Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Lobotomy: Surviving the Ramones, by Dee Dee Ramone with Veronica Kaufman

(pb; 1997, 2000: autobiography)

From the back cover:

"Lobotomy is the most lurid and unlikely temperance tract yet from the underbelly of rock 'n' roll. On a wild rollercoaster ride from his f**ked-up childhood in Berlin and Munich to his lonely, methadone-quaffing stay at a cheap hotel in Earl's Court and newfound peace on the straight and narrow, Dee Dee Ramone catapults us into the raw world of sex, addiction, and two-minute songs. It isn't pretty. With the velocity of a Ramones song, Lobotomy rockets through headlining days at CBGB's to the breakup of the Ramones' happy family with an unrelenting backbeat of hate and squalor: His girlfriend ODs; running buddy Johnny Thunders steals his ode to heroin, 'Chinese Rocks'; Sid Vicious shoots up using toilet water; and a pistol-wielding Phil Spector holds the band hostage in Beverly Hills. Hey! Ho! Let's go!"

Review:

Born to a German ex-go-go-dancer and an American Army soldier (who was twenty-one years older than his wife) in 1951, Douglas Colvin -- who later, in his teens, would become Dee Dee Ramone -- had a rough life. Both his parents were raging alcoholics, his father more physically abusive than his nutso mother. A sensitive, hyperactive kid, he was shooting heroin by his early teens, while revering bands like The Beatles (Colvin took his later name, Ramone, from Paul McCartney's early non de plume, Paul Ramone), the Troggs, the Kinks, The Beach Boys, the Small Faces, The Hollies, the Walker Brothers, The Who, and the Rolling Stones.

When his mother finally left his father in the mid- to late-Sixties, Dee moved to Queens, New York, with his mother and his younger sister, Beverly. Forest Hills, Queens, was just as rough as Pirmasens, Germany, in a different way: it was there that Dee discovered the Stooges, and the New York Dolls.

It wasn't long before Dee befriended, and banded with, Joey (who initially was the Ramones' drummer, but later became lead vocalist) and Johnny (guitar). After a few line-up changes, the Ramones -- whose members adopted the surname "Ramone" -- were: Joey (vocals), Tommy (drums), Johnny (guitarist), and Dee (bass). It wasn't long before they were playing gigs, alongside up-&-coming bands like Blondie. Initially, they didn't know much about being musicians: Dee didn't even know how to tune a guitar, or read sheet music. As Dee writes, they were all social misfits, f**k-ups, who somehow, over time, became cool.

Tommy Ramone, their drummer, who was tired of the rock 'n' roll life, left the band after the Ramones' third album, Rocket to Russia (1977). He was replaced by hard-partying, volatile Marc Bell (aka, "Marky Ramone").

According to Dee, life in the Ramones was less fun than it seemed. Their tour manager, Monte Melnick, along with Johnny Ramone, pretty much told the other Ramones what to do. And all of them liked to party hard -- Dee and Marc, especially. (In later years, Joey became an out-of-control alcoholic.) Dee, who wrote or co-wrote a good number of the band's songs, often felt like he was being bossed around by those who were doing the least amount of work. Yet, for all their neuroses and faults, they complemented each other musically: when one member had a problem finishing a song -- whether it was writer's block, or a lack of musical expertise -- one or several of the other Ramones could step in and help the first member finish it. They were "bruddas," as Dee repeatedly writes, tight and dysfunctional as any crazy family.

Dee left the band in 1989, shortly after the release of their Brain Drain album. He'd been in The Ramones for seventeen years. During all of that time, he'd been a miserable junkie, trapped by fame -- it was terrifying to encounter many of the band's "fans," and he was constantly bullied by the other band members. Shortly before he left The Ramones, he recorded a rock-rap album called Standing in the Spotlight under the name Dee Dee King, which alienated his bandmates (they thought Ramones fans would hate it). The solo album sold well, and received favorable reviews from many music critics.

CJ Ramone became The Ramones' bassist, while Dee wandered through a mid-life drug haze. He was aware that he needed to stop using heroin, but his own personality -- as well as other druggies around him -- thwarted his efforts. During this brief period, a good number of his friends died, among them: Stiv Bator (former lead singer of The Dead Boys, and The Lords of the New Church), when he was hit by a taxi in Paris, France; guitarist Johnny Thunders, when he was murdered while tripping on LSD; and Dee Dee's longtime ex-girlfriend, Connie (a stripper/prostitute and fellow junkie), who OD'd.

Dee also started a band in Detroit, Michigan, called The Chinese Dragons, which was a moderate success, and, according to Dee, a joyous, bluesy rock 'n' roll experience.

The book's ending isn't fairy-tale-happy, but it is sober (as in: Dee is drug-free) and funny, in a f**ked-up way.

The writing throughout is conversational, and darkly funny, even when the told circumstances of Dee's life are completely crappy. This is a fun read, if you have an appreciation for wow-that's-f**ked-up sense of humor.

*Post-book facts:

Dee Dee Ramone released another solo album, Latest & Greatest, in 2001.

In 2002, Dee Dee, along with his fellow Ramones, was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. According to imdb.com, "less than two months after his induction, [Dee Dee] was found dead in his house by his wife [of seven years]," Barbara Zampini. The (somewhat fitting, yet ironic) cause: "accidental drug overdose. . . He was 50 at the time of his death."

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