- 7 Inches ; All Ages ; Another Nickel ; Anywhere Else ; Aphid Hair ; Arthur ; Asleep on the Compost Heap ; Bachelor ; BangtheBore ; Beard ; Beyond The Implode (R.I.P.?) ; Birds ; Blues ; Boogie ; Bull ; Dancing ; Darnielle ; DCB ; Destination:Out ; Did Not Chart ; Diskant ; Dreaming ; Dusted ; Egg City ; Fog ; Flux ; Freq ; Garagepunk ; Garage Hangover ; Get Bent ; Gramophone ; Grant ; Gunslinger ; Honey Is Funny ; Hopper ; Jonathan ; KBD ; K-Punk ; Kulkarni ; Last Days (R.I.P.) ; Lexicon Devil ; LPCoverLover ; Mutant Sounds ; Nick Thunk :( ; Norman ; Oddbox ; Peel (John) ; Peel (Richard) ; Plan B (R.I.P) ; PSF ; Quietus ; Raven Sings ; Science ; Still Single ; Teleport City ; Terminal Escape ; Those Geese ; Ubu ; Upset ; WFMU ; XRRF.
Thursday, June 21, 2012
Dee Dee Ramone -
Surviving The Ramones
(Firefly Publishing, 1997)
“They say that the Chelsea Hotel is haunted. I agree. A dragon fly is flying around my room right now. A ‘she’ dragon. Like Connie, one of my demons from a long time ago.
It’s the beginning of the 90s now and I am fed up with it all. I am going to fight back. I give the dragon fly a look that could kill, but she shrugs it off. She’s in a frenzy now, flying at me from behind, then changing direction and flying straight at me. Trying to sucker me to look into the light. Fuck that. That ain’t gonna happen.
I am going to send every shitty memory I have of this hotel straight back to hell. I start a fire on the rug and come at her from behind. I set light to her head with another match, then watch her burn. Then I feel normal again. So I start to relax and stare at an unplugged fan, trying to will it to spin. Don’t fuck with me. If you’re experienced, I think you’ll understand.”
I remember once reading an interview with King Buzzo of The Melvins, in which he said something like, “all books about music are shit… except for DeeDee Ramone’s book, which is brilliant”. I think that says it all really.
I wasn’t expecting much from ‘Poison Heart’ when I first borrowed a copy from Leicester library a few years back. I was just bored and didn’t have much money, and I love The Ramones and like hoovering my way through pointless rock biographies, so… y’know, why not?
From the generic “sole audience = uncritical die-hard fans” cover design to the dread co-writing credit, nothing about this book exactly screams “raging outsider anti-literary masterpiece of some kind”, but…. well, that’s what I’m writing this list for, y’know. To let you know. For every hundred middle-aged rockin’ bozos who manage to make a few thousand bucks on a book deal, you only get one DeeDee Ramone. Hundred, did I say? Man, on this whole PLANET, you only get one DeeDee Ramone. That’s kinda the point.
The introduction quoted above was my first clue that this was gonna be something a bit different. (For the sake of brevity, I’ve left out a few additional paragraphs where DeeDee starts reminiscing about his ex-girlfriend Connie trying to kill him with a broken champagne bottle.)
Second clue comes when he opens chapter one, page one with “My mother was a drunken nutjob”, and by page two, when he starts threading his mother’s childhood memories into his own imagined account of what life must have been like for the people of Berlin during the war (“those were terrible times”), I knew this was going to be quite a read.
God only knows what the texts that comprise this book must have looked like before Veronica Kofman compiled/transcribed/edited/whatevered them into shape for publication, but she certainly deserves credit for turning in just about the most UN-ghost written co-authored autobiog ever to hit the shelves. I mean, seriously, it doesn’t read as if she’s done much more than just correct the spelling, as DeeDee poured out his unstoppable, stream of consciousness exegesis. No bland ‘scene-setting’ paragraphs, no fact-checking, no logical framework – this is 100% pure, unfiltered DeeDee experience.
Want to know about The Ramones? Who they were? What they did? How their personalities meshed and how/where/why they recorded their songs? Well, there’s some of that here, but only viewed through the lens of the extent to which DeeDee found the whole thing a continuous hassle. I think the first four albums whiz by in a couple of pages, because they were presumably kinda painless.
Want to know about the best ways to score GI-issue morphine vials in post-war Berlin though, or glam-rock knife-fights and feral drag queens on the streets of New York, or how a six year old feels going to see a double-bill of ‘The Mummy’ and ‘The Ten Commandments’? Step right up!
One of the best things about this book is that DeeDee is pretty ambivalent about The Ramones. He describes the things that struck him about the other members of the band when he met them (referring to them by their full Ramone names at all times, as in “Johnny Ramone always said..” or “the thing about Johnny Ramone was..”). But by the time they get to being a vaguely successful band, his attention drifts. He prefers thinking about other things. It kinda reads like he spent the next fifteen years being thrown on a bus and taken to places where he’d meet odd people and get into situations where it was hard for him to find drugs. Boy, did he ever hate singing “Warthog” though. Yeah, he didn’t like that at all. He makes that perfectly clear.
DeeDee writes plenty here about the ugly, dysfunctional relationships he seems to have kept getting mixed up in, and about the kind of squalor he tended to end up living in. But mainly he writes about taking drugs – that being pretty much what he did, besides being in The Ramones. All drugs, any drugs, it seems. He could never quite decide on a favourite, I guess. By the halfway point in the book, he reaches some kinda hilarious-although-it-really-shouldn’t-be state of mind wherein he seems to have decided that beginning the day with seven joints of his favourite weed and a case of beer is a basic human right, and that anyone asking him to do anything places an unbearable stress upon his fragile equilibrium. What do you mean you can’t get any cocaine in this stupid country? What the hell? But I need it now! And you’re making me sit in this room with just a bunch of alcohol while all these creepy journalists with suspicious eyes ask me questions, and now there are people phoning me in the middle of the DAY, hassling me about playing some bass part on some stupid song I wrote? Can you imagine? It was like living in hell! “And they made me play volleyball. It was a nightmare!”
We shouldn’t laugh really, but the way he writes this stuff just cracks me up – short, clipped sentences and weird non-sequiturs, demanding the reader’s full sympathy and understanding at all times as he basically describes his behaviour as an unmanageable, substance-abusing maniac as if it were the only rational course of action open to him, given the unbearable horrors he was faced with on a day to day basis. Ramones tours or periods of confinement in secure institutions – it all seems much the same to DeeDee, with about the same level of discomfort either way.
Sounds like it could degenerate into yr standard self-pitying rock star stuff, but there is a kind of wide-eyed, manic energy about DeeDee’s recollections of all this stuff that’s impossible to describe if you’ve not read it firsthand. Something about the way that he can barely remember which continent he was in half the time, but he seems to have perfect recall of precisely which clothes people were wearing at different points in time, where they bought their shoes, and which brand of beer he was drinking.
There are also numerous instances here where his writing just goes completely over the edge when you least expect it, opening up surreal vistas of what I can only describe as ‘cosmic horror’, filling late night readers’ heads with images of an apocalyptic swamp inferno / alligator attack that transpired when he and Marc Bell hitched a lift to a Florida gig with some mysterious character known only as ‘Zippy’ (“Yes, yes, yes, even Zippy needs a little vacation now and then”, DeeDee records him as saying, in a brilliant example of the kind of unlikely, garbled dialogue he attributes to other people throughout the book), or with shuddersome memories of tour manager Monte Melnick terrifying him into submission using hideous, inhuman ‘lamb noises’.
(Did you know that, shortly before his death, DeeDee published a ‘horror novel’ entitled “Chelsea Hotel Horror”, in which he himself was the central character, fighting his way through said hotel pursued by the undead spectres of all his dead punk rock comrades..? Sounds like some pretty grim business, but nonetheless, do any publishers out there KNOW how much I want to read this book..? Trying to find a copy from the original print run has proved a dead-end, so please, whoever holds the rights these days – make it happen. If you’re worried about sales, I’ll personally guarantee, say, 50% of the print-run.)
One of the things you’ve got to love about DeeDee is that although he essentially lived the life of an archetypal ‘self-destructive punk dude’, he never contrived to become that character, however much he might have traded off it in his later years. Throughout this book, he wishes he could walk away from the whole thing. All he wants to do is walk around on a sunny day with a smile on his face, looking at things, talking to people, being normal. He fantasises about the life he might have had as a guy who delivers bread to a supermarket, looking wistfully at these ‘regular’, everyday activities as if they were part of a glamorous, alien world that he’ll never be a part of. I guess they offer a glimpse of the order and safety that might have been his, if his life hadn’t been an ugly mess of chaos from day one.
The mantle of the ‘punk dude’, the ‘druggy outsider rock star guy’, has been picked up so many times over the years by so, so many healthy, well-adjusted people that it means nothing. What DeeDee spent his life clumsily trying to make us understand is that, for him, it was never a decision. When you’re a dumb, bullied kid living in poverty with a violent alcoholic mother, things like this are not really ‘decisions’, any more than the feeling you get when you listen to a Stooges record is a ‘decision’, or being driven to hang out with other misfits who like The Stooges because there’s nobody else who’ll talk to you, and trying to fit in by starting a band with them, is a ‘decision’.
If life had allowed him a shot at it, maybe DeeDee would have been a supermarket delivery guy, or a baker, or whatever. Would he have been a totally kick-ass, legendary baker? Probably not, he’s a bit too all-over-the-place and irresponsible for that, but he would’ve done ok. He probably wouldn’t have written amazing songs like ‘Poison Heart’ and ‘53rd & 3rd’, and he probably wouldn’t have written this astounding book. But then, he also probably wouldn’t have got stabbed or passed out in public places quite so much, probably wouldn’t have been committed to so many mental institutions, wouldn’t have sold his ass on the street for dope money*, and wouldn’t have died of an overdose at the age of 50.
So… I guess what I’m saying is, that’s something for all you ‘punks’ to think about before you put on the leather jacket and take the path of most resistance. At the heart of your record collection, there’re some guys like Douglas Colvin who didn’t select this from a list of options. Rejecting the kind of grounded normality that they never even had a chance to touch is… fine if you wanna, but just remember that you’re basically just doing a Live Action Role Play of the people who weren’t given a choice in the matter.
Jesus, what the hell am I talking about? How did I end up going off on that particular tangent? Anyway, I think we’ve temporarily lost sight of the fact that, above all, this book is A HOOT. It’s hilarious, it’s action-packed, it’s incredibly weird, you can read it again and again and still find new stuff to marvel at. Get it. Get all these books in fact. Learn from them, and stare contentedly at their spines on the shelf. They will make you better at liking music.
*Allegedly. Not something he chooses to tell us about in this book, which is fair enough. ‘Please Kill Me’ has the dirt if yr particularly interested.