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Joey Ramone, Arturo Vega, and me in the studio in 1978. Photo by Tom Hearn
“Really Arturo, ABBA?” I shake my head in disbelief as I enter his loft, where the Swedish rock band is blaring from the record player. The record player is on a table, and next to it sits the Ramones’ entire silk screen operation—one long counter weighted down with a wooden silk screen, cans of white acrylic paint, and stacks of black T-shirts. Arturo is busy making another pass with the squeegee over the latest model of the new Ramones logo, the one with the names of Johnny, Joey, Dee Dee, and Tommy encircling an American eagle clutching a baseball bat in one talon and an apple branch in the other. It will become their most famous design ever.
“Aren’t they wonderful?” Arturo beams at me, looking up from the T-shirt. I can’t tell if he’s talking about the music or the T-shirts, since he’s never been self-conscious about his musical guilty pleasures. Let’s face it: even though ABBA is spectacularly popular, no one would ever accuse them of being hip, or guess they’d be on the stereo here at the epicenter of punk, the Ramones’ loft at 6 East Second Street. Arturo Vega lives here.
That’s was the beauty of Arturo. He would combine elements that didn’t fit, and sometimes the end result actually worked. Though, back in the late 70s, I wasn’t so sure about the whole ABBA nonsense.
“ABBA is like some Satanic bubblegum that you can’t stop chewing, ya know?” he explains, noticing my displeasure. “Es like what you think happiness should sound like, right?”
“I don’t know about that,” I say, considering his theory. The Swedish pop music was way too loud.