Some of you might remember a post I put up a little while back about the Joey Ramone mural on Bleecker Street, just steps to the west of the Bowery (across, naturally, from the former site of CBGB). While I was all for anything that paid proper respect to the legacy of the Ramones, I was quizzically struck by the incongruity of the depiction of the towering front-man sporting boxing gloves, being that Joey was never particularly renowned for being a pugilist. Some cursory surface-scratching led me to the conclusion that it was ultimately just a promotional initiative to call attention to Overthrow, the then-newly opened boxing gym across the street.
Honestly speaking, that left a bad taste in my mouth, since the Ramones, CBGB and Punk Rock pretty much all had absolutely fuck-all do to with boxing. It seemed like Overthrow was borrowing a page from the playbook of John Varvatos and Daniel Boulud and engaging in a bit of cultural appropriation to give their commercial venture some cache. Sorry, but fuck all that.
When news broke earlier this week, meanwhile, that the Joey mural in question had been painted over in anticipation of a new mural, I remained skeptical. On social media, there was a lot of hue and cry that overlooked the clunky boxing allusion. “That corner belongs to Joey,” cried one commenter on a friend’s thread about it. I countered that by citing that if that corner truly “belonged” to anyone, it was maverick photographer Drew Carolan, who utlized that very spot to document the nascent hardcore punk scene at CBGB in the early 80’s. You can read more about that here and here, and you should treat yourself and buy his book.
In any case, the further development was that Joey was going to be replaced by a new invocation – courtesy of Shepherd Fairey – of Deborah Harry and Blondie. Again, on that discussion thread, many cried foul, but -– personally speaking --- I see absolultely nothing wrong with that. For a start, I’m a huge Blondie fan, but beyond that, Blondie are just as significant in the pantheon of CBGB alumni as the Ramones. Who wants to debate that?
I believe there are plans to regularly rotate the art on this particular façade to pay tribute to other period-specific luminaries. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if Debbie & the boys were later replaced by images of Richard Hell or Television or Talking Heads or the Dead Boys or Patti Smith. I’m not holding my breath, but maybe latter-era CB vets like the Bad Brains or the Cro-Mags or Lydia Lunch or even my beloved Cop Shoot Cop (ha!....fat fucking chance) will get their due.
In any case, when I strolled down Bleecker yesterday afternoon to check the new mural out, I was considerably releived to find the colorful, eye-catching patinting refreshingly bereft of any invocation of boxing or sports of any kind. Maybe Overthrow still have some stake in the endeavor and they’re just showing more restraint? Who knows. But I’m happing it’s just about the music and the legacy.
It is, this time, right?
Post-script: As I was snapping this, punk photographer extraordinaire Godlis (who I’ve mentioned a few times here, notably here) was standing just out of frame on the left. I ran up and accosted him like the hapless fanboy I am and then ran off.