stone-washed jeans with zippered ankles and white vinyl pumps. Yet, the Ramones were obviously the stupid-looking ones.

I didn’t really begin my adoration of the Lords of Forest Hills until the summer of 1984. I was 16. My best friend asked me if I had ever seen Rock ‘n’ Roll High School. Of course I hadn’t, what with it being a movie about “stupid-looking people” and all. She rented it on video and arrived at my house with a 6-pack of beer and a nickel bag of weed.

We sat in my living room in the middle of a 100-degree day drinking MGD, taking hits off a pipe and watching P.J. Soles leap around, squealing. And by the end of it, I loved the Ramones. And, in addition, pretty much wanted to be Riff Randell. I went out the next day and purchased Rocket to Russia on vinyl. When Tanya and I got a city-wide radio show the following year, not a day went by that we didn’t spin the Ramones. So when we heard they were coming to Sacramento, it wasn’t even a question that we would be there.

They played at a venue called The Entertainment Factory over on Fair Oaks. The place had started as a metal club and then began featuring punk bands and Latin salsa on alternating nights. A local band we knew was opening for the Ramones and ended up introducing us to their manager. The manager asked us if we would like to come backstage and drink beers with the Ramones. I think I might have let out a P.J. Soles-worthy squeal. “Backstage” at The Entertainment Factory was actually just an awkward carpeted area on the side of the stage, cordoned off by garbage cans and beer boxes.

After we cleared the last beer box, Joey Ramone popped the top off of a Heineken bottle and handed it to me. Dee Dee handed Tanya one. Their manager introduced us and they wordlessly nodded between swigs of Heineken, only Johnny mumbling “hey.” Not even a “Gabba Gabba.” The four of them pounded Heineken like they owned stock in the company and never said another word to Tanya, me or each other for the next 15 minutes other than to ask if we wanted another beer. Eventually, Johnny reached into the pocket of his tight black jeans and asked if Tanya and I wanted a guitar pick to take home. Insert second Soles-esque squeal here. The picks were white and had “Ramones” etched upon them. They were sort of thick and wide and honestly looked like no one would (or could) actually play guitar with them. But apparently, he did.

The band finished their final 207 beers and went onstage. Tanya and I climbed from behind the garbage cans to watch the show. There was some light moshing and quite a bit of pogo-ing. Honestly, I was feeling a little ill from all the Heineken, but jumped right along with the best of them, sweating, squealing and singing along to every song.

So when Johnny Ramone’s bronze effigy was revealed, Hollywood Forever hosted a screening of Rock ‘n’ Roll High School. I heard P.J. Soles even showed up. I somehow missed the entire thing which seems oddly appropriate considering how I almost missed the Ramones completely, were it not for Tanya, some MGD and an overly sweltering Sacramento afternoon.

There are some people who want to stop Hollywood Forever from doing the movie nights. They say it is disrespectful of the dead. Disgruntled heirs and relatives have penned angry letters to the new owners and there is a chance the screenings will cease all together. But, even if they stop screening movies at the cemetery, they can’t stop me from lounging at the toe of Johnny Ramone, swilling a Heineken and strumming my guitar with an extra-wide white pick. What could be more respectful than that?

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