"Let's give it up for Johnny Ramone," Fred Armisen declared to cheers on Sunday, as classic punk rock and absent friends were celebrated at the annual tribute for the late Ramones guitarist at Hollywood Forever Cemetery. Armisen was joined onstage by Billy Idol and Sex Pistols' Steve Jones for an acoustic set of punk rarities.
"You're singing most of the words on this one, right?" said Jones, looking over to Armisen and begging off singing his own Pistols tune "Lonely Boy." Soon, Idol sat between them in black leather and rose-colored shades to sing a trio of vintage Gen X songs, including "Ready Steady Go," as Moby happily sang along from the VIP section.
Idol also sang "Wild Youth" for the first time since 1979 and "Untouchables," which ended with the first-generation punk shouter adding an impromptu lewd lyric: "You can touch my balls tonight."
After, there was a short video tribute to Chris Cornell, accompanied by the Ramones track "I Can't Give You Anything" blasting from the speakers, as photos flashed by of the Soundgarden frontman with family and friends (Ramone, Dave Grohl, Parry Farrell, etc.). Cornell had once been a VIP guest at the event, and is now interred beside the park's statue of Johnny Ramone. As the singer's widow, Vicky Cornell, watched nearby, the video closed with the text: "We love and miss you Chris, forever and always."
Linda Ramone, Johnny's widow, organized the gathering. Artist Shepard Fairey, a regular at the yearly gatherings, called Linda a "force of nature." "Anytime she does an event, I'm connecting with people not just involved in music, but are involved in film, television, art, fashion," he said. "That says a lot about who Linda is."
The image of the Ramones has appeared often in the work of Fairey, a devotee of the band since 1984. "When I first got into punk rock, it was sort of obligatory to get into the Ramones," Fairey tells Rolling Stone. "It's punk rock 101. They were trailblazers but they were also very immediate in a melodic sense."
Other guests mingling backstage included the Kills' Alison Mosshart, Kim Gordon, the Olms' J.D. King and members of Warpaint. In the park's mausoleum was an exhibit of Ramones artifacts from the original quartet: early fliers, Johnny's belt, Tommy Ramone's childhood photos, a Ramones comic book and handwritten lyrics.
Dressed in a dark suit and tie, Moby told the crowd of being in New York with a friend at age 15 and spotting singer Joey Ramone standing on a street corner in the Bowery. "We were amazed there was a real rock star standing where we could see him," Moby recalled that day. "It's all we talked about ... but the entire day we had this huge argument about whether it was Joey or Johnny. We thought in the Ramones, all their names were interchangeable."
Moby added that he was standing on that same street corner decades later when he heard that Tommy had died of cancer. "I was back on the bowery: 'Wow, it was so many years ago when I saw Joey standing here.' And at that moment, three Wall Street employees walked by talking about the easiest way to get to East Hampton from Manhattan, and that was when I realized that moving to L.A. was one of the smartest things I ever did."
The closing event was a screening of Vincent Gallo's 1998 indie film Buffalo 66, introduced by the director, a friend of Johnny's. Ahead of his feature, Gallo shared a handful of short films, beginning with "a very patriotic film that I've made" called "The United States Wins the World Cup," which was essentially slo-mo footage of the U.S. flag flapping in the wind to the sound of Gallo singing a haunted electronic "Star Spangled Banner."
"I was really surprised that Linda Ramone – who never said anything nice about my work in my life – asked me to show the film," Gallo said to laughs. "She actually asked me to sing, which is even more bizarre."