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An interview with Flo Hayler, Ramones Museum founder

interview + photos: Brittany Constance
more: Ramones Museum

What was the first Ramones song you heard?

"I Wanna Live" when I was 14. I think I saw the video, and that's how I got into it.

What's the brief history of the evolution of your collection?

It started with the first time I saw The Ramones. I kept the ticket and ripped off the poster in 1990. I just accumulated tickets, shirts and posters, as I kept going to shows. Then I got to know the band a little bit through meeting them several times and got stuff from them. I met Joey first in 1992, and he was really nice. He signed a couple of things for me, but they were all really nice. Even Johnny was nice to me, but that's probably because he could actually communicate with me, whereas the fans from Spain or Italy couldn't speak English, because they didn't teach it in school at the time. But anyway, that's how I was able to ask for stuff like guitar picks, special edition shirts, set lists or other kind of basic behind-the-scenes documents.

I kept in touch with the band after they retired in 1996, mostly with Johnny and CJ, but I was able to trade a rare Elvis Presley movie poster for Johnny's unwashed, stage-worn jeans, because he loved Elvis so much. But it was otherwise pretty easy to collect stuff, because still no one cared about The Ramones in the late 90s. Everything started piling up, so I had to put it all in boxes, and my girlfriend decided that it became too much. So when I got the jeans, I thought I could make a Ramones museum, because that's not something that other collectors have. It was important to me to find out the brand, which were Levi's 517, and the size, which were 34s.

Sounds smelly. I thought he'd be a lot skinnier?

Well I got these when he was already in his 40s. He may have started with 30s, but you know these were like the advanced age jeans. But before I got the jeans in Berlin '96, I was talking to Johnny about what else I could buy or trade, because I'm one of the fans, and we like to have stuff and ask for things all the time, because we're horrible people. We talked about the leather jacket and his guitar, but it was too expensive, but then Johnny actually came up with the idea to trade the Elvis poster for jeans, and two weeks later I got them in the mail.

Do you think you'll ever be able to acquire anything else that's as iconic as the jeans?

Well I'd still love to have an instrument. I mean I do know people who have instruments willing to give them up for a price, but the problem is that the item would be too valuable and irreplaceable that even if I had it insured, no amount could ever cover the loss. Just the fact that there's one of Johnny's guitars in the museum would absolutely invite somebody to break in. I've already had stuff stolen, because there are fans that are just so fanatic that they can't possibly resist. Sometimes I'll notice something odd in the museum one day, and it's like, "why does this look different," and then I'll realize that someone tried to pry the screws out. Some people are really smart about how they steal stuff. I won't say how, but they have to have it so they'll find a way, because they want to be able to keep it in their own home.

That's so selfish. It has be some kind of mental illness to not just steal but take and keep something that's supposed to be appreciated by everybody that didn't belong to you in the first place.

Yeah but on the other hand, it's like I give people stuff to steal. You know what I mean? I also have things in the museum that if you feel like you want to take it, go for it. Steal a shirt from the shop. Or I don't know, take a book. I don't really care. Just don't steal the things that I only have one of. But I believe in Karma. If you steal things from the museum, then you get run over by a bus. It's just what happens. It's logical. I steal things, too. I just make sure it's not personal, because people have a relationship to their stuff even it's stupid. But who knows, I might get run over by a bus.

Has anyone from the band been able to see the museum?

Yeah, CJ has seen it. I think he liked it. When it first opened, everyone was really supportive, especially people from The Ramones crew like Arturo Vega, who designed The Ramones logo, Monte Melnick, their tour manager, and Danny Fields, their first manager who took a lot of the photos you see here. They all gave so many things to the museum that would have never seen the light of day.

The Danny Fields photos are really amazing. I actually wanted to ask about them, because you have a whole wall of prints you can buy, even though it's part of the collection? How does that work?

Well, the wall where you see Danny's photos changes once a year. We're going to take down whatever doesn't sell this year and replace them with someone else's photos. But Danny Fields was so close to the band that he was able to take pictures that no one else was allowed to take. Arturo Vega introduced me to him while I was living in New York for a couple of months. I told him about the museum, and two days later I went to his apartment, and he had four boxes of memorabilia and he said, "just take it," and that's what I did.

What did you find?

It was full of letters and things that I shouldn't have seen or read. There were also documents with expenses on it, and you'll see that they spent 40 dollars on gas for a whole tour. He had detailed, hand-written notes for everything.

Fly Hayler at the Ramones Museum

So as far as people who have contributed to the museum's collection, has Johnny Ramone's wife Linda Cummings ever offered anything?

Well I've never met her. I'd like to.

I'm curious, because I recently Google Imaged her, and there are several very uncomfortable, sultry photos of her posing in front of his grave.

I don't know; she's from Los Angeles. I don't really know what that city is all about, but there's the whole celebrity worship aspect about it. I mean his gravesite is a statue, you know? He was a celebrity in LA, and everybody loved him there.

That's surprising. He's so surly in all his interviews. Did he turn into some kind of LA party boy or something?

Yeah, he went out a lot, had all these dinners and Hollywood friends. Everyone was really nice to him. In the end, I think he turned into a really nice person, too. But honestly, from a fan's perspective, Johnny was always the nicest. People that worked with him had a hard time, but to us, he was like a dad, because we were kids. He'd always ask us, "do you have money? Do your parents know where you are? Are you going to be here tomorrow? Can I put you on the guest list? Let me know when you're there." He just always looked out for his fans. In any city they were playing in, he would look for us, wave us in, and say, "now you're in. Enjoy the show, see you later." That's just what he did. And then every night after the show, he would ask us how was the show. He didn't care about anybody else's opinions except for the fans. He even asked which songs we did or didn't want to hear and why.

Okay so you have all these amazing experiences and contributions to the museum, but how do you find the money to open and maintain a specialty museum like this?

It's very simple. If you have a passion that you believe in, you don't mind that it costs money. I never really go on vacation. Other people like golf or cars or whatever, but this is what I wanted. I don't know why people have the urge to collect, but I just like having this stuff and framing it and reading it every day and looking at it. Time and money was never measured. The best part is that someone from Texas or wherever will hear about it. It's supposed to be a place where stories can be told, and experiences can be shared. I want people to hang out and eventually realize they attended the same show 25 years ago. That's the only reason I have this space. Punk is about community, in my opinion, and sharing and creating ideas and broadening your horizon.

Do people feel generally open to giving up their Ramones artifacts?

Not generally. Some are, but it still happens quite a lot, and I actually tell them to not send me things, because I probably have them, and because I don't have space. People try to send me stuff from before and after The Ramones era, and I just can't take it. But sometimes I'm surprised. There was a guy from Brazil who said he was going to send me all this Ramones stuff and wanted money, and I told him to open his own museum in Brazil. Then one day, there's a huge box, and I'm like, "oh man, this guy sent his shit over," but I was able to use a lot of it and fork over some money.

What do people like the most about the museum?

I get a lot of old school guys saying that they like the fact that they have to read everything, but I would actually like to have all the touch screen interactive gadgets. I see people walk in for five minutes and walk out, because they don't feel like reading. Kids always have to have their hands on something, or they go crazy.

I actually really liked all the text, because I could stay there for two hours and internalize everything.

Well, exactly. Sometimes people tell me how great it is, and then I ask them if they've seen the Garfield puzzle or some particular photo, and they act really surprised and say no. If you're not into the band that much, and you think it's just a bunch of photos, then okay, fair enough, but there are a lot of things to be discovered, I think.

Yeah. While I was there, I never understood the people who would pay and walk through in five minutes and leave when you could easily spend several hours.

If you have a genuine interest in the band, then yeah, it's easy to spend a lot of time here. I always ask myself how much time I would spend in a Rolling Stones museum, and I have no idea, because you don't know how much memorabilia is scattered all over the world. In that respect, The Ramones are a good band to collect from, because there's only so much out there, whereas if you're a fan of KISS or Metallica or Rolling Stones, there's no way to ever finish. Plus they're still around.

Okay, so it's not the most impossible thing in the world to put together a Ramones museum. But why were they your chosen band?

Well, I liked the music first of all. But when you're young, they were the perfect outlet. They were hard and fast and catchy, and you'd know all the words. It was kind of easy to join the gang and look like them, because all you had to do was wear jeans and a t-shirt and leather jacket. And for me, when I discovered The Ramones, they were my band. Nobody else knew them except for a chosen path. They really were not mainstream at all. If you knew them, it was your thing. People would ask, "so why are you wearing that leather jacket?" And I would say, "well, you know [shrugs shoulder]." I didn't want to share my secret with anyone else, but now I do.