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Teenage Lobotomy

Dee Dee Ramone is lucky as all hell to be alive. The rickety timbre of his voice over the telephone bespeaks a man who has repeatedly cheated death. His is a sort of Bronx junkie mumble crossed with the confounded drawl of Tennessee Tuxedo's Chumley, a disquieting mix of stubborn subsistence and resignation born of years of dope damage and rock 'n' roll abuse.

It's morning in the Hollywood home that Ramone shares with his second wife, Barbara, and the day -- like most of his days lately -- starts out well. After breakfast, he plays guitar for a while, then does a bit of painting. He works out details for an upcoming Brazilian tour for his band, now called Dee Dee Ramone. Later he starts to fantasize about the Ramones getting back together. He hasn't played bass for the band since he made the widely unpopular decision to quit in 1989; the Ramones retired permanently just over four years ago after a much-ballyhooed farewell tour.

The 48-year-old Ramone (born Douglas Colvin) laughs at himself for even contemplating such a reunion. "I'm booked up 'til February 23 next year," he says. "After that, I don't know what I'm going to do. I was thinking this morning that the Ramones would get back together. That's insane to even think about. That must mean that I am really crazy, because I was the one who was bitterly opposed to it."

Crazy or not, Ramone will tell you anything about anyone who's got anything to do with the Ramones or punk rock. And he can talk. His new book Lobotomy: Surviving the Ramones (Thunder's Mouth Press) chugs along in the same manner as his effusive banter.

A real-life fusion of the raw and the cooked seemingly untouched by heavy-handed rewrites (though the first edition was written "with" Veronica Kaufmann), Lobotomy should serve to humor and satisfy more than just those with a morbid curiosity about punk history.

The book betrays decades of self-abuse and self-pity from a man who helped kick start the Ramones back in 1974. Without the Ramones, there would have been no punk rock. And without punk rock, life would have been perhaps very different for you and me. But that's a whole other can of worms.

The book's blunt prose carries little beauty. Think a junk-riffed, rock 'n' roll Bukowski with Richard Price's language of the Bronx in the early 1960s. It's spare, at times childishly delinquent, but rife with gutter charm and a real one-two-three-four verve.

Ramone has been a rock 'n' roll star since the Ramones' debut, Ramones, offended multitudes and changed the course of rock 'n' roll upon its release in 1976. And, as he reveals in the book, he had a remarkable capacity for squalor.

"It's all accurate," he says. "I fought back. I had to start over. I got a divorce and my wife got everything. I was in debt. I had law bills. I was in and out of jail. I had a couple of felony assaults. Drug busts. I was broke and had nowhere to go. I was a very unpopular person. I did a really unpopular thing. I left the Ramones. It knocked some sense into me.

"The Ramones have been an incredibly lucky band," he continues. "I mean, the Ramones are still really successful, and that's a lucky thing to have going on if you were in a rock band all your life and then you get old. It usually ends very pathetic." He sighs. "I lived in like a rock 'n' roll retirement community in London, so to speak. Everybody from bands like Hawkwind and Transvision Vamp were there. Bands from punk rock times were just like walking corpses. Some of my friends like Johnny Thunders, Stiv Bators and [Jerry] Nolan were dead. We were really, really lucky."

There are contradictions at play within Lobotomy's pages. At times, Dee Dee blames the other Ramones for his own horrible discomfort and down-spiraling lot in life, specifically Joey and Johnny. Elsewhere, he's fully accountable for his actions -- without the subterfuge of 12-step religious dogma, as might be expected.

Some things are glossed over, such as the late-1980s bid for rap cred during which he recorded and performed, much to the horror of the Ramones and their fans, as Dee Dee King, the "B.B. King of rappers."

Yet for the Ramones faithful, Lobotomy will be a myth-shatterer of epic proportions. That's because Ramone is blunt about how miserable it was to be a member of pop's most notorious Happy Family.

He depicts guitarist Johnny Ramone as the self-appointed leader of the band and a tyrannical right-wing nut. Johnny insisted the song "Bonzo Goes to Bitburg" be retitled "My Brain is Hanging Upside Down" on 1986's Animal Boy to keep from insulting then-president Ronald Reagan. He claims to have no idea still who played the bass parts on 1980's End of the Century. He writes that its producer, Phil Spector, kept the band in his house at gunpoint as he played "Baby I Love You" repeatedly on his grand piano. He dismisses Rock 'n' Roll High School and its "tennis playing" actors. While in L.A. shooting the film, Ramone fought with a roadie and wound up in the hospital after overdosing in jail.

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Brian Smith
Contact: Brian Smith