The hardest things for me to write about are those subjects that I'm somehow personally connected to. I'm sitting here at the computer trying desperately to write a review of Dee Dee Ramone's third book Legend of a Rock Star - The Last Testament of Dee Dee Ramone for Fat City Magazine, and I just can't. The proper words just won't come to me - for one of those few rare moments, I really don't know what to say.
What was supposed to be a book about Dee Dee's touring through Europe with his new band, turned out to be this strange memorial ending with pictures, re-prints of Dee Dee's zine Taking Dope, tributes, fan letters and obituaries. When I first got my grubby hands on this I was so excited! I've been waiting so long for it to come out. I guess they delayed it because of Dee Dee's untimely death, and now I know why.
I ran home and started thumbing through the book, glancing at the names following the tributes. Wow, I thought, I know some of these people. And my mind raced back to March of last year, 2002, when my brother Jay and I were lucky enough to cover the Rock n' Roll Hall of Fame inductions for our magazine, Fat City. If it weren't for the Ramones, there would be no Fat City Magazine. There we were with the rest of the press, in a room adjacent to the ballroom where the event was taking place. I thanked the god of rock constantly, "how the hell did we get here?".
We sat there for hours waiting for the Ramones to come out and take the stage. Yah, the others being inducted were interesting, who doesn't love Issac Hayes theme to Shaft - the Talking Heads, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. I just sat and listened, too embarrassed to ask a question, but I was glad I kept my mouth shut. Now I know why the performers HATE journalists. No one in that room had an intelligent question to ask. They were extremely rude to each other and the artists. I was embarrassed for them, and for Jay and I for being lumped in with them.
Rumors had been flying around the room for the last few hours that the Ramones would not take stage for pictures and questions. My heart sank. They were the reason why we were there. We were doing a tribute to the Ramones for getting in the hall of fame. Jay and I (well, mostly Jay) were interviewing almost everyone associated with the Ramones Camp. From Arturo Vega to Monte Melnick - to people from bands who were influenced by the Ramones like Henry Rollins, Lars from Rancid, Ben Weasel, and my favorite interview of all time, Lemmy from Motörhead. So again, I started praying to the god of rock, please please please let them come out, even if it's just to take a few pictures. So the little stage manager type guy (who I had about enough of) said the Ramones were coming out.
Jay and our new friend John Nikolai, who was covering the event for Punk Magazine, got their cameras ready. Thank god for John, he was the only person I talked to that "understood" the importance of the Ramones getting inducted to this farce of a hall of fame. By the end of the night we were shitting on just about every person in the room, (thanks John for keeping me sane that night). Then, out from behind the curtain came Dee Dee, Johnny, Marky and Tommy. I was so happy, I wanted to stand up and applaud, scream, jump up and down or charge the stage and hug them all. But I sat in my seat with this smile on my face and a tear in my eye. The "losers" finally won!
Hundreds of click click clicks from the cameras started to surround me, flashes going off everywhere. The jerk-offs started yelling names so people would look at the camera and they'd get a good shot and I hear "Joey! Hey Joey over here!" A two second hush went over the crowd. All clicking stopped, I gasped. I wanted to throw up. Again I hear "Joey over here!" Something came over me, my lips moved and I said out loud "He's dead." Trust me, I have this on tape. What a jackass. Everyone in that room received a press packet when they walked through the door saying who was who, Christ man do a little research. Or maybe you were shoving your face with pretzels when the Ramones were on stage getting their award. Anyway, I was pissed. If I were the Ramones, I would have turned around and walked off the stage. Now I know why a lot of artists hate to do interviews and I don't blame them. But that's another subject for another time.
So after all that bullshit, I got to see one of the most important bands off all time finally get the credit they deserve. The next day Jay and I were heading down to Dee Dee's gallery to meet with his painting and music collaborator Paul Kostabi. To be honest, I didn't want to go. I wanted to get the fuck out of New York. I'd just about had enough, I had no sleep, and I wanted to get back to Boston. But I was secretly hoping that maybe Dee Dee would be at the gallery, so I packed up the car and off we went.
Walking in I felt like Alice in Wonderland when she was small, which is pretty impressive considering I'm a tall girl. But I was surrounded by these gigantic portraits of Dee Dee, Johnny, the painting of the cover of Dee Dee's novel Chelsea Horror Hotel. I just stopped in my tracks and breathed it all in. I really don't even remember first seeing Paul, or the gallery owner Heidi Follin. I roamed around this small space crammed with paintings, feeling so unimportant surrounded by all this splendor. I moved into the other room because my head was spinning and I wanted to actually talk to these people. Paul was seated at the computer and the first thing I remember him saying to me is, "Do you want to interview Cheetah Chrome? I'm talking to him now." 'Holy Shit, I've wanted to interview Cheetah Chrome for years,' I thought. "Now?" I asked nervously because I didn't know what the fuck I was going to say if he put me on the phone right then and there. Luckily Paul said "No, I'll set it up." I let out a quiet sigh of relief, and sat on the couch.
We started telling them about the inductions, how ridiculous the other journalists where, how Dee Dee thanked himself. I remembered watching Dee Dee on the closed circuit TV in the pressroom. He was sitting at a table with Chris Frantz and Tina Weymouth of the Talking Heads. He looked like he was having so much fun. Chris and Tina had their son with them, you could tell he was having a blast, and Dee Dee seemed to be enjoying his company. Their son and his friend were the only two I could see rocking out when Green Day performed songs by the Ramones. Dee Dee looked happy, and I was happy for him.
Paul decided to call the hotel looking for Dee Dee to see if he was stopping by the gallery. He called the Waldorf Astoria, "Douglas Colvin please?" I had to suppress the smirk spreading across my face. But Mr. Colvin had checked out. Paul said New York freaks him out now, I understood how he felt, I wanted to get the fuck out a few hours ago myself.
So I sat and listened. Talking to Paul Kostabi was like getting a crash course history lesson in punk rock. He traveled fluidly from one subject to another. He was in the bands White Zombie, Psychotica and Youth Gone Mad, worked for Posh Boy Records, wrote and played with Joey Ramone, and his brother was Mark Kostabi who did the cover for Guns n' Roses "Use Your Illusion" albums. Wheeew, that was a lot to take in. I was actually overwhelmed at times, but we had the same taste in music, so that was refreshing.
Jay, Paul, Heidi and I sat around and talked for awhile about art, music, Dee Dee and the other Ramones, and we told them about Fat City. Paul gave us some CDs to check out and a DeeDeeRamone.net t-shirt. We started taking pictures of the art. I noticed that my favorite painting of Johnny Rotten was hanging on the wall. It was a cartoonish drawing of Johnny with "Rotten" in neon lights behind him and "Sex Pistols" written on the bottom. The funny thing about this painting is Johnny has his penis hanging out, well, it's drawn on over his pants. If I got the chance to interview Dee Dee, I wanted to ask him about that painting.
While I was talking to Heidi, Jay was talking to Paul. Paul goes over to the Johnny painting and says to Jay, "What do you think about this one?" "Oh, that's my sister's favorite." Paul takes it off the wall and says "Here you go." Then he hands Jay a piece from the LA Bug Man series. Heidi packed up the paintings, we said our good-byes and headed out on the cold hard streets of New York. I remember saying to Jay walking down St. Marks to our car, "I don't believe what we're fucking holding in our hands right now"... and to think I didn't want to go to the gallery.
Over the next few months, Jay and I were putting the Ramones tribute together. Jay was getting interviews with everybody. So many had so much to say about the Ramones, it was nice to hear. But not all the news was good. We found out that Joey's hall of fame statue was left on the podium after the rest of the Ramones left the stage, and a stagehand actually threw if off the stage to someone waiting in the wings. There was also some conflicting information as to why Joey's mom didn't take the stage to accept his award, but with the Ramones comes conflict and why should this be any different? Jay finally, after weeks of confusion and phone tag, got his interview with Dee Dee. Jay called me right after he hung up the phone. He told me he got the happy Dee Dee Ramone. He was in good spirits, working on his writing and art and he was clean. We were both really happy to hear this considering every issue of Fat City so far had contained some kind of memorial. At least for now we didn't have to worry about something stupid happening to Dee Dee.
Jay was basically done with all the interviews, he was just waiting to hear from Johnny and hopefully get in touch with Marky. I couldn't wait for this issue to hit the stands. I was sitting at work doing CD reviews and surfing the web. I went on the Punk Magazine website and checked out the message board. I saw R.I.P Dee Dee posted by John Holstrom. I can't remember exactly what the post said, something along the lines of Dee Dee was found dead last night by his wife Barbara... I frantically picked up the phone and called Jay. I didn't need any other confirmation -- this was from John Holstrom, founder of the mother of all Punk Magazines. Jay answered and I just blurted out "Dee Dee is Dead". I don't even remember what else I said. I did a search on the web and got confirmation from some other sites and yes Dee Dee was dead and it looked drug related.
I was crushed and hurt. Jay had just talked to him a few weeks ago and he was boasting that he was clean, he was happy, all seemed well. How could you do that to yourself now? I thought. You just had to go out like this didn't you, another punk rock victim. You were so much more than that. Now the media vultures will only harp on the fact that you died of a drug overdose. That one stupid mistake will now overshadow your music, art and writing. What a shame - but at least we knew the truth.
The Ramones tribute issue finally came out, and Jay decided to print the interview with Dee Dee as if he was still alive. That's the version he wanted him to see anyway. I thought it was a proper tribute.
So here I am, still struggling to find the words to put in my book review. You see, I have problems with the tribute section added onto the back of the book. Some of them don't seem genuine to me, partly because I know Dee Dee was not close to that many people from the Ramones days at the end of his life. No one is about to disrespect the dead, or speak ill, but if you pay close attention to the epilog in Dee Dee's own words you'll understand what I'm getting at. I'm sure Dee Dee wasn't the easiest person to work with, play with, or even have in your life. If he were still alive, he'd be the first to admit that. It would just seem more honest and genuine if some one came out and said, "Dee Dee was an asshole to me. I haven't talked to him for twenty years, but he was a great songwriter and musician, so I respect him for that." I'm sure a lot of people feel this way but instead wrote loving tributes. Hmm... makes you wonder.
Most people, especially those who Dee Dee was close to at the end of his life, were being honest and sincere and were (for me anyway) truly painful to read. While others seemed to be paying false tribute, saying what you're expected to say when someone you know dies. Maybe they did this out of guilt because they couldn't or wouldn't talk to Dee Dee when he was alive. Maybe they just wanted to see their name in print associated with someone who meant so much to so many. Who knows? It's a known fact the Ramones were not "a happy family," and I've heard several sides to several stories, some we printed and some we didn't (or couldn't) because they were said in confidence "off the record." I'm at a point when I don't know what to believe anymore.
But one thing I do believe is that Dee Dee Ramone was a misunderstood genius. We were lucky to have him around as long as we did. If we had lost him sooner, I never would have been introduced to his art and there would be no books by him for me to review. So I thank you Dee Dee, for showing me and the world that there was a bit more to you than "one two three four."