Legs McNeil, friend of the late Dee Dee Ramone and Ramones-band insider, recently published a retrospective of his famous 1989 sit-down interview with Dee Dee (aka Douglas G. Colvin) not long after he had left the band earlier that same year. As Legs recalls "He called me and said he wanted to spill the beans. Since we’d been friends since 1976, I was happy to turn on the tape recorder and let him go—which he did for about ten hours."
In introducing his article Legs also describes Dee Dee as: "the archetypical fuck-up whose life was a living disaster. He was a male prostitute, a would-be mugger, a heroin user and dealer, an accomplice to armed robbery—and a genius poet who was headed for an early grave, but was sidetracked by rock ‘n’ roll." The Ramones are as influential as any American rock band that there has been. While they aren't regarded in the same light as The Beach Boys, The Doors or even Aerosmith - they were represent a turning point in rock music, ushering in the punk era. Dee Dee Ramone was the bassist, a songwriter and leading founder of The Ramones - making him one American rock musics most important figures. Here are some of the hilights of that epic Legs McNeil interview:
I don't know how I got turned on to morphine—I was just in the wrong place at the wrong time. A lot of my friends were Americans, their fathers were in the State Department or the Army or Air Force, they were very young kids and they were very excited that you could drink at any age in Germany.
So everybody drank, but I really didn't hang out with people that much. I had to have a lot of time alone to wander around in fantasy, ya know? And I didn't want anything to disturb that. Doing drugs was always a very solitary thing with me. I did it alone, usually in some hallway or on some roof.
I started getting high on morphine—they didn't have pot or heroin or anything like that in Germany. I started very young, like 12. I used to trade daggers and stuff for morphine syrettes from some soldiers I knew. I used to go up to the Army Base and cop there. They used to sell it in a big plastic bottle and you would go to the drug store and buy your works and go up there and they'd give you like 2.5cc for 50 cents. You'd go to the department store and get off—everybody got off there and the place was a wreck, ya know? The department store was good because it had a nice bathroom.
It's funny, but I didn't smoke pot till I was like 15 or 16—until I came to America. I didn't like to drink. I tried it a few times—but I didn't really know how to drink.
A lot of times my parents didn't want me around, they really didn't care what I did, as long as I didn't play the guitar in the house. I picked up the guitar when I was around 12. I really wanted to play the guitar. I don't know why. I got exposed to rock real early cause my mother always liked it—she would always tell me what to listen to. She told me about the Beatles, Ricky Nelson, everybody.
I don’t think I really discovered rock until the Rolling Stones started breaking me away from my mother. I knew my mother couldn't listen to them, ya know? Then when I moved to America and I heard Jimi Hendrix, either in 1966 or 67, something like that. Then I knew I had my own music.
On the early Ramones
I had to have different guys to hang out with to do my different drugs. Joey Ramone couldn't do drugs. He tried them, but he couldn't handle it. He would freak out. One time I saw him smoke some pot and start convulsing on the floor in the fetal position, yelling “I'm freaking out! I'm freaking out!”
At the time, Joey was painting—and he would chop-up carrots and lettuce and turnips and strawberries and mix it all together and paint with it! <laughs> His paintings were very good—and then he would try to make tapes of like different sounds. His parents had an apartment on the 20th floor and it was lightning out and he stuck a microphone from the tape recorder out on the balcony to tape the thunder—and the lightning struck the mike and burnt everything! He'd have me come over and bounce the basketball for half hour and he'd tape it. Then he'd listen to it all day in a daze.
Joey and I used to sit on the steps of the bank in Queens Boulevard with a bottle of wine—when John would wanna go in the hallway and sniff glue. So John was up, when Joey was down—or whatever.
Johnny Ramone had stopped doing hard drugs by then. He really was a pot smoker. He was the first person to introduce me to really good pot—no one even knew about good pot, but John did. He'd say, “Dee Dee, I promise you, three tokes of this stuff and you'll by really out of it!”
I said, “Alright,” and I would be.
Yeah, there was a lot of glue and Tuinals and Seconals—what a party! You couldn't get your head outta that bag! We used to call up numbers on the phone, it would go, “Beep, beep, beep, beep, beep,” and we’d listen to that for hours. And sniff some glue a little more, because we knew these numbers to dial where you could get these weird sounds.
John was a construction worker at 1633 Broadway, and I got transferred there. I was a mail clerk in the office building. I'd pack up the mail in the morning and sort it out. I had my cart and I'd have it lined up according to how the desks in the office were organized. And I'd drop off the mail and I'd gossip with the people a little bit—and then do it all over again ten times a day. So John and I would meet every day for lunch and usually we'd go to the Metropole and have a few beers. The Metropole was like a go-go place and after we got a little tipsy we'd go next door to look at the guitars. But we thought it was wrong to be in a band. We thought it was a bad thing. I thought we should work, you know, and try to hold down a job.
But then one day it was a payday, and we both bought guitars and decided to start a band. John bought a Mosrite and I bought a Danelectro.
Tommy Ramone definitely got us off the ground, the Ramones wouldn't have done anything without Tom. We were really green, we didn't know what the hell was going on, but Tommy was really annoying too. Tommy was a control freak, he was like a mother that was always upset with us.
But Tommy cracked real early on. All our drummers cracked, every couple years one would crack—and then the group would be really happy, because we'd get rid of someone. And nobody would say we're gonna add this quality or that quality—they would just say we're gonna get faster! So every drummer we got we'd make them play faster and faster.
One time we were outside some hotel and some fan came up and pulled out a pen and asked Tommy for an autograph. Tommy said, “That's not a knife is it? You aren't going to stab me, are you?”
The Ramones gigs, especially the early ones in England, were very violent. And Tommy was very tiny and it was hard on him, ya know? And John was very nasty to Tommy and then Joey started getting nasty to Tommy. Tommy and I got along cause I was obviously not in competition to be the leader of that group—and Joey and John we're always striving for it.
I remember the first time we went outta town to play and I couldn't cop that morning. We went to some awful place in New England, on the ocean to some awful club, it was called Frolics, a real sleazy beer-stinking ballroom, ya know?
And I was getting sick. It was winter and it was cold—and afterwards we went back to some fleabag motel. I've been in some bad places, but this hotel was disgusting. Plus, I was getting sick, I was in withdrawal. So I took a blanket and I put it over the sink and I started running the water. And I sat underneath the blanket, underneath the sink. I just tried to make myself think I was sitting underneath a waterfall to forget where I was.
We wanted to get outta there so bad, but we only had one van. We had to be there three days and the third day I was a wreck. We hated being outta New York and that night it was like the coldest night I ever been through. And as soon as we stopped playing this cop came in and took out this big pistol, and said “You guys better play more!”
He was real drunk and this went on for an hour. We just wanted to leave and everything was so disorganized. So the next morning we called up Danny Fields, our manager, and said, “Danny we ain’t never doing this again!”
And he said, “Well you’re playing this place and that place tomorrow!”
I don’t know when I left the Ramones, I'm not certain. I made a lot changes in my life in the last five to six months. I left my wife, I left the band, and I left my girlfriend—and it was hard, you know? I had to do it because I had to become myself. I’m not a puppet—I didn't want to be a little boy anymore. I wouldn't grow up, and a lot of things were irritating me about the Ramones.
One thing that's always been important to me is to be myself. I don't write music according to a certain style that I'm noted for or familiar with. I write how I feel at the moment. I write current. I don't try to recreate the past, and that was the Ramones' thing. That was hard to deal with.
I was also sick and tired of the little boy look—bowl haircut and the motorcycle jacket. And really, for four middle-aged men trying to be teenage juvenile delinquents is ridiculous.
The thing that you want to strive for is to become a man, whether you want to be an adult or not. I think it's better to be an adult—to be secure enough with yourself not to hang on to what may have worked before.
I was just getting sick of playing in a revival act. See, I was trying to say something about life and something positive. I don't know if what I was doing was right at the time—and I don't think the kids buying the albums wanted to hear what I was trying to say. I would write things about getting down on my knees and praying' for peace and all that, ya know? I was doing that kinda stuff and that's how I felt—and it was really hard to do that in the Ramones because they're very bigoted, very prejudice, and very right wing. And then I'd come out on the total left side of the field, and it was causing trouble.
No one in the group was really growing up besides me, which is pretty weird cause there was no one in that group more self-destructive than I was. I was a big troublemaker in the group. I put them through a lot of pain, but as much as I gave to them, they gave right back to me.
The Ramones stand for nothing but pure hate.
So now that I can write what I want to write and don't have to censor what I'm writing, unbelievable things are coming outta me that I didn't know I had in me. I always knew I could write a good song, but I listen to a Ramones album now and there's very few things on there that I'm really happy with.
Of course, Joey writes all his love songs, crying about his broken heart, which I think is embarrassing. I always thought a rock star should never have his heart broken. He should break hearts and be a real lady-killer, and not be whining. That’s all Joey did in all his songs. It was annoying the hell outta me.
So I started trying to write more serious. I think I was doing it just to flaunt it right back at them. I don't know that it was the right thing for the group now, but I think rock ‘n’ roll should be three words and a chorus.
And the three words should be good enough to say it all.