Dee Dee Ramone: 1952-2002
Modern rock and roll has lost another of its founding fathers. Just a year after the passing of Joey and three months after being inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Dee Dee Ramone has left the building. Born Douglas Colvin on Sept. 18, 1952, Dee Dee co-founded The Ramones in 1974 with three other Forest Hills, Queens misfits: vocalist Joey, guitarist Johnny and drummer Tommy (who all decided to adopt the last name “Ramone”). They went on to change the course of rock and roll.
Tommy may have been the band’s mastermind, Johnny the sonic powerhouse and Joey the unlikely heartthrob, but Dee Dee, without a doubt, was the heart of the group. From his gravel-voiced signature “1-2-3-4” count-offs to his onstage, pogo-ing antics, Dee Dee was everybody’s favorite Ramone. Author Stephen King was such a fan that he’d often use Dee Dee’s name as an alias to check into hotels. And it was Dee Dee that King commissioned to write the title song for the film adaptation of his book Pet Sematary.
While Joey, the band’s other main songwriter, usually concentrated on love, Dee Dee, for the most part, wrote about the two things he knew best: The quest for fun and the struggle to make sense of a very confusing world. And Dee had plenty to be confused about: an unhappy childhood, spent for the most part in Germany (in his 1997 autobiography Lobotomy, Dee Dee wrote that his German mother and alcoholic U.S. Army sergeant father were “horrible … their lives were complete chaos and it felt like they blamed it all on me”); a stint as a street hustler; anorexia; alienation from his bandmates (he never felt he fit in and left the group in 1989) and a lifelong battle with drugs.
A scene in Ramones Around The World (latter-day drummer Marky Ramone’s tour documentary) gives a glimpse of what it must have been like to be Dee Dee on a daily basis. It’s the late ’80s and a weary Dee Dee is standing in the lobby of an Italian hotel, trying to make the best of a situation he doesn’t really want to be in anymore. His eyes meet the camera lens and he says–looking for all the world like a 5-year-old boy–“I want to go home.”
After leaving the Ramones, Dee Dee spent time in Amsterdam, Brazil and France before returning to America. He released several solo albums, wrote two books, and at the time of his death was about to have some of his paintings shown in a German art gallery. He even supplied his ex-bandmates with some of their best late-period material–most notably “Poison Heart” from 1992’s Mondo Bizarro. The lyrics to the song’s soaring chorus show Dee Dee still struggling with the same problems that had plagued him since childhood: I just wanna walk right out of this world/’Cause everybody has a poison heart. Pleasant dreams, Dee Dee. –Jon Wurster