From the moment they came out and Joey Ramone announced, “Good evening– We’re the Ramones– and you’re a Loudmouth baby you’d better shut it up!” I was transfixed. Lucky for me I had a camera.
The first time I saw the Ramones was 41 years ago this month. July 22, 1976. It was a life-changing experience that redefined my rock & roll worldview. And thanks to having good friends, I not only witnessed it, but was able to preserve some moments in photos.
Some months earlier my friend Eddie “Legs” McNeil had told me that he and John Holmstrom and Ged Dunn, who were all living in NYC, “were starting a magazine called Punk, and that they had just seen the next Beatles“. I was skeptical, until I saw the first issue of Punk, which was totally amazing.
But I still did not have high expectations of the Ramones or any of the other NYC local bands they wrote about. I was pretty bored with the state of rock & roll at the time.
So when July came and Legs called me and said that he and John were coming back to New Haven to see the Ramones at the Arcadia Ballroom I was ready to hang out and have fun. Little did I know what I was about to hear.
Earlier that month The Ramones had played their legendary first show in England, and this was their first show since returning. Their New Haven reception was not as warm as their London show was.
The Arcadia Ballroom on Whalley Avenue was definitely not a punk club. Mainly because there were no punk clubs, and no local original band scene. This was the heyday of the cover band. The room was a distinct mix of the regulars, who didn’t like “this spectacle of NY Punk”, and folks like me, who had never been there before and came to see the Ramones. I didn’t know any of these local punk fans, but many would become good friends, start local bands soon after, and become the beginning of the New Haven local scene.
One of these locals was a Yale student, Sean Slade. Sean would soon start one of the first local bands, The Germanies, (punk name: Sean Germanie) and later move to Boston and become a famous record producer.
I recently asked Sean his memory of that night:
“My main memory of the show (the first time I’d seen them live), was how impressed I was by their courage in the face of hostile audience reaction. A bunch of Southern Rock types were so offended by this alien music that they stood at the lip of the stage, shaking their fists, and yelling “Get off! You can’t fuckin’ play!” Even better to find out later that this was their first gig after returning from playing England, and thereby changing the world. Pure Punk Rock!”
At the time I was working as an assistant to Larry Kerson, a commercial photographer in Wallingford. I was leaving work to go to the Arcadia, and Larry insisted that I take two of his Nikon 35mm cameras. And lots of film. I’ll always be grateful to him for that, and for teaching me photography.
The Ramones small fan base made it possible for me to move around freely and take pictures at will from all sides. No questions, no photo passes. After this show, it was not so easy. If you wanted to take pictures up close, you would need to get there early and pick a spot and wait through the opening band.
But not on this night. I could take as many pictures as I wanted, from whatever spot. It was like fishing in a barrel. The Ramones played two sets, and after that Legs and John brought me backstage to meet what was at this point was my new favorite band. We took more pictures. Danny Fields was there, and there was such a sense of excitement in the air. John and Legs got in some of the pictures and we drank more beer.
I got the album the next day.
I never understood why everyone didn’t love them and why folks got so mad. And why the local FM Station refused to play their music, and laughed at us when we called in requests. I still don’t.
Many fun nights would follow, including the next night when I visited the Punk Dump. But like many Ramones fans that have similar stories, it was that first paradigm-shifting experience that stands out in my mind. And if my memory gets foggy, these pictures bring me right back to that hot July night so many years ago.