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By: Sarah L. Myers

“Chinese Rock”, Dee Dee Ramone’s ode to copping dope, was written in a loft just around the corner from CBGB. The punk classic begins with the line “Hey, is Arty home?” The ‘Arty’ is Arturo Vega, the art director for the Ramones, and the 'home' is his famous loft. Arturo is one of the few people to have been with the Ramones - every day - throughout their 22-year career.

Arturo is so critically important in the history of the Ramones that it’s hard to introduce him. He created the official logo. Lifted from the presidential seal, he and the band made some revisions. A baseball bat was added, a nod to their beloved Yankees and Americana. A row of arrows was borrowed from a popular 1970s t-shirt print. And, of course, the signature phrase, “Hey ho, let’s go.” Arturo also housed the band for many years. His loft was truly the birthplace of The Ramones. It was their rehearsal space and crash pad.

Early photos show the band hanging out in the open area, a huge white sheet emblazoned with simple block letters - RAMONES - behind them. Folding tables in the middle of the room held silkscreen materials for the t-shirts Arturo sold at their shows. Joey lived in the loft for many years, but Dee Dee was kicked out after too many fights with Connie, his prostitute girlfriend. Arturo was also Joey Ramone’s best friend, and is warmly regarded by Ramones fans as the fifth member of their favorite band. He was there for all but two of their 2263 live shows.

Arturo’s allegiance to the Ramones remains firm. He is the webmaster of and continues to control a majority of the sales for the merchandise bearing the famous logo he created. He is also an extremely accomplished artist, and his loft displays many of the pieces from over the years.

Despite a few changes, the loft looks as it did 30 years ago. Dee Dee’s paintings hang all over the stark white walls, and original photos of the band in the apartment make the whole place feel like a time machine. To stand in the same places where so much magic came together is an incredible feeling. I spent an afternoon with Arturo in the famous loft for this exclusive interview.

Thirsty: Tell me a little about the evolution of the Hurley project.

Arturo Vega: It all started when Joe McElroy, who’s the original designer for Hurley, decided to create an artist program. In other words, to involve cool artist, artists that had been involved with music with rock n’ roll. Or who have been working with one band, like myself and The Ramones. Or people who did album covers or design or kind of images for rock n’ roll bands. So this was the original idea from Joe and he decided against the current movement, against the grain. It was a way of expressing, of continuing to express the rebelliousness associated with the punk movement. The idea was to incorporate that into Images that could be somehow associated or linked to Hurley. So the first thing he did was to organize a surf board exhibition, a traveling surf board exhibition. I believe 17 artists were asked to contribute and 17 surfboards were created, and they toured around the world in various areas like Australia or South Africa or Hawaii. Then the surfboards were auctioned to benefit the “Save the Music” foundation by VH1. And it was incredibly successful! I mean, it’s an obvious marriage made in heaven. Rock n’ roll aritsts and Hurley. Hurley is an incredible company, I mean the more I get to know the guys the more I realize that behind a success, such a Hurley, there has to be an incredible set of people that are very, very talented in what they do but that are totally dedicated and they love life, and they love to have a good time! They love the lifestyle. So Joe continued this and then he decided to create, to work further, to get into the nitty gritty of their business, which is selling clothing. Clothing for surfers or kids that like the lifestyle and the skateboarders and stuff like that. So out of this 17 artists, four were selected to come out with images that were going to be used for shorts and shirts and etcetera. It couldn’t be more ideal for the Ramones. To be associated with a brand that is marketed to the surfers and the skateboarders. It’s perfect! It doesn’t get any better than that! We have that photograph of Joey with the surf board, which was taken by Roberta Bayley for a PUNK magazine issue, the “Mutant Monster Beach Party” or something like that! It just worked out really, really well.

Click images to enlarge

Thirsty: That’s such a great image because you didn’t think of Joey as wearing little board shorts and going out to swim!

Arturo: Yeah! So it’s an ideal combination. The Ramones and Hurley’s an ideal combination.

Thirsty: The Ramones brand is hugely popular, and the logo you designed is tattooed on the backs of everyone in the world at this point, but is this project with Hurley one of the projects you are most proud of?

Arturo: Yes, very, very much. I love Ramones merchandise. I really do. I think I only kept back only once. We had to say, ‘ok, no we’re not going to do this.’ And that was with somebody who was approaching us to do dog apparel. And some of the people in the company wanted to do it, you know. But I had to say no. And this person said, ‘but if you do this Paris Hilton is going to buy it for her dog!’ And I said, ‘exactly!’ Because Paris Hilton is going to buy it. That’s why we cannot do it. So that is where we drew the line. We didn’t do that.

But everything else, I love it! And I am positive that Joey and Johnny would feel very, very proud and they would think it is really funny that we have shower curtains, we have towels and bed sheets, you know what I mean? Johnny was a big collector himself. All kinds of things. Disney, all kinds, Elvis. All things Elvis. And Johnny had a Disney room, for instance, where everything in the room was Disney, you know what I mean? The bedspreads, the sheets, the pillows. So I know that both Johnny and Joey would love the fact that we have so many items. I love it myself, you know. I remember when we started the baby line, the very first Ramones baby items were created to thank the musicians that contributed to Joey’s first Birthday Bash. Joey always threw a big bash for his birthday and when he died, his mother and Mickey, his brother, had promised him that they would do it. So they went ahead and we do it and I said, as a way of thanking the people that participated, I made the first Ramones baby stuff. I made them myself. Iron transfer. Just because I needed some of these musicians’ kids (to be dressed). And I just loved the look. I remember looking at the first Ramones baby shirt and thinking it looked like the most, coolest art object! So that’s how we started. Then we found the company that we do it with, Sourpuss is the company that does our baby stuff and it’s fantastic. So I’m proud of everything, but yes, the Hurley and Ramones combination is the icing on the cake. It’s perfect.

Thirsty: What’s the most unusual piece of Ramones merchandise you can think of, off the top of your head?

Arturo: Well, we do all kinds of things that are practical, you know. For instance, we have the shower curtains, which is I think really cool. We don’t do anything that is totally wacky, you know? Everything we do is cool.

Thirsty: In terms of all of the merchandise that is out there, does it all come back to the original t-shirt for you?

Arturo: Yes, it does. I mean, the t-shirt goes way beyond being a piece of, a souvenir that people buy. T-shirts are art in our society. Young people express all kinds of things by what they wear, and especially with t-shirts.

The t-shirt is a billboard. The t-shirt is a window into who kids are, or who they want to be. What they want, what they expect, how they want to change the world.

T-shirts are very, very important. We were really, really surprised at the beginning. The reason why I started printing the t-shirts was because the record company didn’t want to pay for my traveling expenses, traveling with the band and everything. And I knew how to silkscreen and so I said, ‘well, why don’t we make some t-shirts?’ And they took off instantly, they took off immediately. The eagle in their logo is actually the third eagle. That is the first eagle I ever worked with. (points to a large screened photo of a coin). It’s a 1972 Eisenhower dollar and we took that photo, that’s my hand holding the coin, in 1973. And then I started working with the second eagle, which the eagle in the belt buckle the ended up on the back of the first album, that’s the second eagle. So by the time the third eagle, the main logo, came out, it was already the third eagle so I really knew what I was looking for, or what I wanted to do. And on the trip to Washington in 1976 I saw the presidential seal and I went, ‘ok, this is it!’ You had to look no further, and that’s how it came about.

Thirsty: And the other additions, like the olive branch and the baseball bat, came later?

Arturo: The olive branch and the baseball bat, well, the olive branch was already there. It’s in the original and it represents a peace offering to our friends, and the weapons to react to our enemies. That’s what it represents.

Arturo Vega

So the baseball bat was kept as in the spirit of the arrows, but the baseball bat can be a weapon. But at the same time it was also a tribute to Johnny’s baseball fanaticism. And the original logo on the second album, the olives are replaced by apples, also keeping in the spirit of ‘as American as apple pie.’ But I remember Joey saying that they looked like tomatoes! (laughs) And so we took out the red apples. But in the second album cover, they are reddish. The pattern in the center, the arrowheads, that comes from a t-shirt I used to wear all the time. I must have it somewhere. We all used to wear it. (shows a photo booth picture of himself wearing the t-shirt) The first poster ever comes from a photo booth.

Thirsty: Are you working on any other projects besides the Hurley collection?

Arturo: No, but I think I’m going to. There have been some people that have been asking me to decide to do things other than Ramones. You know what I mean? Actually, I do have a concept that I’ve been working with, but it’s not commercial. It’s more like art. (Vega is working on a project with the slogan, "Fame is a Disease", which superimposes trophies onto the Ramones logo). But a bunch of cool people, those Hurley dudes. They’re really the best.

Thirsty: Besides your screening tables, is there anything original still here?

Arturo: No, just the tables. (The guys slept) on mattresses on the floor. (points to the corner)

Thirsty: Everybody lived with you at some point, right?

Arturo: No, only Joey and Dee Dee. Joey’s mattress was over there. We used to hang the t-shirt on these pipes. Dee Dee and I used to print them, we used one of these tables to print, and then later on we had a machine. And Joey used to hang them because he was so tall, he could reach! And we had hundreds of shirts hanging.

Thirsty: And Dee Dee lived with you for just a little while?

Arturo: Yeah, because of the fights. He stayed a few months. Almost a year. With Connie. Joey stayed with me for a long time.




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