Some 15 years after his untimely death, Joey Ramone is still imparting wisdom to those willing to listen, or at least walk past his wall.
Allow me to explain.
Last week, I was in New York City with my family, the first leg in a 10-day road trip that saw us dipping into communities both large and small up and down the Eastern Seaboard. After a long day of exploring, we found ourselves crossing one of the cities’ many invisible borders and entering a region known colloquially as the Bowery.
Joey was there to meet us.
Because while the Ramones – the legendary punk act Joey helped form and fronted for more than 20 years – actually came together in Queens, it is the Bowery and the late, great rock club CBGB’s that really claimed the band as its own. That’s the reason there is a street corner named after Joey and why, close to the once-run-down block where the band first rocked, he watches the city continue to evolve.
What struck me about the mural, and New York in general, is that as forward-thinking as a city that size must be, it spends an awful lot of time concerning itself with heritage. I would argue, in fact, that much of what we think about, in terms of New York as a cultural capital, has less to do with the new acts and artists rolling out of Brooklyn or the theatrical experiments way off Broadway, but those historic elements of the city that have come to personify its creative community.
There’s a very good reason for that. A reason that we think about Broadway as a bastion for theater. There’s a reason we think of Andy Warhol as the prototypical New York artist. There’s a reason the lobby of the Chrysler building, the plaza at 30 Rock, the soaring expanses of Grand Central and the improbable spire at the Empire State Building are held up as examples of American architecture at its finest.
New York City has worked hard to make it so.
An incredible amount of time, money and effort has been spent promoting, and more significantly, celebrating, the city’s cultural heritage. While exact figures may not be available, I would venture to guess that more money is spent promoting things that once happened than things happening in the future, and it’s a model that seems to be working.
I bring this up because, standing there on a not-so-quiet corner communing with Joey, it struck me that this is something Augusta has not been particularly adept at.
Yes, we certainly give the traditions associated with the Masters Tournament their well-deserved due. But beyond that, where is the effort? Where has the city, honestly, come together to celebrate this community’s long, and often somewhat lost, cultural heritage? There’s a James Brown statue, but every other effort to celebrate the Godfather of Soul has been hampered by the lack of large-scale community involvement.
And what about Jasper Johns? One of the most iconic American artists of the 20th century was born here and spent his early life in nearby Allendale, S.C. Not a whisper about that guy.
Blind Willie in Thomson – with the exception of a criminally small music festival bearing his name – we rarely hear about his music or lasting influence.
It is true that the easiest treasure to ignore is that which surrounds us on a daily basis. But that doesn’t make it right.
We often talk about how to make Augusta a bigger, better and more vibrant community, about how to develop it for a stronger future.
The answer, in part, might come from celebrating the past.
Augusta has always been interesting. It’s our job to ensure that people, both outside and within, understand and embrace that idea. This city has been around for more than 200 years. It seems impossible to believe that in that time no stories worth telling and no creativity worth sharing has emerged. Certainly there is more that we, as a community, have tapped into.
So let’s think about this. Let’s think about leveraging those great creative spirits from the Augusta area’s history and use that as a foundation for the future. It’s a system that works.
I know, because Joey Ramone told me so.