Arturo Vega, in front of his loft’s entrance, surrounded by the Ramones, during a photo session for the band’s first record cover. Photo by Roberta Bayley
BY ALBERT AMATEAU | Arturo Vega, whose E. Second St. loft became the headquarters, T-shirt factory and sometime home for the legendary punk rock band the Ramones, died June 8 at the age of 65.
Known as “The Fifth Ramone” for serving as the spokesman, lighting director, logo designer and faithful friend of the quartet, who frequently fought among themselves, he stayed with them from 1974 to 1996, when the band broke up for the last time.
“Arturo traveled all over the world with them but maybe his greatest accomplishment was staying best friends with all the Ramones even thought their infighting had sadly become legendary,” said John Holmstrom, the writer and cartoonist who was a founding editor of Punk magazine and later the editor of High Times.
“I don’t remember when I first got to know Arturo, but it must have been after he moved into that amazing loft a stone’s throw from CBGB, the club where the Ramones made rock and roll history,” Holmstrom said. “I was told he was their artistic director, and that described well enough what he did. I don’t remember any other band with an artistic director and I was impressed that the Ramones were smart enough to hire one. But I figured out later that Arturo offered to do things and the band went along with it,” said Holmstrom.
It all started around 1973 when Doug Colvin, who became Dee Dee Ramone, passed by Arturo’s open door and popped in to say he liked the music that was playing on the stereo and that he was starting a band himself. Colvin’s girlfriend at the time was living on the floor above Arturo’s.
Eduardo Arturo Vega was born in Chihuahua, Mexico, on Oct. 13, 1947, and came to New York in his 20s to make his way as a graphic artist.
By 1976 when the Ramones were getting ready to issue their first album, Vega had designed their logo, based on the Great Seal of the United States, but the eagle was clutching an apple branch in one talon (the Ramones were as American as apple pie) and a baseball bat in the other (because Johnny Ramone, the lead guitarist, loved baseball). The first names of the Ramones — Johnny, Joey, Dee Dee, Tommy — circle the eagle.
The logo was the emblem on their most popular T-shirt, and Vega sold thousands of them.
“They never had a No. 1 hit record but they sure had a No. 1 hit T-shirt,” Holmstrom said. Nevertheless, Holmstrom said, “Some of us think the Ramones were the greatest American rock and roll band of all time and the best punk rock band ever.”
Holmstrom recalled his excitement when he was planning the third issue of Punk magazine when the Ramones got their first record contract.
“We planned to run the biggest story that we could pull off and Roberta Bayley was photographing them for the issue,” he said. “We tried a few shots in the loft but they fidgeted and were uncomfortable. Arturo suggested the playground down the block. We tried several shots there until Dee Dee got bored, picked up some dog s— on a stick and started waving it around. End of photo shoot,” Holmstrom said.
“Before Roberta had developed the film, we got a frantic phone call from Danny Fields, the Ramones manager, that some photos they had made for their album cover turned out to be useless. Roberta rushed some proofs to Danny and one of them was perfect for the front cover. Arturo contributed one of his photos for the back cover and another for the inside sleeve,” Holmstrom said.
Those photos were among the countless things that Arturo did for the Ramones. He missed only two of their more than 2,000 performances.
“His images matched the look and the aura of the Ramones, especially in the early days. He was really the first punk artist,” said Holmstrom.
But his warmth and generosity were his hallmarks.
Posing in front of a painting by Arturo Vega, from left, Arturo Vega, John Holmstrom of PUNK magazine, actress Edith Massey of “Pink Flamingos” and “Polyester” fame, Joey Ramone and Legs McNeil of PUNK magazine. Photo by Roberta Bayley
“He was kind of a mother figure to Joey,” remarked Legs McNeil, a co-founder of Punk magazine.
After the band broke up, Vega worked with other bands and created images on his own. He was instrumental in having the city designate the corner of E. Second St. and Third Ave as Joey Ramone Place in 2003 after Joey died of cancer.
In November 2009, Mariette Bermowitz, while randomly being interviewed by The Villager on Greenwich Ave. about the recent closing of Lafayette Bakery — she said she never cared for the pastry shop — mentioned that she had been married to Arturo Vega for a period, but that they were no longer together. He was a really nice guy, she said.
When The Villager later mentioned this to Holmstrom, he said he never knew Vega had ever been married and was shocked to hear about it.
According to Bermowitz’s author’s description on Amazon.com for her May 2012 autobiography, “Mindele’s Journey: Memoir of a Hidden Child of the Holocaust,” she was married to Vega for 10 years.
by Lincoln Anderson