Meet Linda Ramone
Originally printed in Harpers Bazaar, August, 2012
By Derek Blasberg
Linda Ramone offers two reasons that she and her husband, Johnny Ramone, of the legendary punk band the Ramones, moved to Los Angeles from New York after the group’s final show in 1996: the weather and a pool. So it’s fitting, then, that I walk past a kidney-shaped watering hole at her Sherman Oaks home to find Linda in the hot-pink-and-tangerine living room, looking like a ray of sunshine in a short bright-yellow shift dress. “Don’t you love it?” she says of the room’s squint-inducing decor. “We were inspired by a Nancy Sinatra album cover.”Linda Ramone offers two reasons that she and her husband, Johnny Ramone, of the legendary punk band the Ramones, moved to Los Angeles from New York after the group’s final show in 1996: the weather and a pool. So it’s fitting, then, that I walk past a kidney-shaped watering hole at her Sherman Oaks home to find Linda in the hot-pink-and-tangerine living room, looking like a ray of sunshine in a short bright-yellow shift dress. “Don’t you love it?” she says of the room’s squint-inducing decor. “We were inspired by a Nancy Sinatra album cover.”
We head to the kitchen, which is set up like a ‘50s diner, complete with black-and-white-checkerboard tiles and red vinyl bar stools embroidered with the Ramones logo. Linda is roasting a chicken, grilling vegetables, and serving mimosas - all while wearing a Roberto Cavalli tiara and gold knee-high Christian Louboutin boots. Clearly, this is not a woman who dresses down, even if she lives in a laid-back California. She owns only one pair of flats (tennis shoes, which she wears on the elliptical machine), as well as cowboy boots, in case she encounters some uneven terrain, like she did during a trip to Disneyland, or a cobblestone street, as she did recently in Rome. “But even those have a heel,” she’s quick to point out. “Why would you put on a pair of flip-flops when you can put on a nice pair of boots?”
“You couldn’t invent a Linda Ramone. If you saw her - or her house - in a film, you would’t believe that character actually exists. And yet, improbably, she does,” says actress Rose McGowan, a friend and a participant in this past summer’s eight annual Johnny Ramone Tribute. The event, which Linda organizes, benefits the Johnny Ramone cancer research fund and has welcomed fans like the Misfits, Dita Van Teese, and Metallica’s Kirk Hammett. “The word beige isn’t even in her lexicon, and God love her for that.
“One never knows what Linda is going to wear, but when she arrives, heads turn. What’s so wonderful is that she’s so comfortable with herself,” says Priscilla Presley, whose daughter, Lisa Marie, was on of Johnny’s closest friends. (“Lisa Marie visited Johnny in the hospital every single day when he was sick,” Linda recalls.) “She is devoted to keeping Johnny’s legacy intact and alive, while remaining true to herself,” the former Mrs. Presley continues. “She has all the right ingredients to take him where he wanted to remain - a legend.”
Linda Ramone’s own place in the history of rock ‘n’ roll is well earned. Long before Twilight fans were scandalized to learn that Bella cheated on Edward in real life, Linda was at the center of a high-profile love triangle: After dating Ramones lead singer Joey Ramone for three years, she left him for bandmate Johnny, who played guitar. (Ramones fun fact: The band’s name was inspired by Paul McCartney, who checked into hotels as Paul Ramon, prompting the boys from Queens to adopt it as their stage surname. An autographed picture from McCartney to Johnny can be found in the house’s Rock ‘n’ Roll Room, which is outfitted with memorabilia from the likes of the Sex Pistols and Debbie Harry.) “ At the time I didn’t think it was a big deal. I thought, Anita Pallenberg did it,” Linda says. “But I forgot that Brian Jones [the Rolling Stones] after that.
Joey had written songs like “She’s a Sensation” and “Danny Says” about Linda, so to say that he was upset by this development is an understatement. At one point she quit touring with the Ramone, fearing that Joey (who never married) would break up the band. “I was in love with Joey at first, of course. I was 18. He was my first boyfriend. But then, with Johnny, I fell in love, and he was my soul mate for the rest of my life and my husband. Now the biggest thing in my life is keeping Johnny’s legacy alive.” They were together for more than 20 years, married for 10, and he left her everything when, in 2004, he died of prostate cancer at 55 on the couch in their Nancy Sinatra - themed living room. “When Johnny died, me and Rusty slept on Johnny for the while night,” remembers Linda. (Rusty is their beloved cat.) She works to preserve her husband’s memory through the Johnny Ramone Army, a licensing and marketing entity, and she is a president of Ramones Productions. Earlier this year, she oversaw the publication of Commando, Johnny’s autobiography, which he’d dictated before he died.
On a quick tour of the house, it’s clear that JOhnny’s legacy is alive and well. The living room is decorated with vintage movie poster, taxidermy, and shag carpeting. (His favorite stuffed animal? A two-headed Siamese sheep.) Linda heads into the Elvis Room, a den decked out in every type of Elvis memorabilia ever created, including the couple’s prize possession: an unopened bottle of champagne from Elvis’s wedding to Priscilla autographed and dated by the Kind himself. “Priscilla came over the other day, and even she hadn’t seen one of these things,”Linda says.
Next is the screening room, known as the Horror Room because it’s filled with scary-movie posters, snake heads, weapons, devil masks, and an actual shrunken human head. Then a quick stop and the Disney-themed bathroom, where a Mickey Mouse -framed photograph of Linda and former First Lady Nancy Reagan sits on the sink next to a scowling portrait of the provocative filmmaker Vincent Gallo. (Mrs. Reagan, whose husband Johnny famously admired, and Linda are pen palls; Gallo gave johnny the themed jukebox in the Elvis Room.)
At the center of this rock palace is Lind’s boudoir-slash-closet, an entire room devoted to a lifetime of ‘60s-inspired glitzy, glam fashions. Miles of necklaces and jewelry line the walls - “no empty hooks here,” she says, laughing - and colorfully painted chains hang from the ceiling to display her favorite dresses, including the lacy mini baby doll she was married in. “You couldn’t fit this stuff in a jewelry box or a closet anyway, so I wanted it t look the the coolest store ever. Now I just keep hanging everything everywhere.
Though she keeps current on the new designers (she finds pieces at Dolce & Gabbana, Versace, and Cavalli), Linda says she is tempted to sop only when she sees something inspired by the decadent boho vibes that propelled her rock-star life in New York. “What good new fashion has come out? The Ugg boot? Really? I’m going to wear an Ugg boot with a jean skirt? I don’t think so. Not in this lifetime, honey.”
While still a high schooler and living in Queens, Linda started sneaking into the city to see bands at the famed (and now defunct) clubs Max’s Kansas City and CBGB. She met the Ramones in the mid-‘70s after following the New York Dolls around a much grittier downtown Manhattan. It was a different time, she says. “All the bands hung out with the people. There wasn’t a VIP area; you din’t have wristbands. It wasn’t glamorous. CBGB was a shit hole - it was all about the music. You’d see the best bands every night, and then hang out with them.”
In New York she honed her trademark look: mod meets punk. “I remember going into the city and I’d see [New York Times street-style photographer] Bill Cunningham on the corner. He would run after me and my friends all the time. But if he didn’t, I would think, Oh, God, what a disappointing outfit I must have on if he didn’t run after me,” she recalls. “That would be really sad. Boring is boring!”
Linda’s fashion philosophy also applies to her home. “The whole house is to have a good time, to have fun. That’s why I love dressing up. You feel good. It makes me happy. This place reflects that in my personality,” she says. Adios Amigos, the name of the final Ramones tour, concluded in Los Angeles in 1996, and soon after, she and Johnny made their “California dream” come true, finding a house with the aforementioned pool and giving it themed rooms. “It’s full of collectibles,” she says. “Johnny and me started collecting when we were living in New York in a one-bedroom apartment in Chelsea. At that point Johnny was still on his saving kick, when h wouldn’t spend anything. We were saving for the future. Always. Saving for when he retired.”
he and Johnny never had children. “He wouldn’t let me,” Linda says, laughing. “Johnny didn’t want to have kids because he didn’t want me to pay attention to anyone else. He’d say, ‘I will never take a chance that you will like anyone or anything better than me.”
So, just as it was when Johnny was alive, being her husband’s keeper is Linda’s full-time job. “I always feel like he’s around. When Lisa Marie comes over, she says it’s like he’s still here. His spirit is still with us. It’s a happy house.” Asked if she ever wanted to have a career of her own, she shakes her head. “No, never. I was more than happy just to be married to Johnny Ramone.” She smiles and strokes Rusty. “Besides, I had my job ahead of me -being a rock wife. And that was enough.”