Over-intellectualizing about a subject as pure and simple in its perfection as the Ramones sort of defeats their entire purpose, now doesn’t it? The proverbial “dancing about architecture,” as Steve Martin (by way of Frank Zappa) might well say.
Consequently, I’ve shied away from most books and studies concerning Joey, Johnny, Dee Dee and Co. that have appeared over the years. So when a copy of Vera Ramone King’s Poisoned Heart came my way, I cracked it open with a wee bit of trepidation, I do admit.
Then I noticed the pictures reproduced therein: Gloriously home-spun, fun-filled images from a louder, faster and yes, simpler time when a band could get up at the crack of noon, rocket out of Queens in a rental van, and spend the next couple of decades seeing and then conquering all the world in all of its magic, Kodachrome’d glory.
But it was ultimately Vera’s words, in their own giddy and, yep, Gabba way, that slowly drew me. Like only Monte A. Melnick in his own On The Road With The Ramones book before, Vera WAS there for it all, right by Dee Dee’s side, in that van with the rest of The Little Band That Could squashed ’cross the very next seat. And throughout Poisoned Heart, she tells it all. In a candid, but totally non-catty way which happily – and most Ramone-appropriately, need I say – reads more like a vintage “16 Magazine” Tell-All than some fancy-pant-pressed, stuck-uppity University account.
It certainly takes a special kind of woman to carry the Ramone surname, and Vera was, and remains, one of the few and the proud. I was most happy to have spoken with her, and can honestly think of no finer way to celebrate the monumental man’s birthday…
I met him upstairs at Max’s Kansas City. At the bar hanging out, just checking out new bands. He wasn’t playing that night and walked in and stood next to me. I knew immediately who he was but didn’t want to seem overly impressed, and I think that’s what got him interested: I wasn’t falling over him and was probably a bit more of a challenge for him.
What was your immediate impression?
He was extremely good looking, and finding a different girl every night for himself wouldn’t be much of an effort for him if he wanted. He was the “heartthrob” of the Ramones, and everyone knew that.
He started talking to me, and soon he had me laughing and liking him. He had that sexy, raspy voice and was very charming and almost a little shy. He wasn’t loud or obnoxious or full of himself, and I was immediately swept off my feet.
We hung out for quite a while. He asked for my number and called me the next day and said he was leaving to go to London, and asked if he could see me when he got back. Of course I said YES!!
He called me from London a few days later and told me when he would be returning to the States, and would call me as soon as he got back. And he did. After that we were very rarely apart, and basically became attached to one another. And soon I was living with him at [Ramones manager] Danny Fields’ loft in lower Manhattan.
As you married Dee Dee in September of 1978, the Ramones were just entering what can now be seen as the peak of their initial success. They were recording their classic work, touring North America and Europe on a regular basis, and were about to star in the film Rock ‘n’ Roll High School. In fact, you joined the band on the road whenever possible during those years, correct?
I basically quit my day job, and we traveled everywhere together.
It’s hard to be on the road without your loved ones, and the rest of the Ramones also brought along their girlfriends, and later, wives. They functioned better with their significant others, and could stay out on the road for longer periods of time. It just became a way of life for us. We were young and could do it. We didn’t really know any different.
In 1980, the Ramones’ landmark End Of The Century album was released. Produced by Phil Spector, it was supposed to help establish the band as part of the rock mainstream. This, sadly, never happened.
I think it was a big disappointment for the whole band. It wasn’t bitterness; just depressing for all of us. They tried to break out of the underground scene, and they just could never break it to the big time like the others. So, sadly, they just sort of accepted the fact and did what they did best: Play, and record new albums.
Well, the band didn’t like the idea of a Ramone straying from the band, and there were some things said that Dee Dee didn’t like. But his passion for all different kinds of music, from the blues to hip hop, was not unusual. He needed a challenge. Playing the same set night after night became boring for him at times. So he needed to try something different, new, and exciting.
It was “Funky Man” that he wrote first, and when Chris Williamson from Profile Records wanted him to record it, the band didn’t want him to use the last name “Ramone” and didn’t want to be associated with rap. It was simply put: “RAMONES DON’T RAP”! So he needed to come up with another last name.
One of the choices was Dee Dee T, and the other was Dee Dee King. We were such huge fans of Stephen King and his work that this was the ultimately the name that was chosen. Dee Dee had just written the song “Pet Sematary” for Stephen’s latest movie, and we both agreed that he was gonna be Dee Dee King and that was that!
Soon afterwards, Dee Dee officially left the Ramones. However, for many years they continued recording his songs. This is a subject – the Ramones’ songwriting – that I feel is never given proper respect and attention.
Would you consider Dee Dee the primary writer in the Ramones? Conventional wisdom is that Joey wrote the band’s more pop-like songs, and Dee Dee the more hard-edged, “candid” material. True?
Absolutely! Joey wrote more heartfelt songs and ballads. Dee Dee could do the hard-edged songs like “Wart Hog”, and then do something like “Baby Doll.” His range was wide, and depending on his mood resulted in what kind of song he wrote at any particular time.
As the Eighties ended, so did your marriage. You never saw Dee Dee again?
We stayed in touch on almost a daily basis for years after the separation, and neither one of us actually filed for divorce till five years later. It just wasn’t going to work for us no matter how hard we tried, and we had to face the reality. It was time for both of us to let go and start a new chapter in both our lives.
I remember seeing him on TV receiving his Rock and Roll Hall of Fame award [in 2002], and I was SO proud of him. After so many years, they finally received the respect and recognition they worked so hard for.
A couple of months after that I heard the news that he had passed, and I felt that at least he lived long enough to get the award and now his time here was over. It was a very sad time for me.
It was he who wrote “Too Tough To Die”, and now he was gone.
Vera Ramone King is still right Here though,
and Poisoned Heart remains Absolutely Required Reading, one and all.
Happy Birthday, Dee Dee !