Hey! Is Dee Dee Home? – Heroin and The New York Punk Scene of the late 1970s.
Above Photo: 14th Street between 9th and 10th Avenues, New York 1976.
I recently watched an excellent documentary called Hey! Is Dee Dee Home?, featuring Dee Dee Ramone, the band’s bass player.
Produced in 2002, but mostly using an interview Dee Dee had done with filmmaker Lech Kowalski a decade earlier, it didn’t start well for me, when I realized its initially-unattractive format was having DDR himself sitting in a chair bathed in a bright light, being interviewed in a one-to-one session.
But the programme maker had a fantastic idea. He talked to Dee Dee about his many tattoos, and through them Kowalski effortlessly took him back into his fascinating former life and times.
He was very interesting about the early days of the New York Punk scene, with Richard Hell, Johnny Thunders, the Heartbreakers and the New York Dolls, especially the heroin scene surrounding the bands back then, and scoring heroin on and around 10th Avenue.
He was also interesting about a rivalry that developed with Johnny Thunders, which wasn’t helped by Thunders telling him to go and score some heroin for him, and that Dee Dee should feel privileged to be “hanging out with a rock star.”
He then recounted a low-point story of stealing and selling Joey Ramone’s TV from their apartment, as he needed money for drugs.
There was a great story about the song Chinese Rocks (so-named after a type of heroin they used to buy in New York). Dee Dee wrote it, but the Ramones rejected it because of its content, so he played it to Jerry Nolan, the Heartbreakers’ drummer, and the next thing it was part of the Heartbreakers’ set and became one of their most popular songs.
From that time, the song became the subject of a long-running feud between Dee Dee and Johnny Thunders about ownership and credits for it.
He was very proud of his tattoos, many of which he’d got in London. He described them as: “having my history on my arms”, noting that the track marks from his former heroin addiction had now disappeared.
I also worked out where the lyric in the Clash’s song ‘City of the Dead’ had come from:
“Don’t you know where to cop? /That’s what New York Johnny said.”
Dee Dee explained Johnny Thunders’ need for heroin when they were in London, and he was was hanging around with the Clash.
He also described what sounded like Hell on Earth in Paris.
After DDR had left the Ramones in 1988, Stiv Bators from the Dead Boys called to see if he wanted to come and hang out in Paris with him, Johnny Thunders and others, and to play in a band.
When DeeDee arrived, he realized they were all in a very bad place, narcotially-speaking, and many of his and his girlfriend’s valuables were disappearing on a regular basis, from what they believed was an apartment possessed by the Devil. The insanity got so bad that they had to escape.
Throughout the interview, in spite of all the Rock & Roll mayhem he’d recounted, I thought Dee Dee came off as a very sympathetic and engaging character.
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