Poison Heart – Surviving The Ramones

Y’know, rock biographies/autobiographies are a funny affair.  You have the benchmarks, the real classics written by articulate, often unhinged genii such as Julian Cope with his fantastic two parter, ‘Head On / Repossessed’.  When the writer is so gifted at storytelling, the concept of reading about a rock n roll life becomes compelling and you find it hard to put it down.  Then, you move down the scale and encounter the milquetoast-ish puff-pieces, an example of which, [quite a strange one you might think] is the biography of Paul Heaton, formerly of the Beautiful South.  Singularly failing to dig deep or challenge the egotistical, contradictory Heaton, the toadying writer just piles on the content, with no attempt made to dig beneath the obvious and let us know what makes the subject tick.  Finally, we arrive on the literary skid row, where you find the memoirs of those who, ironically, are probably the truest rock n rollers of the lot – the drug-soaked, addled lifers who didn’t pose, they just went out and did it.  And this basement level is where we find Poison Heart – an unembellished, full speed romp through the short and unhappy life of one Douglas Colvin, better known to you and me as the late great Dee Dee Ramone.

Now DeHud lent me this recently when I called in on our trip to watch NoMeansNo.  He has also just digested the other new-ish book from a late Ramone, Johnny’s ‘Commando’ – which I haven’t yet read and so won’t mention here.  So, what do we learn about Dee Dee?

Let’s let that question hang in the air for a moment.  Two years ago, I called in to the Ramones Museum in Berlin during a nice week long visit to the city.  My partner gamely accompanied me, even though she has rather different musical tastes.  But what became clear very quickly from the cuttings, articles and general Ramones detritus on display was that, contrary to my youthful image of the band as a bunch of pretty dumb, fun filled guys making speedy punk rock that was always the same yet always different, they were in fact a collection of misfits who shared almost no common ground, whose increasingly hostile relationships with one another hardly qualified them to be known as the ‘Brudders’, and who descended into drug and alcohol dependence, mental illness and ultimately untimely deaths.  A happy bunch they were not.  This came as something of a shock to me, and Dee Dee’s short book confirms this view uncompromisingly.

So, back to the book.  Dee Dee was perhaps the most wayward member of the band, a qualification which is all the more remarkable when you consider what damaged personalities the other two [Johnny and Joey] were.  His early childhood in the vicinity of various US Airforce bases in Germany was defined by alcoholic, absentee parents, the classic bunking off school, no discernible interests or talents, and a drift into drug abuse that was initiated the day he found two phials of methadone in a park [as you do….].  I shan’t repeat the story here, but suffice to say we get a reasonable view of his childhood and youth, but then, once the Ramones come along and begin to attempt to play, things get very confusing.

Dee Dee, who had the help of Veronica Kofman [I am not sure of she was the ghostwriter or just tried to arrange Dee Dee’s random, rambling thoughts into a digestible whole], is disarmingly frank about his state of decline.  Outwardly a punk rock hero who hob-nobbed with Johnny Thunders, Stiv Bators, Jerry Nolan and other greats of the era, Dee Dee in fact portrays himself as a pathetic drifter who was unable to form any kind of lasting relationship and who attracted abuse, violence and the exploitative attentions of those more manipulative and intelligent than him wherever he went. To try and deal with this, he adopted an increasingly paranoid and self defensive attitude to everybody he dealt with. Sadly for him, no industry contains more of those manipulators and exploiters than the music industry.

Dee Dee describes in blunt, unadorned terms the effect of his constant struggles with opiates, relationships and alcohol, but the most difficult thing for the reader to deal with is the way in which he darts from subject to subject, peppering his story with random conversations and thoughts which just make no sense at all.  Here is a passage from the chapter dealing with his later life in London:

“Once, near the Canal Street brige, I noticed a group of skinheads.  They looked great, dressed in their Doc Marten boots and lightweight army trenches.  They were all amped up and ready to swarm in on a possible victim.  I am seeing all this and notice how gleeful they become when they spot a ‘vic’……….[there follows a description of the skinheads roughing up a drunk that they encounter]….As I am watching this, I thought that maybe I should shave my head too.  This is England, right? And this is a grim society which I live in.  I am going to have to live by a few rules here, just as I did when I was in the Ramones.”

These grandiose, yet totally illogical pronouncements occur regularly throughout the story.  You are left with the impression that maybe Dee Dee was operating on a slightly different level to most people; I mean, if I saw a group of skinheads beating up a drunk, I’m not sure my first reaction would be to think that perhaps I should shave my head….

I took two evenings to get through this book.  I’ve read a few drug books, and a lot of New York books.  ‘Junky’ by William Burroughs is perhaps the most articulate and stark, whereas some of Nick Kent’s writings about characters like Sid Vicious and Johnny Thunders are similarly bleak.  The same old themes shine through in Dee Dee’s story – the hopeless drug addict’s basic lack of morality and any semblance of concern for others caused by the constant need for dope, the paranoid, ‘me against the world’ philosophy, the total absence of self esteem, the sense of humiliation he feels on a daily basis as things go wrong for him time and time again.  Yet at the same time he also experiences awful self awareness which he shows during his moments of lucidity: he realises the inevitability of his fate at the hands of the dreaded heroin, yet like all addicts is unable to take the decisive action necessary to change his destiny.

You get the feeling that this guy was a none too bright, but basically nice person, but his dysfunctional upbringing and the constant sense of failure that it brought him meant that he never really stood a chance, especially after he was brought together with three other equally disturbed and inept people in the Ramones.  But then, compared to the absolute nihilism and self-absorption that took down lesser contemporaries like Sid Vicious, Thunders, Stiv Bators, Nolan and the likes, Dee Dee displays remarkable integrity.

‘Poison Heart’ is a sad story, and it confirms my sad discovery that, despite their legendary status and major league popularity, the Ramones were a collection of sad, empty, unhappy people – victims in every sense in an industry of wolves, which is all the more sad given that they created music that was so influential and ground breaking.  Dee Dee’s death from an overdose just over a decade ago in Los Angeles was predictable given the story.  In fact, sadly, you wonder how he lasted as long as he did. RIP.

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Has your edge gone duh?…

It’s tickled me recently to see old-time straightedgers – a little larger round the middle, their moral code a little frayed at the edges perhaps, but still cranking it out – They’ve all been at it; Y.O.T, Chain Of Strength, Gorilla Biscuits, & 7 Seconds to name a few of the crew. So it’s heartening to see great releases of the quality of this EP from On Point still bursting out from the positive pores of the hooded youth….

I fought the draw….

..but the draw won. Having decided to call time on their sub-strata shit stained sludge assault, menacing downtempomongers Dopefight have bowed out with a gesture of immense benevolence.

Namely what was to be the follow up long player to the fabulous Buds is now available on bandcamp for free! With it being the demo-intended-to-be-released album it has a great raw clattering sound and it is chock full of pulsing riffs and winding tempo changes – It’s too good to miss out on. [Real shame we’ll never find out what exactly “Nethanderal” means……]

I always enjoy the regular updates from this German label, usually featuring a flurry of new releases from their heavily varied roster – Spanish straightedge, German anarcho, odd concept albums from English Psych bands based on the Watershipdown novel – and a band with just a circle for a name. Really worth checking them out on bandcamp and at their store

…and to finish with – Borderlines are, as I’m sure many of you all know, are the left overs – um – from The Leftovers! Couple of great tunes….;

Limitation is the most sincere form of flattery…

Just lobbing a chunk of sweet pop-punk your ways whilst the enforced and arbitrary hiatus here at RIU continues [and I’m sure you all join me in passing on best wishes to rePaul, who is currently enjoying a bed-ridden convalescence following the horrific incident at his canning factory involving an industrial vacuum shrink-wrapping machine – get well soon dude.]

Bonus bag – A Miscellany of 7 inchers

The package dropped heavily onto my door mat.  By the very sound of it I knew it was something heavy.  I abandoned my work and ran to the hallway, and picked up a large cardboard envelope, covered in clear tape, with a US customs sticker on it that read ‘records’.  I knew straight away what it was. 

Ages ago I did a post which mentioned some great new bands I had come across – including The Rubrics, who hail from Greenville, South Carolina.  Ryan, who plays guitar and does vocals for this three piece, emailed me after the article was posted, and promised to send me a package, in the best punk rock traditions.  And a few weeks later, he was good to his word!  Three thousand or so miles lay between us, and he is now $11.60 poorer, but I hope that you will now buy his records and help out his bank balance!!! Thanks a ton for the records Ryan, and here is the review!

So, on clawing open the package, what did I get here?

The first 7″er out of the package was ‘Sow Your Seeds’ by The Rubrics.  A four tracker, this ep came with button badge and photocopies lyric sheet; I felt 16 again! it’s also a great little slab of high energy DIY flavoured punk rock.  As I said in July, “It’s basic as hell, choppy, pogo inducing punk rock of the finest quality, with messy shared vocals, fuzzy guitar and that whole late 80s Gilman Street vibe about it, think Crimpshirine for example.”

Next up, we have a copy of the Criminal Culture/Rubrics split 7″ which I reviewed in the post I mentioned above.  On lovely, cider coloured vinyl, it’s a nice little addition to my collection as well as being a showcase for these two great bands.

And then we’re on to two new ones [new ones to me, anyway].  Burning Bridges have been going about a year, and are a three-piece from New Hampshire.  This one is a bit of a departure from the full on hardcore style – they seem to be more like Rites of Spring, with the vocalist doing a good impression of Guy Picciotto’s emotional vocal style.  And I guess Fugazi would be another reference point.  I didn’t really like this when I first heard it, as I’m naturally suspicious of anything that labels itself ‘Emo’, but it is kind of growing on me now.  See what you think.

The fourth and last of the 7″ discs that tumbled from the cardboard was another split, this one by Nona and Peeple Watchin’.  Three tracks a piece mean a super value little record, and a suitably punk cover photo of a skater doing a gnarly frontside rock n roll on a mini ramp raised my hopes.  So what are they like? Nona are to the best of my knowledge a three piece with a female singer and a mid-paced, basic punk sound that put me in mind of some of the late 80s UK indie bands such as Primitives and so on.  Some nice harmonies and tuneful punk – I like it.  Flipping the disc, as Dave Lee Travis would have said, we have Peeple Watchin’.  They are a three piece again, and they proffer a more energetic, straightforward pop punk sound.  The vocalist sounds like he’s got a really bad sore throat, but they deliver a dose of good solid punk noise.

New Dopethrone!!!

Waiting at the checkout at the supermarket yesterday. Behind an old lady with a basket containing a cabbage, a tin of of tuna [in brine] and a bottle of sherry. A shriek from the cashier!!! I feel a warm sensation between my toes and look down; I’m stood in in a pool of dense, fetid urine flooding down from the old lady’s stockings . She turns to me, flashes a rancid gummed toothless smile and hands me a package – “It’s the new Dopethrone album”…………

Bottom Feeder

Are you a fan of a)being depressed? b)being crushed? and c)being rocked? Thought so! Danish dental hygiene fans Bottom Feeder are for you! Because they proclaim that “Bottom Feeder is playing depressed crushing rock music”……so, what’s not to like? ‘Out Of Ashes’ & ‘Divine Heritage’ are 2 tape E.P’s that came out on Raw Birth records, sold out and are now being reissued on vinyl. Go Feed on Bottoms!