DEE DEE RAMONE
Ballard Firehouse, 784-3516, $12.50 adv. / $15 door 9 p.m. Sat., May 19
FRIENDS, WE'VE COME to that part of the paper where I offer you, verbatim, a slice of conversation I had last month with one Dee Dee Ramone—ex-Ramones bassist, author of the new novel Chelsea Horror Hotel, and Saturday's rock 'n' roll entertainment at the Ballard Firehouse.
Dee Dee: "So what date is this date in Seattle?"
Me: "I think it's May 19."
Dee Dee: "Oh nooo. And today's like the 26th [of April]."
Me: "I think your tour starts on the 16th of May."
Dee Dee: "Oh my god. Where?"
Such is the haphazard life of the former Douglas Colvin, a 48-year-old New Yorker living in Santa Monica, Calif., a man whose craggy voices warbles slowly with the dips and peaks of a warped record. He was also a key songwriter in one of the most important bands in rock 'n' roll history.
The Ramones—who in 1974 invented themselves a new surname, a tough guy look, and then invented (yeah, invented) punk rock—last month lost their adored public face when singer Joey died at 49 from lymphatic cancer.
"I don't even know if it's in good taste that I'm playing now," Dee Dee says just over a week after Joey's passing. "It's just like I can't get out of it. . . . [I] just feel like hiding. But when I play, I don't expect it to be like a memorial concert or anything. I'm just gonna go ahead and play the way I play, but I won't really say anything. I'm kinda like drawing a blank—I got the energy, but my mind is like, I regret it, you know? It feels like the Ramones are really over."
Although the Ramones did the Cretin Hop all the way up until 1996, Dee Dee quit hollering "One-two-three-four!" back in '89. He tried for awhile to rock the mike as rapper Dee Dee King, then played with backing bands the Chinese Dragons and the ICLC, and finally released some punk-rock solo discs that were mined for last year's Greatest and Latest album. All the while, Dee Dee—who wrote such Ramones favorites as "Now I Wanna Sniff Some Glue," "Today Your Love, Tomorrow the World," "Chinese Rock," and "Pet Sematary"—continued to pen tracks for the brudders through their final days as a band.
Of course, the Ramones haven't been brudderly with one another in years, and Dee Dee says he hadn't spoken to Joey in quite some time before his death.
NOT TOO LONG AGO, Dee Dee went back into the studio to record the rave-up "Bad Little Go-Go Girl" with MC5 guitarist Wayne Kramer, which was released as a download through Musicblitz.com. At the Firehouse—where fans can expect a mix of solo cuts, Ramones tunes, and maybe even an oldie or two—his band will include Chase Manhattan on drums and Chris the Creep on bass (or on guitar if Dee Dee's wife, Barbara Zampini, a.k.a. Barbara Ramone, joins the tour on bass).
But Dee Dee's chief creative outlet of late has been literary work. In 1997 he wrote Poison Heart: Surviving the Ramones with Veronica Kofman, republished as Lobotomy last year, and he's now working on a new novel called Legend of a Rock Star.
Chelsea Horror Hotel stirs real life and fantasy into a clumsy tale about Dee Dee's stress-filled days at the midtown Manhattan lodge that's famed as the building where late Sex Pistols bassist Sid Vicious allegedly killed his girlfriend Nancy Spungen in 1978.
Fact: Dee Dee lived at the hotel from 1974 to 1978, and then again from 1990 to 1997. Fiction: A Satanic cult named the S.K.U.L.L.S. used piranhas in the basement to help cook up a cannibal stew.
Fact: Dee Dee owns a dog named Banfield. Fiction: The dog speaks to him telepathically.
Fact or Fiction?: Dee Dee spent the bulk of his days in the mid-'90s trying to cop dope to make the world-weary life of an ex-Ramone a little more livable.
"I just have to deny everything and then say yes also," Dee Dee says. "If I say yes, I'll incriminate myself, and if I say no, I'll incriminate myself, so I can't give you an answer. I just leave it up to everyone's discrepancies. No one really has a very good opinion of me anyway. No matter how nice I've been. I don't expect to worry about it—but I don't wanna make it worse."
Unquestionably fiction is the book's climactic basement jam with Vicious, departed Dead Boy Stiv Bators, and late Heartbreakers Johnny Thunders and Jerry Nolan. Basements have long been a fixation for Dee Dee, whose songwriting credits include "I Don't Wanna Go Down to the Basement" on The Ramones (1976) and "I Don't Wanna Die in the Basement" from the solo Hop Around (2000). He traces the allure to his childhood in post-War Berlin.
"My friends and I used to play in basements in bombed-out buildings and bunkers," he says. "Go there and look for junk, old war relics, just goofing around, exploring. 'Cause it's scary and insane when you're, like, 7 years old to be crawling around in those old buildings. It was still some of the most pleasant memories I have. I enjoyed those days—it was like my pre-drug-taking days, but I was totally lost in an escape fantasy, running wild and not going to school. I was having a good time then, before I had the weight of the world on my shoulders."