< Back To Page 1
But it wasn’t five or ten years. Thirty years later, Arturo is one of the last genuine articles from a time that invented the cool
New York has been trying to capture in documentaries like New York Doll about Arthur Kane, End of The Century about the Ramones
of course, and The Downtown Show at New York University reviewed in this issue of fRINGE.
I said to Arturo that I thought we were trying to capture lightening in a bottle, to capture the past—to which he jokingly replied, “I’m still trying to escape!” We
walked around the loft looking at photos of Danny Fields, Joey Ramone getting his picture taken for a visa, Dee Dee Ramone’s
painting of Sid Vicious. I asked if he thought that this could ever happen again. “I don’t think it is possible,” he said.
“But I don’t think that anyone can predict it. You know, it probably will. But we have no idea. How, where, or what it will be.
If it is powerful enough and original enough, I probably won’t recognize it at the beginning. Everybody is going to think it’s
stupid or not be able to figure it out. Maybe it’s already happening and we just don’t know. We just can’t see it.”
But one has to wonder what is the driving force behind the creativity alive in Arturo’s monumental design and artistic trajectory.
For someone who has been involved in so many facets of creativity, his philosophy about the matter is surprisingly free flowing.
“I think that as an artist, I just follow my instincts. When I was painting people kept asking me what’s the concept, what’s
the theory. And I came to the conclusion that there really was no theory. My life is the theory behind what I do. If there is
any art to it, it’s all based on what I do, what I want to do, what kind of life I want to lead, what I want do with my life.
I follow my instincts.”
A salient feature of Arturo’s art, no matter the form, is that he has always been ahead of the game and he never shies away from
the shocking. Certainly, bands like the New York Dolls were going for a similar effect when dressing as women. But there is
something unique about Arturo’s brand of shock that is all it’s own—using art and life to wake people up. He stopped me as I
was flipping through his photo album to point out a picture of himself in a lucha libre mask and a long ponytail exclaiming,
“Look, that was me! I use to sell Quaaludes at the 82 Club and I’d get kicked out all the time so I started going in drag. And
I would wear masks so they wouldn’t recognize me. I use to wear that with a ponytail down to here—with a suit and huge tits.
And always with the tie.”
But the semi-drag is certainly not the most controversial of Arturo’s works. He made extensive, and now famous, images of
swastikas in florescent colors. By the time the Dead Boys came to New York peddling their Nazi imagery, it was already old hat.
Arturo did everything first…But, clearly the swastikas are not images born from hate, but the desire to conquer it. Arturo showed
us the original concept painting of the four panel swastikas. “I’ve always believed in good and evil since I was very young and
I believed that true good couldn’t exist until you conquered evil—until you faced evil—and the best way to do that was to make
love to it. To somehow trick it. To conquer it by doing good things. That’s what I was all about it. So I thought the swastikas
were really cool, graphically really cool. Originally there were going to be four series. There were going to be four combinations.
The fluorescent, the pastel, white on white and black on black. And I use to joke that I was doing all the colors to please
everybody. I want everybody to like it. It’s so pretty. This to me,” he gestured to the day glow symbol over his head, “they
look like candy. They look like popsicles, lime and yellow and orange flavor. I use to wear a swastika armband. In New York!
I use to walk around like that. You couldn’t do that now. I though they were beautiful.”
Arturo’s most recent body of visual work is entitled Porn Is The New Rock. The intent is obvious, “I’m not into porno, but I
see it as more of an anti-rock statement than pro-porn. At least porn has a little danger, a little edge to it. People are
still insulted by it and scared of it. Rock and roll is safe. Parents want their kids now to be rock and roll stars. I mean
Gibson sold 300,000 guitars last year. Parents are buying them for their kids. That shows you that rock and roll is dead as
an art form.” Much like Charles Bukowski’s assertion that you’re really in trouble as a writer if your parents like your work,
I agree with Arturo on this point.
But as I said, for Arturo, it all clearly comes back to the music and that music is the Ramones. He claims that much of his
creative energy stemmed from his role as a foreigner in America. Yet, his view of the Ramones is inextricably tied to their
identity as American right down to the eagle logo. Arturo said, “The idea for the logo came the first time I went to Washington.
There were flags and eagles everywhere and we went by the White House and there it was, the presidential logo and I said “Oh…yeah!”
Well, I always thought of the Ramones as very, very much an all-American band…because I thought that punk sort of captured or
personified a lot of the qualities I saw in American society. The power of this country is so overwhelming right now and has
been since after WWII. But in such a cool way. When France or Britain ruled their empires, they were total colonialist assholes.
There was no fun. Americans have fun. You know what I mean? Americans ended up ruling the world because of their military powers
and because Americans have fun. There is a certain innocence also to their aggression. I remember having this argument with
Johnny and of course he didn’t want to hear about it.’
He continued, “Americans are like angry children. Americans are spoiled in a way. Americans have so much compared to the rest
of the world. There’s a certain honesty, there is a certain spontaneity, almost youthful characteristics that are at the core
of American society, very good-natured…well, except for people like Dick Cheney. Evil is still there too. The Ramones were like
that. Their attitude was almost childish. “I don’t want to walk around with you, so why you wanna walk around with me.” Doesn’t
that sound like an eight year old, you know what I mean? So when I thought these are “all-Americans,” angry, hurt children. But
like I said, the economy of their music, the directness of their music, their honesty, their lack of unnecessary adornment and
decoration. Let’s get back to making rock and roll a revolutionary force. Let’s forget about the million dollar recording studio
sessions for bands like Yes and Emerson, Lake and Palmer. If you want to do that, stick to classical music and study Mozart.
This is punk! Don’t corrupt rock and roll with your rolling piano (while Arturo rolls his eyes). So I thought that they were
an all-American band.”
As we finished looking at the artwork that is the legacy of a truly monolithic American band, the evitable question came up.
“So Dee Dee, what’s with your name?” The truth…I was Dee Dee, thanks to my dad, when I was still listening to Mickey Mouse
records and playing with dolls. In other words, far before I ever knew about the Ramones. Arturo asked me if I knew about the
star Vega, “well, it burns really bright” he said as his eyes sparkled. As a young artist, there was something truly special
about being in Arturo’s space since all of our creative efforts are born from the cool that these guys created. As he said most
remarkably of the Ramones—“Their music was like the truth told by a child—without any redundancies or too much knowledge. Ain’t
that the powerful truth.”
For more information about the Ramones and Arturo Vega, check out his Web site at: