Remembering Dee Dee Ramone
It’s a Ramones trademark, one of the smallest and simplest — but absolutely most important — things that made you sit up and take notice of the first* and greatest punk rock band ever. A quick, slurred yelp of a countdown that’s your first alert that something exciting’s about to happen. And the guy that shouted it out was Dee Dee Ramone.
If the late Joey Ramone was the heart of The Ramones, Dee Dee was probably the band’s soul. If anyone embodied the Ramones archetype of stupid brilliance, it was Dee Dee. The guy came across as just so endearingly stupid that you couldn’t help but love him (see his hilariously bad acting in Rock & Roll High School for a good example, best illustrated by his immortal line, “Hey, pizza! It’s great! Let’s dig in!”). But just as the band were far smarter than their music might have seemed at first listen, Dee Dee had a lot more going on upstairs than first glance might reveal.
Aside from having been the band’s first singer (not many remember that The Ramones started as a trio with Joey on drums and Dee Dee singing and playing bass), Dee Dee was arguably the band’s key songwriter. While the early albums, in the spirit of brotherhood (or bruddah-hood, as it may be), credited songwriting to the entire band, The Ramones songs were usually written by one band member solo, or occasionally, by two in collaboration. And Dee Dee was responsible for several of the most important. “53rd & 3rd.” “Now I Wanna Sniff Some Glue.” The lyrics for “Blitzkreig Bop.” “Pinhead.” The melody for “Rockaway Beach.” And that’s just a few classics off the first couple of albums!
A lot of people — initially myself included — thought we should do a lengthy tribute to Dee Dee on the sad occasion of his passing (June 5, at age 49 — the same age Joey was when he passed). But the soul of Dee Dee’s — and The Ramones’ — work was in its live-fast brevity, that short, sharp “Wantootreefaw!” And that’s how I want to remember him. Yes, yes, the guy was a bit of a nut case — he loved guns and knives, quit the band in an ill-advised huff to become (get this) a rap star, and sadly, never really got over his struggles with drugs (what do you think “Chinese Rocks” was about, anyway?), which eventually killed him. And any lengthy tribute would have to get into his faults in more depth than I’d like to right now — more than I’m ready to think about. The raw power and simple-minded genius of Dee Dee’s music is what I — and the world — will always remember him for, and that’s how I choose to remember him now. Short, sharp, and with a loud “Wantootreefaw!” — and a good “Gabba Gabba Hey!” for good measure.
When Dee Dee and The Ramones were inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame earlier this year, in his acceptance speech, Dee Dee said, “I’d like to congratulate myself, and thank myself, and give myself a big pat on the back. Thank you, Dee Dee, you’re very wonderful.” You are very wonderful, Dee Dee, and I can’t say it any better than that.
*(Yeah, yeah, bring up The Stooges and MC5 and The Dictators and The New York Dolls and others as the “first” punk band. In my mind, they’re all proto-punk. Punk — and The Ramones — wouldn’t exist without them as inspirations, but The Ramones are, in my mind, the first true “punk” band.)