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Liberty Island, New York, USA 03.10.90 (Chris Stein & Joey Ramone)

While pursuing a sporadic solo career, he s also been painting, acting (he recently appeared with fellow musical iconoclasts Jello Biafra and Maynard James Keenan and, of course, Corey Feldman in Steven Grasse s Bikini Bandits Go to Hell), and writing.In 1998, Thunder s Mouth Press published his autobiography, Poison Heart: Surviving the Ramones; it s since been re-released as Lobotomy. This summer, Thunder s Mouth put out his second book a horror novel, natch called Chelsea Horror Hotel. It s a semi-autobiographical tale about his post-Ramones years in the hardscrabble underworld of lower Manhattan, specifically his stay in the infamous Hotel Chelsea, the seedy manse where, among other ignoble excitements, Dylan Thomas drank himself to death and Sid Vicious and Nancy Spungen spent the last months of their short lives.

The book s gritty depictions of drugs, bodily fluids and graphic violence are enlivened by Dee Dee s imagination (he shoots the shit, for example, with the ghosts of dead friends Vicious, Stiv Bators and Johnny Thunders) and prose that could charitably be called primitive. And with its telepathic dogs, levitating undead girlfriends, and musty basement satanic rituals, it s a funny and scarifying Halloween read.

Dee Dee has since relocated to the West Coast, and we called him at his home in L.A. to talk about his writing, his music, and his punk rock friends. Sometimes lucid, sometimes rambling, sometimes a little, uh, drowsy, often a little paranoid and at times quite poignant, he makes for an interesting, if discursive chat. Dee Dee s songs, paintings, and books evince primitive cool, an almost child-like guilelessness and a hard-won street-savvy all at once. Talking to the man himself, one sees these qualities are readily apparent.

— So tell me about the novel. This is your second book; do you have the writing bug?
— Yeah, I like to write. I just finished my third book. And the second one, Chelsea Horror Hotel, I wrote it when I was living in New York. I was living in Europe for a long time, then I moved back to New York for about a year and a half. When I was there I had an apartment in the Chelsea. Well, two of em I moved twice there. And, um, the book kind wrote itself.
It s kind of the way it feels, living there [in the Chelsea]. It s a very eerie place. And it s always had a lot of paranormal experiences there. It s got that kind of atmosphere. Just the architecture alone is kind of conducive to, y know, mystery. The chaos of living on 23rd Street is a story in itself. I always like to write, y know? I wrote a lot in the Ramones when I was in that band. When I left I put out, like four solo albums at least. I see there s this book, Glue, out. I wanna get it.

— The Irvine Welsh book?
— Yeah. I didn t know who wrote it, but it seems like he s gotta be a cool writer.

— Yeah, he s the guy who wrote Trainspotting.
— Oh, okay. I saw that movie. That was really good. I liked that.

— Seems like you might be able to relate to a few scenes in that movie.
— (Ruefully) Yeah. So, y know, I think anybody who s overcome some kind of oppression feels like they have almost like an innocent intellect. It s gotta come out somehow. They have something to say. Which is funny. When people are young, they always have something to say. So, the way I wrote Chelsea Horror Hotel, I wrote autobiographical and fiction. Y know, I thought, like someone has to capture New York at this moment, like, just the way I see it.

— I was wondering if you could talk a little about that. I read Lobotomy too, and it seems like there are a lot of similar situations in the two books. How fictional was Chelsea Horror Hotel?
— Yeah. A lot of it is true. Y know, that guy chasing me around the lobby who d cut his hand in the restaurant. It s just insane, y know?

— No satanic sacrifices involving bathtubs full of piranhas?
— Well, that I made up. Although I m sure something like that has happened down there. But I didn t see that. I ve walked around the basement, and I drew that map in the book. I used to go down there just to look at things....there are a lot of rooms. I went down there a few times just to explore.

— Talk about the differences between writing songs and writing books. I see a similar aesthetic in Chelsea Horror and songs like «53rd and 3rd» or «I don’t Wanna Go Down to the Basement.»
— Yeah, well the book was a lot more involved. I guess that like if you compare my [novel] writing to my [song] writing it s just the same character in a grander situation, like a book is. And then, a whole album, some people can use albums as a storytelling vehicle. I like that a lot. And I think I ve gotten close.

— Your songs are usually pretty autobiographical.
— Yeah, but I ve never gotten like a whole album concept....I don’t think I m inspired to do that anymore.

— Yeah?
— No. Like some people say, Oh, I have something to say! Well, sometimes I feel like, I have to shut up! (Laughs). And, I just can t force myself. I wrote some punk rock songs, recently, new ones, and they do seem like parodies of stuff I ve done. But I don’t wanna do anything else, though. I m still writing about lobotomies and the dope is my friend and....it s really crazy stuff. I don’t know what s making me feel like that, but it feels like maybe I ve done that enough.
I m painting a lot. That s brand new. Finally, I wanna take some lessons from this graffiti artist, LA2. I have my paintings at http://www.follingallery.com/ that s Mark Kostabi and Paul Kostabi s gallery. And, I paint with them too. I ve done, I guess, seven paintings with Mark. But I don’t just paint, like, I paint my own painting on his painting. [And] I did the line drawings in my book…

— I liked those…
— (Seems genuinely flattered). Thank you! And then [Mark Kostabi] paints the inside of [the drawings]. Or Barbara paints it. And then we paint the paintings together by mail or by being together sometimes.

— You re a Renaissance man.
— Then I moved to L. A. We had a fan scene, taking dope. It s like a punk art fan scene. Now, if we did an album, we would wanna do a horror album. And the album cover, we have John, it s a cartoon of the album, the story of the album, and it s called " Horror Hospital. " Unfortunately, I saw a Horror Hospital movie not too long ago.

— Oh yeah?
— Yeah, I didn t know they had one. It was really good. It was English, but mine is totally different. Mine is about Sid Vicious again he gets kidnapped going to buy dope on the street in 1978. I made this up. This didn t really happen, of course. And they kidnap him and take him to this institution in upstate New York…

— I was gonna ask you about people like Sid and Johnny Thunders. It seems like those guys still loom pretty large on your life.
— (Emphatically) I miss them. When I saw The Filth and the Fury movie, it really got to me, y know, like when John Lydon was talking about Sid. I didn t really know he cared; I didn t know John to be that emotional. He was a prankster to me. He was always sneaking up behind me, scaring me behind my back early in the morning. And then [in the movie] I saw Sid was sitting in a lawn chair or something in Hyde Park when he was giving one interview. He looked so doomed, y know? Back then, he couldn t have been really touring with the Pistols. I don’t know when that was shot.

— I think he might have been in the Flowers of Romance at that point.
— Maybe! Right? He looked like that stage, right? Still young but really screwed up on dope, which is kind of hard-core for people then, in England. It wasn t very normal.

— And you were his idol, yeah?
— Yeah. He really looked up to me, and he loved the Ramones, and that caused him a lot of grief, being in the Pistols. Because of the fashion they had their own look and their own ideas about everything, and they always felt like he was....So yeah, y know, I miss Joey, y know?

— I was gonna ask you about that. I know there was some bad feelings between you guys at time.
— Horrible, y know?

— Did you get to talk with him before he died?
— No! He wasn t my friend anymore. He didn t like me. He became like a maniac. And, it s really unfortunate. I could never really hold anything against him. I should, cos they really went as far as you could go to hurt me. And especially Joey. And his family.

— What did he do?
— Well, he constantly slandered me, put me down, ruined every opportunity I could, selfish as could be, kept everything for himself. They always played me down like I was some helpless lunatic. But instead, everybody I work with has nothing but the best stuff to say about me. And [the other Ramones] never accomplished anything on their own. Zero. And none of them can stand on their own two feet artistically. But so what. Well, they hurt me for my ability to do it myself, y know? Alright, but the guy s dead, y know? And, um, I guess that s where being sentimental or whitewashing...I d rather do that than trample on his grave, y know? After he died, they re having this concert, the Ramones, and I wasn t asked to play! I mean, come on.

— Do you talk to Johnny or Marky anymore?
— I won t anymore, ever again. No, I don’t have any reason to. They haven t ever talked to me. I ve been on my own. I don’t have a family, I don’t have anything, so y know what? I made a new life for myself. I don’t feel like sharing it with them if they don’t wanna share it with me.

— Fair enough. It seems like you have really mixed feelings about being a Ramone.
— Well, I should add that I feel very grateful to have been in the Ramones and I know how lucky I am, y know? I can t help their behavior.

— Well, what do you think about this legacy that seems finally being cemented into place; after 25 years they re being recognized as true rock legends?
— [He ignores the question and continues his rant.] Well, look at the track record. The first Ramones biography [Jim Bessman s Ramones: An American Band (St. Martin s)]. Was I interviewed for that book? Look at the Rhino records biography [the liner notes of Hey! Ho! Let’s Go: The Anthology]. Was I interviewed for that? Y know, I could go on and on and on.

— So that s why you wrote Lobotomy.
— Yeah! I told [Bessman] to go fuck himself, y know, when that book came out, running me down like that, putting my ex-wife in there to comment on me that bitter thing. Saying there was nothing wrong with Phil Spector. Oh my God, y know? I mean, he s genius, I love his music, but…

— Tell me that Phil Spector story.
— Well, y know, like, I guess now, from what I ve heard he s okay. He stopped drinking, and I talked to [pioneering KROQ DJ] Rodney Bingenheimer, and he s like a new person. But, y know, his best friend Joey sued him with Ronnie Spector. They spent years putting a lawsuit against him. Like the thing is…

— Did Spector really hold the Ramones at gunpoint when you guys recorded End of the Century with him?
— Yeah, he did!

— Is it true that you didn t play on that album?
— I don’t remember playing very much on it. I m sure I didn t play on every track. I don’t like that album. I didn t write anything good on it, unfortunately. That was my worst effort.

— Getting back to the book, there s a lot of graphic violence in it. Does it serve as a way to exorcise some of your demons?
— At that time, that s how I honestly perceived New York blood and grease on the sidewalk. With a disco downstairs in front of my window. Sometimes it was another kind of yuppie disco at night, with a dating place. And every coupla nights people would have a bad fight, and the stabbings, over girls. It s a pretty rowdy area. The dirtiness, the garbage, and all that. I was thinking I wanted to get my dog shoes to wear, y know? Like some kind of like protection for his feet, it was so dirty there! And, um, y know, I guess it s cos of overcrowding and corruption and New York is what it is. But, I don’t see it like that here in L.A.

— So you like it a lot better out there?
— Yeah.

— Tell me about Bikini Bandits.
— Oh, okay! I really like the director of that movie. And making the movie was a lot of fun.

— You play the Pope?
— Huh?

— You play the Pope?
— Yeah.

— The part you were born to play.
— And, uh, I like Philadelphia [where it was filmed]! It s really pretty there, and the people were really nice. The girls were all really pretty in the movie and it was fun to be around them all day.

— Who else was in the movie?
— Um, that guy Maynard from Tool...

— Oh yeah?
— He plays the devil. He turned out to be a really nice guy. I rode home with him on the plane and I went over to his house for a while because he has two cats. I told him I can t get a dog anymore, but I wish I could get a Chihuahua and he said his cats look like chihuahuas and they did [Laughs]. But just being around him, I realized that the music business never gets any better, whether you re in a little band or a big band or whatever.

— I was gonna ask you about that. What do you think about the music business today? Are there any current bands that you like?
— I like Backyard Babies. They sound like they re taking from every band: the Ramones, the Stooges, and that s alright. But even D-Generation! Y know? For new stuff, I don’t know. When I was in Philadelphia I got to talk to Schoolly D over the phone. I used to always really like this guy, y know? And, um, I started getting fantasies of making a rap album with him. I don’t know.

— Would you call yourself Dee Dee King again?
— Well...maybe, yeah! I didn t think of who I would be yet. Maybe not, y know. But the thing is, music has me totally disinterested because of the music business. Y know, like, the last couple of years I dealt with it, I ve seen people at their lowest in the industry. Ripping me off right and left, like every record company I dealt with.

— Do you play a lot of Ramones songs in your solo sets?
— That s pretty much 33 Ramones... and Johnny Thunders songs.

— Come to Boston sometime! I d like to see you play.
— I d like to! I d like to come up there, but I wouldn t know where to play!

— There are lots of places.
— Well, I always like comin to Boston. I miss that place. The Ramones sorta started there, y know? There wasn t any other cool place to play, except Toronto. I don’t wanna get an agent, but I wanna play in the fall. I might wanna do an odd show. If you have a place you think you could suggest to play and wanna call somebody, would you?

— Sure. [I do later still no word on upcoming gigs]. I guess wrapping up, in his intro to your first book, Legs McNeil calls you " the last...authentic rock star...an authentic bad guy who got over, and in so doing, forever changed the face of rock and roll. " What do you have to say about that?
— Well that s pretty flattering, y know, like that can make anybody feel pretty cool. [Laughs] I have to thank him for that. And I guess maybe I am! And I think the reason why is that the whole [rock bad guy] situation is outdated. People are more sophisticated now, and life isn t as innocent, for whatever that s worth, y know? It s a more calculated existence. And...I can t say the word right antucated? Antwicated?

— Antiquated?
— Yeah. That s what rock & roll starts off sorta like, y know? No one in their right mind would really do it, I don’t think. I mean that s the only way I could look back on it. I d say...if you really know the whole truth of what it involves. Especially being in a band like the Ramones. I don’t know what I could imagine, but like...playing with Janet Jackson on a tour, and I was the bass player, and ridin around in a really good situation, making $5,000 a week.

— Maybe you could be one of her dancers.
— Well, y know...I don’t know. I have so much work! I m goin crazy. If I do anything, I might act a little again. And if you re someone like me, like an outlaw, you ll never fit in. I dug my own grave, I m excommunicated from having a normal life, which means how am I gonna get by?
Well, as I said before, I know how lucky I am. I have my Ramones publishing [royalties]. I really worked for what I got. I really risked my life for it I worked my ass off. I mean, there are no " hours " in a rock band. You just work all day, every day, year after year. But I wouldn t recommend it now, cos there s just too many ways you could get in trouble, get killed, get hurt, end up on drugs, end up defenseless mentally because you don’t form normal defenses in life. Once it s over, you won t feel like coming down to earth and being a regular Joe on the street, you know? Which is wrong because then you re making you life more harder. That s what happened to me.
It s very easy if you re in show business, whether you re an actor or something like that, if you re a young person you re gonna end up dysfunctional or messed up. If you re moving all around all the time, every day, your touring, y know, you re gonna end up alone, pretty much, like I did. And I m only starting to build up friendships now again, y know? You can end up unpopular. I ended up really being a hated person. Nobody really knew why I left the Ramones. When I left the Ramones, everybody hated my guts!
Maybe I m just a cranky old man, I don’t know. But....they say you gotta live the blues to play the blues, y know? And, I guess the same thing is with rock & roll. I can t imagine anyone wanting to be a street kid or a dope addict to get the qualifications to write these songs.

— Well, it seems like you re happier now. You re painting and acting. Are you in a better mood these days, besides being so busy?
— Yeah. I like being busy. But when I m playing in the band, it turns me into a monster, having to fight all the time with everybody. To fight for this and get that and scare the guys in the band and, y know, the whole thing, y know? I was thinking maybe I should play with some older people. But there s nobody left! [Laughs.]

— Yeah. That s kinda true. What about Iggy or somebody like that?
— Well, I feel sorry for Iggy, y know? Maybe he s happy, though.

— Have you heard his new album?
— No, I really want to get that, though.

— It s pretty funny.
— I ve been wanting to get it for two weeks now. But, uh, I know Iggy s doing really well, he doesn t tour like he used to. He just plays select shows. I think he always has a young girlfriend, which is important to him. He likes that. [Both laugh.] But he probably doesn t have any friends.

— You don’t think?
— No, I don’t think so. He s probably one of those types like me [laughs]. But you know what? He s free. He could probably just pick up and move to Lucerne tomorrow. That s in Switzerland. That s what I would do for my next move.

— Well, why don’t you?
— [Laughs] Well, I got all these responsibilities! I have eight kids, three ex-wives....things aren t what they seem for me, y know? I ve always have had a lot of responsibilities to take care of. So that s what I kind of envy about [Iggy]. I think the last kind of Bohemian existence I had was before I got married again. I went and moved to Amsterdam for those years, I moved to London for a while. At least I got to do that again, y know. Just live like a bum, [laughs] live out of a suitcase, not have a job. It was great. But, y know, I am happy. I m a pretty happy guy.

Mike Miliard, www.thephoenix.com

 
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