At the annual Johnny Ramone tribute Sunday at Hollywood Forever Cemetery, director John Waters hosted a reunion of his cast for the 1990 bad-boy musical Cry-Baby, including a surprise appearance by Johnny Depp.
"Everybody in this movie wanted a little image rehab," Waters recalled of the wildly eclectic cast during an onstage panel before an outdoor screening of the film, a favorite of the late Ramones guitarist. "Johnny [Depp] was the star of a TV show and said 'I hate being a teen idol.' I said, 'Well, stick with us. We'll kill that.' And Traci [Lords] was fleeing the adult world. Patti Hearst – who wants to be a famous victim? . . . If you can make fun of what the critics use against you, then you own it and you turn it into a style."
The Cry-Baby reunion was part of the ninth annual gathering at the Los Angeles cemetery in honor of Ramone, organized by his widow, Linda. Standing at the park is a life-sized statue of the guitarist leaning into a riff, not far from where bassist Dee Dee Ramone is buried. As fans lined up for autographs from some famous guests, backstage was a gathering of friends of Johnny and Linda Ramone, including artist Shepard Fairey, burlesque dancer Dita Von Teese and Sex Pistols guitarist Steve Jones, who said, "It wouldn't be right if I didn't show up."
Also backstage was singer-songwriter Pete Yorn of the Olms, who first met Johnny Ramone while recording a track for the 2003 album We're a Happy Family: A Tribute to Ramones. The guitarist died the following year.
"The idea behind it was – before he split – he was like, 'Keep the legacy alive and throw a party that I would want to be at every year,'" Yorn told Rolling Stone. "Linda knows Johnny better than anyone, and she puts together cool things every year. Johnny was a huge movie fan and loved Cry-Baby. If he was here tonight he would be so stoked to hear that panel."
The movie was a send-up of teen musicals set in the director's hometown of Baltimore. Though it wasn't a hit on its original release, Waters said it's become one of his best-known films from repeated airings on TV and the soaring popularity of Depp, who made Cry-Baby before his final season on 21 Jump Street. Waters remembered the first rehearsal with co-star Amy Locane, then still a teen: "She had to make out with Johnny Depp and she fainted. I don't blame her."
Sitting beside Depp and Waters were Lords, Ricki Lake, rocker James Intveld (who provided the title character's singing voice) and underground actor Joe Dallesandro, who Waters called "the Clark Gable of the Warhol-Paul Morrissey films. You would never see Michael Fassbender's penis today unless Joe had broken every rule first."
Lake told of losing her virginity during the production to an unnamed cast member (not onstage), and Depp joked, "I got pregnant when Rickie had sex, weirdly."
"We all lived in this tiny little hotel called the Tremont, and we did mostly night shoots," added Lake, who also co-starred in Waters' Hairspray in 1988. "So we would open the bar at 7 a.m. when the sun came out. It was a blast."
The film was released by Universal and had the major Hollywood players Ron Howard and Brian Grazer as producers, but Waters' rep as a cult filmmaker followed him then and now. "'Cult' is something you never want to say in Hollywood, because to the suits it means smart people liked it but it lost money," said Waters.
Yorn's partner in the Olms is J.D. King, who has dated Linda Ramone for the last eight years. He helps coordinate the gathering and designed this year's poster. "This is the biggest one that I've seen. There's always a lot of great energy," said King, who recently recorded a holiday single with Yorn, "Christmastime (Never Let Me Go)."
The tribute's long lines amid the gravestones demonstrated the huge ongoing popularity of the Ramones, though the Queens, New York, band never quite experienced that when the punk originators were actively performing.
"John and Dee Dee knew their importance but definitely were upset. They thought they should have had pop-Bay City Rollers-like hits," Stray Cats bassist Slim Jim Phantom told Rolling Stone. "That ['I Wanna Be'] 'Sedated' and 'Sheena' ['Is a Punk Rocker'] weren't top 10 songs? I'm amazed by it still. But those guys soldiered on and made it safe for a lot of people to go into the pool after them."
Standing nearby was guitarist Billy Zoom of X, the first-wave L.A. punk band, who performed a free concert to a massive crowd the night before in downtown Los Angeles. "I thought the Ramones were going to be the next Beatles. I didn't realize that they weren't going to play them on the radio," Zoom said, noting that the Ramones helped shift him towards a new genre called punk after years of playing rock & roll.
"I went to see the Ramones on a Saturday night, and on Monday I quit my job and put an ad in the Recycler for a drummer and bass player," he said. "That was that."