When friends, fans and associates heard the news of Dee Dee Ramone’s death Thursday, the expected reaction of surprised sorrow was compounded by the fact that now two of the original members of the group that lit the fuse for the punk explosion no longer walk among us.
Although Wednesday evening marked a tremendous loss to the world of punk rock (see “UPDATE: Dee Dee Ramone Found Dead In Los Angeles” ), Dee Dee and the Ramones as a whole are forever ingrained into music’s legacy.
“Dee and I started the Ramones in 1974; I have been his friend since 1969,” said guitarist Johnny in a statement. “For 33 years, we have been through a lot. This is very shocking to me.
“He was a star and the most influential punk rock bassist. I believe he has influenced every kid playing bass that saw him perform … He was my friend and I will always miss him.”
Coming a mere 14 months after Joey Ramone succumbed to lymphatic cancer (see “Punk Pioneer Joey Ramone Dead At 49” ), Dee Dee’s passing brings even more grief for those in the Ramones’ inner circle.
“I was still working out the final details on Joey’s headstone when I got the shocking word that another brother in our extended family was gone,” said Mickey Leigh, Joey Ramone’s brother. “For me, he was one of the greatest rock and roll songwriters alive. Today, sadly, another life becomes legend. My heartfelt sympathies go out to his wife, family and friends.”
“On top of Joey’s [passing], it’s not very good news,” said Hilly Krystal, owner of New York’s punk launching pad, CBGB, who last saw the late bassist at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony in March. “I was shocked and it came as quite a surprise. I haven’t seen him in a while, but he was always very friendly, aside from [his] obvious problems. I guess he was troubled, which is why he quit the band in the first place. He was always a good songwriter, and I think was just starting to get serious about it again.”
“I learned the news Thursday and it broke my heart,” wrote 14-year-old
Brendan, from Braintree, Massachusetts (see “You Tell Us: Remembering Dee Dee Ramone”). “Dee Dee Ramone was one of the greatest songwriters of punk rock music, practically its inventor. His death is a tragic loss to the music world. I think I can speak for many when I say music will never be the same without him. At least we can all hope and pray that Dee Dee and Joey are together again, smiling down.”
“Playing [the Ramones collection] All the Stuff (and More) Volume II, and drinking Wild Turkey still doesn’t ease the pain,” mourned Arp, 40, from Phillipsburg, New Jersey. “I was catatonic when Joey died, now I’ve gone mental. So long Dee Dee, and thanks.”
Dee Dee Ramone left behind fond impressions of him as an immature but likable workhorse even after parting company with the band in the late ’80s who lived fast to the punk ideals.
“Dee Dee Ramone was punk rock,” said longtime Ramones manager Gary Kurfirst in a statement. “I’m really going to miss him. He was truly a unique individual and there will never be anyone like him. I’ll never forget Dee Dee’s classic acceptance speech at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame ceremony, when he walked up to the microphone and said, ’I would like to thank myself, and congratulate myself, and if I could, I would pat myself on the back.’ That was Dee Dee, direct and to the point.”
Ramones anecdotes from their early club days were too numerous to count, but one good-natured memory stands above the others for Hilly Krystal. “He had this girlfriend at that time, Connie,” he recounted. “She was tough, and prone, after a couple of drinks, to haul off and whack him. He wouldn’t hit her back, so we’d pretty regularly have to pull her off him. He was a big kid then, and I guess he always was.”
“He was sort of a wacky guy who wrote great songs,” said Deborah Harry, whose band Blondie, like the Ramones, Talking Heads and Television emerged from Krystal’s club. “He was a really good songwriter, though a little
self-destructive. He was always nice to me, and we always had a good time together. He was a lot of fun.
“He had this sort of manic energy,” she added. “I always thought that the Ramones were this tactical force, like the Marines jumping out of a plane or something. They had this focus and energy that I really admired.”
Music journalist Gil Kaufman remembered his conversations with Ramone as “all over the place” customary of almost any chat but “really up.” Kaufman conducted one of the last interviews with Dee Dee in March, for the revised liner notes of a Rhino reissue of 1983’s Subterranean Jungle, set for release along with three other Ramones LPs in August.
“I spoke to the two producers of the album, Johnny, their manager, Marky … and of all the people I spoke to, he had the clearest memories of the [Ramones’ heyday]. He remembered everything about the old days, especially the Malibu Diner Deli, where they used to eat regularly. They would always order shrimp cocktails even for breakfast just because they could.”
“Sometimes I wish I could go back in time and have a nice dinner with the band,” Ramone told Kaufman, who noted that Dee Dee was probably the most well-liked among the bandmembers. Johnny and Joey couldn’t stand each other, Kaufman said, and Marky could be distant, but everyone (almost) always loved Dee Dee and he always loved them, to the end.
“There’s nothing wrong with anybody in the Ramones, I like them better than anyone else,” Ramone said.
The Ramones had made a little bit of money from their previous releases by
the time of Subterranean Jungle’s release. While the other three guys moved to Manhattan, Dee Dee remained in Queens, becoming the “richest teenager in the neighborhood.” Still buying pot from the same guy in the schoolyard, but making the scene in a shiny, new Camaro.
While Dee Dee’s friends and fans sought solace from the fond memories, others equated the loss of half the original Ramones as more sand sifting through punk’s hourglass.
“I’m too sad to even write straight right now,” Daniel, 23, from Brazil wrote to MTV News. “Joey and Dee Dee made a greater contribution to Western culture than most people, even fans, believe. Their work will never fade away like they did.”
“To lose Dee Dee so soon after Joey is unbearable,” noted 42-year-old Lynette from Detroit. “Punk’s not dead yet, but its pulse is getting weaker.”
Dee Dee was more than the Ramones’ bassist. After leaving the Ramones, he continued to write songs for them, formed another band (the Chinese Dragons) and launched a solo career that spawned two albums and a best-of set.
When not strapped with a bass, Dee Dee authored two books: the autobiography Lobotomy: Surviving The Ramones; and a fictionalized account of his last few years in New York, Chelsea Horror Hotel, in which he describes being tormented by the ghosts of friends Sid Vicious, Johnny Thunders and Stiv Bators, as well as various specters that supposedly haunt the infamous hotel. He was working on a third book, Legend of a Rock Star, about his post-Ramones career, when he died.
Dee Dee was also a painter, specializing in a bright, cartoon-ish style, who’s had several pieces of his work displayed in galleries. Additionally, he was a poet, reciting original work at a three-week festival celebrating the Beat Generation, held at the Knitting Factory in Los Angeles in late April.
Throughout his other endeavors, the music didn’t stop, though. He and his solo band were scheduled to play a show at San Francisco’s Pound SF on Saturday (June 8).
“He was a little kid who would get into trouble sometimes, but he always had a great heart, and he was incredibly creative,” said longtime Ramones songwriter and producer Daniel Rey, who claimed Dee Dee sounded “better than ever” when he spoke with him by phone a week ago. The last Rey saw him in person was last month, when he, Dee Dee and C.J. Ramone played a set together at New York’s Roseland.
“He was painting and he was really enjoying that,” Rey continued. “He was writing books and he was going to start working on another record … Dee Dee was always creative and liked to put stuff out — sometimes too quickly, but he always had to be doing something. He just needed to work.”
“Dee Dee Ramone was the Ramones,” summed up Nicole, 15, from Salisbury, North Carolina. “He was everything, more than any of the other Ramones. He was an artist, writer and musician, everything I want to be. I always wanted to meet him. I used to think about what I would say or ask. Now I’ll never have the chance.”