A Graveyard Smash: The 9th Annual Johnny Ramone Tribute at Hollywood Forever Cemetery
By Alexis Murine
Hollywood Forever Cemetery | 6000 Santa Monica Blvd | Hollywood CA
Facebook | Twitter
If ever there was a glamorous graveyard, Hollywood Forever Cemetery is it. It is the final resting place for legends like Cecil B. DeMille, Vampira (Maila Nurmi), and the man we were there to celebrate: Ramones guitarist Johnny Ramone. Don’t let the cemetery aspect spook you—with lush magenta bougainvillea, pristine stone statues and soothing water features, Hollywood Forever is simply beautiful. Founded in 1899, Hollywood Forever Cemetery has become a time capsule of talent, hosting icons from all aspects of creative and influential careers: actors, writers, singers, directors, producers. A little known fact is that part of Paramount Studios was actually built on a section of the original cemetery grounds. Because of its sprawling lawns and picturesque surroundings, it has become a venue for outdoor movie screenings, concerts and cultural events, like LA’s Dia De Los Muertos celebration (which I HIGHLY recommend attending!).
For the 9th Annual Johnny Ramone Tribute, there was to be a screening of John Waters’ cult-classic film Cry Baby, with a signing by John and actress Traci Lords, as well as a Q&A prior to the movie, a Ramones Look-Alike Contest, and vintage Ramones footage to follow. For those who haven’t seen the film Cry Baby, it is a fantastic satire of 1950s musicals and culture, very visually engaging, starring heartthrob Johnny Depp, and John Waters’ Hairspray star Ricki Lake.
Arriving right as they were allowing people in, we joined the snaking train of punk kids with foot-long Mohawks, primped pin-ups wearing too-high heels for the potholes and crabgrass, and aging hippies habitually smoking their electronic cigarettes. As we trailed in, a few longhaired men wearing leather pants, bandanas and bullet belts posed for pictures in front of a mausoleum the size of a small house bathed in pink light from the slowly sinking sun. I wanted to stop and take a picture of them, but stopped myself, because ironically, I thought that might be a little weird. I joked with my friend Melanie that if I were a ghost, Hollywood Forever would be THE place to haunt: hob-knob with famous specters, people watch and listen to amazing live music.
The set up for the screening was on the grassy field near Johnny Ramone’s grave, a larger-than-life metal statue of him playing guitar with a ring of fiery flowers underneath, the projector aimed at a large white crypt wall. We snagged a spot in the middle, spreading our blanket and food out around us. To the right was a VIP area, a fenced off tent and a stage with a giant black and white cut out of the Ramones behind the Q&A table.
The moon started to rise, bright like a spotlight, hovering over black silhouette of palm trees. A woman with raven hair coiffed into 1940s curls, winged liner, ruby lips and a blue wiggle dress sauntered up to the microphone: Dita Von Teese. I was ecstatic. Dita, the burlesque beauty queen with an ever-growing empire of clothing, makeup, books, and more, has been one of my personal vintage style icons for quite some time. She was the surprise announcer for the evening, welcoming moviegoers and introducing the Q&A Panel. Traci Lords, John “Sultan of Sleaze” Waters, James Intveld (real life “Cry Baby” singer), Ricki Lake and Joe Dallesandro (an Andy Warhol Star) were introduced and took their seats, with Sex Pistol Steve Jones who would be leading the Q&A. John Waters made the announcement of a final member for the Q&A panel, “somewhat of an extra on the film”… Johnny Depp. Screams and yelps burst from people’s mouths, and even though the field had grown dark by this point, you could see waves of bodies running from their spots over to the barricade to get a closer look. There was no way for me to get over there without annihilating someone, but I’m not embarrassed to say that I was freaking out. Being in the same general vicinity as three of the most influential people in my world (John Waters, Dita Von Teese and Johnny Depp) was almost overwhelming. BEST $10 ever spent.
After a somewhat awkward and disorganized Q&A session due to what seemed like a lack of preparation, there was a short break, and John Waters returned to the stage to introduce the film. He talked about growing up in Baltimore in the 1950s (where Cry Baby was set/filmed), the influence of music in his life and career, and how the screening was a fitting tribute to Johnny Ramone, a lover of cult movies and du-wop/pop music. He ended his monologue saying that this would be a “graveyard smash” and to “wake the dead”—A man after my own heart.
The damp chill of evening was upon us, so we drew our blankets tighter around ourselves as the movie began. People screamed and laughed, singing, whistling and humming along to all of the songs. When the movie came to a close, there was a smattering of applause, and people began gathering their belongings. It was a Sunday night, after all. Pajamas were calling.
Vintage Ramones footage began to play in the background, and we sang loudly, people dissipating into the darkness like ghosts, following a funeral party of taillights out of the cemetery, stopping for a brief moment to stick my face up against a chicken wire fence, only to discover a dozen peacocks inside!
The 9th Annual Johnny Ramones Tribute was an unforgettable experience combining punk visionaries, The Ramones, 1950s counter-culture, cult-classic movies, Rock & Roll, cemeteries and influential celebrities that have molded their unique identities like Dita Von Teese and John Waters. Hollywood Forever Cemetery is an undeniably special place, and just as its sign suggests, will infinitely link new Hollywood to its Golden Age beginnings. I sincerely recommend attending any of their cultural events. And who knows, if you see a face in the crowd who looks oddly familiar, look again, because it might be one of Hollywood Forever’s residents enjoying the festivities along with you.
To learn more about Hollywood Forever Cemetery’s history and upcoming cultural events, visit their website: http://www.hollywoodforever.com/culture