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Queens Chronicle

Forest Hills: the birthplace of punk

Mural of iconic band the Ramones unveiled at their favorite chill spot

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Posted: Thursday, June 9, 2016 10:30 am

The area around 66th Road between 99th and 102nd streets in Forest Hills is an unremarkable one at first glance, populated only by apartment buildings.

But in 1975, the ramp leading to the roof of a nearby parking garage — specifically the frequent site of four Forest Hills teenagers hanging out there — became the birthplace of a musical movement that shaped the rock genre forever.

A crowd of more than 100 ardent fans and curiosity seekers gathered on that ordinarily unobtrusive side street in Forest Hills last Sunday to catch the unveiling of a mural on the ramp paying tribute to the Ramones, the foursome that’s often credited as the pioneers of American punk rock in the 1970s.

The 6-foot-tall, 8-foot-wide mural depicts a photograph taken by Bob Gruen of the young band members hanging out on a ramp at the Thorneycroft Apartments, which had become something of a second home to the teenagers.

Helping unveil the black-and-white painting was Mickey Leigh, the younger brother of Joey Ramone, the legendary frontman of the band.

Standing on the ramp overlooking the mural, Leigh suggested to the crowd below, “If you breathe deeply and use your imagination, you can still smell the glue,” a reference, no doubt, to a song about youthful boredom, “Now I Wanna Sniff Some Glue,” which appeared on the group’s eponymous debut album, released 40 years ago in April.

With their loud, fast and straightforward musical style and a look that included long hair and leather jackets, the band had a powerful and lasting impact on the music scene.

Still, Leigh said, “I never thought I would see my brother and friends on the wall at the ramp.”

The mural, designed by East Village artist Ori Carino, continues a renewed interest in the band, which is currently the subject of a popular exhibit at the Queens Museum entitled “Hey! Ho! Let’s Go: Ramones and the Birth of Punk,” running through July 31st.

“[It is] a real honor to do this,” said Carino, who created it by projecting the photograph onto the wall and meticulously reproducing it in paint. “The Ramones contributed in a big way to me. It means a lot to participate in this.”

Marc Miller, co-curator of the museum’s exhibit, suggested that the idea for the mural came about quickly.

“We decided to explore the areas the Ramones came from,” Miller said. “We decided to do something at the ramp.”

As it turns out, apartment complex manager Drew Goldberg had met Joey Ramone in the late 1990s and eventually formed a working relationship with him. He became excited in recent months about the prospect of honoring the band.

“The Ramones have a place in rock ’n’ roll history,” Goldberg said, adding he shared “a real genuine friendship” with Joey, who was born Jeffrey Hyman.

Ramones fans from across Queens, such as Astoria’s Morgan Hahn attended the mural unveiling, with Hahn even bringing her copy of “I Slept With Joey Ramone” for Leigh, the author, to autograph.

“They were such an amazing band,” Hahn said. “How could you not love them?”

“It makes me feel proud that a whole genre of music came from where I live,” added 14-year-old Forest Hills native Caroline Fabelson, who said she became familiar with their music when her father played their songs in the family car.

“I got into them after they passed away,” said Diane Seltzer-Charchat, who came from Fresh Meadows to view the unveiling of the mural. “If you live in Queens, you support the locals, whether it’s a business or a rock band. It’s wonderful that they got this done in the community.”

Angel Diaz, who lives in the apartment complex overlooking the site of the mural, admitted to not knowing much about the Ramones, but said he had seen Carino working on it over the past week.

“It was hard for me to see when he was doing it,” Diaz said. “I didn’t even know they were from around here.”

Though many assumed the Ramones were brothers, in actuality none were related. Johnny Ramone was really John Cummings; Tommy Ramone was Thomas Erdelyi; and Dee Dee Ramone was born Douglas Colvin.

The four met in and around the neighborhood and all attended Forest Hills High School.

The band began to take shape in 1974, when Cummings and Colvin invited Hyman to join them in a group. They were inspired to adopt the common surname by Paul McCartney’s use of a similar pseudonym, Paul Ramon, for a time early in his career.

While their first album was not a commercial success, songs like “Blitzkreig Bop” and “Beat on the Brat” are still well-known internationally, with the former serving as a popular tune to be played during sporting events.

Some of the most iconic, popular bands in music today, such as Metallica, Pearl Jam and U2, credit the Ramones as one of their biggest influences.

None of the original Forest Hills band members were destined to live to see old age, however.

By 2014, all four of the original band members had died, starting with Joey Ramone in 2001.

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