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It was a Nuthouse

In 1974 the New York City music scene was shocked into consciousness by a band of misfits from Queens called the Ramones. Playing in seedy Bowery bar to a small group of fellow struggling musicians, the band struck a chord of disharmony that rocked the foundation of the ’70s music scene.

They were the four weirdest kids in Forest Hills, New York. An army brat who claimed to sell Nazi paraphernalia for morphine. A delinquent who dropped TV sets off roofs. A gangling freak with OCD. And even a quietly organised music obsessive…  the four weirdest kids in Forest Hills, mixed leather, pop art and the Three Stooges and accidentally revolutionised rock’n’roll.

Everybody knows the shaggy-haired, leather jacket-sporting punk rock band from NYC known as the Ramones. With hits such as “Blitzkrieg Bop” and “Sheena is a Punk Rocker,” the Ramones were one of the first bands to hone and define the garage-rock-based punk sound of the ’70s, taking influence from classic rock bands like The Who; greaser, doo-wop, and ’50s rocker culture; and the balls-to-the-wall energy and stripped-down songwriting of the likes of The Stooges and MC5, turning it into a formula that created a revolution. Whether or not you like the Ramones, it’s impossible to overstate their influence.

The Ramones put on a front of unity. Members of the band had a uniform, a hairstyle, and an erasure of individual identities – they all adopted the last name, Ramone. Behind the scenes, the Ramones were a deeply divided, tumultuous unit, whose lives were marked by mental illness and drug addiction. Crazy things the Ramones did range from stealing each other’s girlfriends to tricking friends into drinking urine and ditching punk in favour of rap.

They All Died Fairly Young, Three Of Cancer, One Of An Overdose.

Thomas Erdelyi was born in 1952 in Budapest but his family moved to America, settling in Forest Hills, a middle-class New York suburb where Erdelyi would soon bump into some like-minded souls.

“I met Johnny [Cummings] at my first day of high school in 1964,” says Erdelyi. “He was charismatic, outgoing, holding court at the lunch table. I had a feeling that one day he’d develop a cult around him.”

The pair bonded over music. Also on the scene was a lanky, gawky kid, Jeffrey Hyman, who Erdelyi met at a jam session: “I played the guitar, he was drumming and didn’t say a word but I always saw him around – he was so unusual-looking you couldn’t miss him.” A year later, an army brat called Doug “Dee Dee” Colvin moved to the neighbourhood from Germany, where he told his new friends he sold Nazi paraphernalia to buy morphine. “He would tell these great stories that we later found out were kind of tall tales,” says Erdelyi.

All four loved pop music and Cummings and Erdelyi formed a garage band, Tangerine Puppets, with Cummings on bass. After they broke up in 1967, Cummings sold his guitars and drifted into dope-smoking delinquency, often in league with the impish Colvin. “Johnny was bad,” says Erdelyi. “He did things like drop TV sets off roofs. He was trying to scare people but he could have killed them. Eventually, he turned it round.”

Erdelyi remained in music, playing in bands with another local boy, Monte Melnick, while also working as an engineer at the city’s Record Plant studio. “And I stayed in touch with John. I thought he should be in a band, he had such charisma. I kept encouraging him to take up music when he was working on construction sites.” Tired of seeing serious, untouchable bands play endless solos, the pair went nuts over The Stooges before discovering the New York Dolls. “They were so different,” enthuses Erdelyi. “They weren’t virtuosos but they were the most exciting thing I’d seen for years. I thought that if John could put a band together they could do something because they didn’t need to be amazing players.”

Cummings bought a $50 Mosrite guitar from Manny’s on 48th St in January 1974. “It didn’t even have a case, he had to carry it around in a shopping bag,” recalls Erdelyi. “He talked Dee Dee into getting a bass. I thought this was great, they’d put a band together and I’d be the manager. We put Jeffrey on drums because he had a set and looked right. They were a trio, with Johnny on guitar and Dee Dee on bass and singing.”

The band wrote out a list of 40 possible names before agreeing on the Ramones. In the first of several brilliant creative decisions, the band decided to adopt Ramone as a collective surname – Cummings became Johnny Ramone, Colvin was Dee Dee Ramone and Hyman was Joey Ramone. People assumed they were brothers. “It created a sense of unity, a bond of sorts,” Joey would say. “We might have got it from the Walker Brothers, but we liked it as an idea,” admits Erdelyi, and the name went to the heart of his emerging grand plan. “What we were doing was almost like a concept. I realised that what you needed wasn’t musicianship, what you needed was ideas. Anything that worked, we kept. A lot of things were discarded, we were dropping things left and right – if it didn’t work, boom, it was out. We were very conscious about what felt right.”

The feuds, failures and breakdowns of the Ramones, the band that launched punk rock. Howard Barlow/Redferns/Getty

Onstage, they were the personification of unity – even family. The four men dressed the same –in leather motorcycle jackets, weathered jeans, sneakers – had the same dark hair colour, shared the same last name. They seemed to think the same thoughts and breathe the same energy. They often didn’t stop between songs, not even as bassist Dee Dee Ramone barked out the mad “1-2-3- 4” time signature that dictated the tempo for their next number. Guitarist Johnny Ramone and drummer Tommy Ramone would slam into breakneck unison with a power that could make audience members lean back as if they’d been slammed in the chest. Johnny and Dee Dee played with legs astride, looking unconquerable. Between them stood lead singer Joey Ramone – gangly, with dark glasses and a hair mess that fell over his eyes, protecting him from a world that had too often been unkind – proclaiming the band’s hilarious, disturbing tales of misplacement and heartbreak. There was a pleasure and spirit, a palpable commonality, in what the Ramones were doing on stage together.

When they left the stage, that fellowship fell away. They would climb into their van and ride to a hotel or their next show in silence. Two of the members, Johnny and Joey, didn’t speak to each other for most of the band’s 22-year history. It was a bitter reality for a group that, if it didn’t invent punk, certainly codified it effectively – its stance, sound and attitude, its rebellion and rejection of popular music conventions – just as Elvis Presley had done with early rock & roll. The Ramones likely inspired more bands than anybody since the Beatles; the Sex Pistols, the Clash, Nirvana, Metallica, the Misfits, Green Day and countless others have owed much of their sound and creed to what the band made possible. The Ramones made a model that almost anybody could grab hold of basic chords, pugnacity and a noise that could lay waste to – or awaken – anything.

But they paid a heavy cost for their achievement. Much of the music world rejected them, sometimes vehemently. Others saw them as a joke that had run its course. The Ramones never had a true hit single or album, though at heart they wrote supremely melodic music. They continued for years across indifference and impediments, but the rift between the two leading members only worsened. They’re revered now – there are statues and streets and museums that honour them – and we see people wearing their T-shirts, with their blackened presidential seal, everywhere. But all four original members are gone; none of them can take pleasure in the belated prestige. The Ramones were a band that changed the world and then died.

Now that they’re all dead, the Ramones are the hottest band in America. Their first freaking album went gold in 2014. Everybody has the t-shirt. It sure would’ve been nice if they could’ve seen all this.

The Recording Industry of America certified the album’s gold status on April 30, almost exactly 38 years after its debut. The slow progress may be thanks to the album’s lack of commercial success in the 1970s. It peaked at 111 on the U.S. Billboard 200.

Since then, however, the album has been labelled the most influential punk record by Spin magazine and was inducted into the Library of Congress in 2013 alongside Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon and Janis Joplin’s Cheap Thrills.

Before his death in 2004, lead guitarist Johnny Ramone graded each of his band’s 14 albums and gave Ramones an A. “After each take, the engineers would ask if I wanted to hear it back,” Ramone said. “I’d ask them how it sounded. ‘It sounded good.’ So I just said, ‘Okay, let’s keep going.'”

The Ramones didn’t share bloodlines, but they did have the important common background of coming of age in suburbia – in Forest Hills, Queens, a predominantly Jewish middle-class stronghold that bred ennui and restively ness among its nonconformist youth. The Ramones were a few years younger than their 1950s and 1960s heroes – Presley, the Beatles, the Rolling Stones – which allowed them a broader field of musical references to draw from: bubblegum pop, early heavy metal, surf music. More important, most of the original Ramones had some sort of experience of living under dominance – sometimes disconcerting, even frightful – or simply an ineradicable sense of being the wrong person in the wrong place. “People who join a band like the Ramones don’t come from stable backgrounds,” wrote Dee Dee, “because it’s not that civilized an art form. Punk rock comes from angry kids who feel like being creative.”

Tommy Erdelyi didn’t know quite what to expect when he arrived for the Ramones’ first band practice. Guitarist John Cummings and bass player Doug Colvin had bought their instruments just the week before, meanwhile, the only thing any of them knew about drummer Jeffrey Hyman was that he was a fan of The Stooges and the New York Dolls. But when they had all convened at Performance Space Studio in New York on January 28, 1974, Erdelyi was astonished to discover the existence of two brand new songs. “I was shocked because not only were they original but I’d never heard songs like this before, they were so bizarre,” remembers Erdelyi, the only surviving original Ramone. “I saw them as very artistic. One was ‘I Don’t Wanna Walk Around With You’ and the other was ‘I Don’t Wanna Get Involved With You’, which was the same song with slightly different lyrics.”

The formula the Ramones laid down that afternoon on E 20th St and Broadway served them for the rest of the decade – a busy and exciting time for the band during which they recorded five classic albums and also helped define the stylistic parameters for a new genre of music. They were called punks, but if the Ramones looked tough and acted dumb they were a hard act to pigeonhole. Birthed in New York’s CBGB’s scene, they shared a dense knowledge of popular culture and rock music that they distilled into minimalist pop poetry, reducing musical and lyrical concepts to their base elements with pop art economy. They wanted to be The Bay City Rollers, but they looked like The Velvet Underground and played faster, louder and more intensely than anybody around. It was genius but America didn’t want to know. Now, the legacy – and logo – of the Ramones is everywhere. “If the Ramones were still around they’d be playing stadiums,” says Patti Smith’s guitarist Lenny Kaye. “They became the template for punk rock – very fast eighth notes, call-and-response lyrics, deliberate dumbness, incredible propulsion.” Erdelyi sighs, “We were influential in more ways than a lot of people realise. I always thought eventually everybody would catch up with us. I didn’t realise it would take 30 years.”
A dangerous combo of bullying and substance abuse kept the Ramones lineup in constant flux. Tommy (Thomas Erdelyi), the original drummer, left to focus on producing when finally fed up with Johnny verbally abusing him. He was replaced by Marky (Marc Steven Bell), who left due to alcoholism in 1983. Some other names thrown into the mix were Richie Ramone and Elvis Ramone, and then Marky, who returned, sober and a little more entrepreneurial, in ’87.

In the 2000s, Marky tried his hand at immortality by releasing a line of signature products, including, most notably, condoms. “The world has lost too many people to STDs of all types and that is why I joined up with Ready two Go for my signature series of safer sex tins,” said Marky Ramone when the kit of condoms, lubricant, and an STD info card were released in 2008.

Also available is Marky Ramone Pasta Sauce, Marky Ramone’s Cruisin’ Kitchen (a food truck), and, of course, Marky Ramone’s gelato-filled cookies. Most products were discontinued in 2012 but I’m sure some dark and dusty corners of the internet can get you your Marky Ramone fix.

Johnny Ramone Threw TV Sets Off Roofs To Terrify Strangers. Musician Johnny Ramone of The Ramones performs at Lollapalooza in Rockford, Illinois on June 30th, 1996. Tim Mosenfelder/Getty

By all accounts, lead singer Joey Ramone (Jeffrey Ross Hyman) was a romantic and the kindest member of the band. Guitarist Johnny (John William Cummings) was the cruellest Ramone. From the beginning, the two didn’t get along. Joey was liberal, Johnny staunchly conservative. Johnny was regimented, Joey’s severe OCD often made him late and unreliable.
Joey had one great love, Linda Danielle. Joey met Linda at a Ramones show in 1977, and the two officially became a couple while filming Rock and Roll High School. Eventually,  she went on tour with the band. It wasn’t long before Johnny made a move; the two eventually married.  After that, Joey’s drinking and coke consumption increased, and he and Johnny only spoke when absolutely necessary. Rumor has it “The KKK Took My Baby Away” was Joey’s hyperbolic lament about conservative Johnny stealing Linda.

Years later, when Joey was dying Marky told Johnny he should make his peace with Joey. Johnny replied, “He’s not my friend.”

Only one of the original Ramones made it to 60. Tommy, the band’s original drummer, died of bile duct cancer at age 65, in 2014. Joey didn’t even make it to 50; he died of lymphoma at 49, in 2001. Johnny died of prostate cancer in 2004, at 56. Perhaps most tragically, Dee Dee, who struggled with drug addiction for most of his life, but in his final years had long periods of sobriety, died of an accidental heroin overdose at 51, in 2002.

Johnny Ramone was the authoritarian member of the group. He used fear and intimidation to become and remain the band’s leader. In an interview, Joey’s brother, Mickey Leigh, recalls Johnny running the Ramones “like a military operation.  He would verbally abuse Tommy, regularly punch Dee Dee for any minor infraction and had little time for Joey’s OCD.”

Johnny’s militaristic conduct was reinforced by a history of violent behaviour. As he wrote in Commando, his autobiography, “I had been on a streak of bad, violent behaviour for two years. I was just bad, every minute of the day.”

In Commando, Johnny writes of carrying old TV sets to the roofs and dropping them when he saw people walking below, for the sake of scaring them. He also threw bricks through windows for the hell of it and used physical and verbal abuse to control those around him.

Johnny Ramone’s autobiography Commando is his story in his own blunt, Republican-punk tongue (in the back of the book Johnny has penned Top Ten lists of baseball players, guitarists and of course, Republican presidents). He’s pro-police, pro-Capitalism, pro-war (some of them). He’s the ultimate good American, but he’s also a Ramone.

When Johnny talks about his bandmates, he speaks with an air of annoyance, which makes him sound like an asshole, but I get it. I get it when he’s talking about Joey always being sick and too tired on the road and why it pissed him off. I get why he beat Joey up when he was late for so much as a movie. I get why he was irritated by Dee Dee’s drug habits. (Though he did smoke pot regularly, Johnny never had more than one or two beers. He gave up drinking when he saw God at 20-years-old and decided to go from neighbourhood thug to what he describes as “normal.”) I get being irritated all the time with his bandmates. Johnny was the leader. He had orchestrated the Ramones. It was his vision and he didn’t like having that vision lose focus because of others.

The reality of being in a band with three other people is that at a certain point—after recording, torturously long tours, fights, and accomplishments—you become a family, and what family isn’t stuffed up? Johnny wasn’t a jerk (maybe, sometimes) he just had strict goals for the Ramones. Even in Lisa Marie Presley’s introduction to the book, she uses the word grouchy numerous times to describe her dearest Ramone (she follows the word grouchy with one of these 😉 faces, I might add). Grouchy. I get grouchy when it comes to dealing with bandmates. Plus, Johnny does address both Joey and Dee Dee’s deaths with love and admiration for them as friends and performers, saying that Dee Dee was the “most influential punk rock bass player of all time” and that “there was no Ramones without Joey.” For Johnny, Joey’s death marked the official end of the Ramones.

Of course, as much as all the rock’n’roll gossip about the Ramones’ private tour jokes (which often involved putting a sign that said “gay” on their roadies back), the Joey-Johnny-Linda-Ramone love triangle, all the New York 70’s punk legends Johnny had nasty opinions about, and the in-studio events are fun to read, the most memorable part of the book comes at the end when Johnny describes having cancer.

“I had this 100 percent belief that I would never get sick,” he writes. “When I was a kid, I would smoke pot with this friend of mine who had hepatitis. I just figured, ‘I can’t get this.'” Johnny only had two injuries in his life and they were both life threatening accidents that he brushed off like dandruff. When Johnny begins to write about his battle with prostate cancer, he has a different tone to his voice as he describes details of the nutritionist he first thought could fix him, finding out it was actually cancer, the treatment he received (down to the extreme pain in his penis), and how his cancer went public when the Ramones’ second drummer Mark blabbed to the press. When Johnny was sick in the hospital after treatment and trying to keep his illness quiet, Mark told Rolling Stone Johnny was on his death bed. The news spread like wildfire.

“I called Mark after I got out of the hospital and told him, ‘You really have to control yourself, control what you’re saying.’…No one knew until Mark broke the news to get his name in the press. He’d do anything to get his name in the press. He was always like that.”

Johnny talks about not wanting to be a role model for illness. He also talks about his doctor, who he respected deeply. He describes taking Dr Agus to a Red Hot Chili Peppers and Pearl Jam concert. Dr Agus had never been to a rock show before and told Johnny he was a nerd. “I don’t think you’re a nerd. I find you interesting.” These kind of oddly tender moments make you want to cry. Brilliantly, Johnny peppers them through out the book at just the right moments. Or maybe that’s just life?

Johnny is that guy people think is an asshole until he lets them get to know him, and who he lets in is rare. Johnny is smart. When he talks about his persona as “Johnny Ramone,” fandom, and the importance of public image, you know he was somewhat of a branding genius before self-branding was even a thing. Johnny says he was all about the fans. That’s why he never gave up on the Ramones even when, inside the band, things were terrible, because as Johnny writes: “When we got up on stage, we were the best out there. Nobody came close.” I don’t argue with that.

The Ramones Made Johnny Rotten Drink Urine Out Of A Beer Bottle.

Despite all the seriously sad things going on behind the scenes, the Ramones had some fun. If urinating in beer bottles and making unsuspecting friends drink urine is fun. Which, let’s be honest, it is.

According to Johnny Ramone, Johnny Rotten of the Sex Pistols drank from a urine-filled beer bottle, said “Boy, this stuff tastes like urine,” then kept drinking.

On July 4, 1976, the Ramones played a mythic gig at the Roundhouse in London. The members of countless now legendary first wave UK punk bands were in attendance; some were inspired to start bands that very night. The Clash and Sex Pistols, both already playing shows at the time (though largely unknown outside the London club scene) were hugely influenced by the Ramones and went to the show together.

According to Joe Strummer, lead vocalist, songwriter, and rhythm guitarist for the Clash, he and his friends knew how to sneak around to the windows of the dressing rooms at the Roundhouse, so they did, and threw rocks at the windows until one of them opened and Johnny Ramone’s head appeared. The bands introduced themselves, and the Ramones formed a human chain out the window to lift the members of the Clash and Pistols into the venue.

Talk about a punk rock meet cute.

Linda Ramone originally dated Joey Ramone but later dated and married Johnny Ramone. Stories conflict whether Joey and Linda had broken up prior to Linda dating Johnny or if Linda left Joey for Johnny. Her relationship with Joey and Johnny was referred to as one of the Top 10 Love Triangles by Time magazine and one of the 10 Most Infamous Love Triangles in Music History by Complex magazine. Joey and Johnny continued to tour as the Ramones, even after Linda married Johnny.

Linda is the subject of numerous songs by the Ramones including “She’s A Sensation”, “Danny Says”, and “Merry Christmas (I Don’t Want To Fight Tonight)”. Just before Johnny’s death in 2004, he and Linda supervised the erection of an 8 ft tall bronze memorial of Johnny at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery in Los Angeles, California. Linda and Johnny were together for 20 years prior to his passing.

Linda and Johnny Ramone. Johnny Stole Joey’s Girlfriend, And The Two Hardly Spoke For 15 of the 22 Years The Band Was Together.

Joey Ramone always struggled with his health. He was born with a teratoma, a tumour the size of a baseball attached to the spine that can contain bone, hair, and teeth. The condition gave him bad blood circulation and increased vulnerability to infections. He also suffered from mental health issues. At one point, he was diagnosed schizophrenic, but Obsessive Compulsive Disorder is the diagnosis that stuck. Doctors once told his mother the condition would grow so bad he would never be able to function in society, and inevitably become a living vegetable.

Joey proved the doc wrong when he found the one place he could be calm and in control, on stage. His elongated limbs (not officially diagnosed, but probably Marfan Syndrome), hair-hidden face, and choppy vocals commanded an otherworldly persona. As soon as he stepped off stage, however, he was crippled with compulsions. His younger brother Mickey Leigh recalls how “These voices in his head would say, ‘You didn’t close this door right, you gotta do it again.’ He would do it 20 times until it was ‘right’.”

It sometimes took Joey hours to walk down a street, causing frequent tardiness to rehearsals, show, and events that exacerbated tension with Johnny. Once, after the band returned from tour in England, Joey insisted on driving back to the airport just to retrace one step.

In April 2001, Joey died from lymphatic cancer. His death was accelerated on New Year’s Eve 2000 when he decided to return to his chiropractor’s office to see if he closed the door properly the previous day and slipped on an icy sidewalk. He needed hip surgery, which temporarily halted his cancer treatment, which led to his death some short months later on April 15, 2001.

For their fifth studio album, End of the Century, recorded in 1979, the Ramones hired future murderer and renown producer Phil Spector. Spector achieved great success with groups like The Ronettes and, later, John Lennon and George Harrison. When the Ramones first met Spector, he was goofy and relaxed.

Spector had a reputation for being controlling and abusive, and the bizarre habit of donning a cape and dark glasses while drinking wine from a goblet. One night, the band told Spector it was time to call it quits after recording for hours on end, well into the early morning, at which point the producer allegedly pulled a gun and told the band they weren’t going anywhere. Depending on the version of the story, Spector pointed his firearm at either Dee Dee or Johnny, who, calling his bluff, said “What are you going to do, shoot me? Go ahead. I’m leaving. Goodbye” and walked out.

End of the Century went way over budget, and, while it was advanced as a piece of audio engineering, it wasn’t terribly well received. Decades later, Spector was convicted of second-degree murder for the 2003 shooting of Lana Clarkson and was sentenced to 19-years-to-life sentence in California. In his autobiography CommandoJohnny wrote, “After he shot that girl, I thought, ‘I’m surprised that he didn’t shoot someone every year.'”

They Ate So Much Curry Before Shows They Had Special Buckets For Their Inevitable Vomit. Every band has a pre-show ritual. Some pray, some shoot up. The Ramones got curry.  Their PR manager, Mick Houghton, recalls the band got curry before every show, and ordered the spiciest thing on the menu. “It was like a challenge as they sat there, sweat dripping off their faces.”

Because they ate such large quantities of super spicy food and were such an active live band, the Ramones kept special buckets on the side of the stage for puke. According to Houghton, at least one member of the band inevitably puked before the show was over.

Dee Dee was the archetypical stuff-up. 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.

Dee Dee’s Teen Years Included Morphine Addiction, Armed Robbery, And Foraging For Swastikas. Dee Dee’s Girlfriend Cut His Ass When He Had An Affair With Nancy Spungen, And Both Women Died Violently The Next Year.

If Dee Dee’s childhood among the rubble of post-war Germany and early career as a drug-addicted prostitute weren’t rough enough, in the early days of the band, he had a turbulent relationship with a woman named Connie Gripp, AKA Connie Ramone. Connie was also a sex worker and addict. Marky recalls, upon joining the Ramones in 1978, being horrified when Dee Dee told him about Connie, whom Marky refers to as “a violent stalker, prostitute, and drug addict.”

As the story goes, Dee Dee was living with Connie in ’77 and cheated on her with Nancy Spungen of Sid and Nancy fame. Connie walked in Nancy riding Dee Dee’s rocket to Russia, smashed a beer bottle, and sliced Dee Dee’s ass. According to Vera Ramone King, Dee Dee’s wife, he had the scar for the rest of his life. As she wrote in her tell-allPoisoned Heart: I Married Dee Dee Ramone:

“He had a huge scar on his ass for the rest of his life from that horrific relationship, just because she had caught him cheating on her. Connie was a pathetic person, and a stalker to boot. The only way she could hold on to any man was to supply him with heroin. Another time her former boyfriend, Arthur Kane from the New York Dolls [pre-Dee Dee] went all the way to Florida to try to get away from her. She followed him there, where they got into such a horrible fight that Arthur grabbed her breast and ripped out her breast implant. After that, she only had one boob to hustle with and make money.”

The Dee Dee-Connie-Nancy love triangle ended in tragedy in 1978 when Nancy was murdered by boyfriend Sid Vicious and Connie overdosed on the street.

Dee Dee Ramone’s teen years in the ’60s sound like something out of a gritty coming-of-age novel. They began in Germany, where his military father was stationed, and where Dee Dee spent his days unsupervised, foraging through the wreckage of WWII. He found gas masks, helmets, bayonets, and Nazi memorabilia. In his autobiography, Lobotomy, he recalls thinking Swastikas were glamorous.

Dee Dee also spent a good amount of time interacting with soldiers, whom he got his first drugs from – he was getting high on morphine regularly by age 12.

When his mother left his father, Dee Dee moved to the US, and eventually went hitchhiking across the country. He got picked up by a group of teenagers who talked obsessively about decapitation and pressured him into joining them in an armed robbery, after which Dee Dee was stranded in an Indiana jail for weeks.

Dee Dee asked his father to bail him out, to which he replied, “Fk you, rot there! You deserve it!”

Music journalist Legs McNeil wrote of Dee Dee: “Dee Dee was the archetypical f-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.”

Upon first listen, “53rd and 3rd” is a jaunty, all-age-appropriate tune that’ll have you tapping your foot. If you take a moment to listen to the words, you’ll hear the sad tale of a male escort who always gets picked last on his corner.

“Fifty-third and third standing on the street

Fifty-third and third I’m tryin’ to turn a trick

Fifty-third and third you’re the one they never pick

Fifty-third and third don’t it make you feel sick?”

Bassist and songwriter Dee Dee Ramone (Douglas Glenn Colvin) struggled with heroin addiction throughout his life. When the Ramones began recording and touring full time, he had the cash to finance his habit. Before that, he resorted to other ways to get fast cash; namely, hanging about at a certain Manhattan intersection notorious for solicitation.

On leaving the Ramones in 1989, Dee Dee said “I got tired of the Ramones around the time I quit and I really got into rap. I thought it was the new punk rock. LL Cool J was my biggest idol.”

Um… what?

At the time, Dee Dee was trying to stay sober, and each member of the Ramones was locked in a constant battle with his own addictions and the other members of the band. As the story goes, Dee Dee showed up one day with gold chains and spiky hair and told the guys he going to be a rapper. He released some solo rap material while in the group, in 1987, under the name Dee Dee King. Just a few months before quitting, he released a solo rap album, Standing in the Spotlight, of which Matt Carlson of All Music wrote “Dee Dee Ramone’s Standing in the Spotlight will go down in the annals of pop culture as one of the worst recordings of all time.”

Topics covered on Standing on the Spotlight range from mashed potatoes to mermaids. Some review highlights from Amazon include “Terribly hilarious” and “Was he serious? It would seem so.” There was no follow up album.

The founding bassist and songwriter for the legendary New York punk band the Ramones, Douglas Glenn Colvin (a.k.a. Dee Dee Ramone), died June 5, 2002 of a heroin overdose. He was 50.

Ramone’s wife Barbara found her husband unconscious on a couch in their Los Angeles apartment surrounded by drug paraphernalia, including a used syringe. Paramedics confirmed that Ramone was dead at 8:40 PM. Toxicology results determined that Ramone died from a lethal heroin overdose. In his late ’90s autobiography, Lobotomy: Surviving the Ramones, Ramone wrote about his on-and-off struggle with drugs and alcohol. He died 14 months after vocalist Joey Ramone succumbed to cancer at age 49.

Guitarist John William Cummings (a.k.a. Johnny Ramone, who died in 2004) had been friends with Dee Dee since 1969. They met at a building in New York, where Dee Dee worked in the mail room and Johnny did construction. One day, they both decided to cash their pay checks and buy guitars; Johnny got a Mosrite, Dee Dee purchased a Danelectro.

After fumbling around the band with different members in different positions — Dee Dee was originally the vocalist and Jeffrey Ross Hyman (Joey Ramone) played drums — they officially became the Ramones in 1973. Dee Dee, who had a reputation of being the wildest member, came up with the name after learning that Paul McCartney often used the alias Paul Ramon when he checked into hotels. The band changed the spelling to “Ramone” and every member used the title as their surname to demonstrate their solidarity. The Ramones debuted live on March 30, 1974 and soon became an in-demand club act.

Using just three and four chords, the Ramones mixed their love for bubblegum girl pop with the hard rock of the Who and the MC5 and the proto-punk of The Stooges, then put the blender on full-speed, creating a wall of primal, melodic, abrasive and bouncy sound that was both visceral and infectious. The Ramones quickly became leaders of the New York punk rock scene and in 1976 released their seminal self-titled debut, which included “Blitzkrieg Bop,” “Beat on the Brat,” “I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend” and “Now I Wanna Sniff Some Glue.”

While the Ramones endured numerous lineup changes, Dee Dee remained with the band until 1990, playing on 11 records. After leaving the Ramones he had a short, unsuccessful career as rapper Dee Dee King, recorded a few solo albums and appeared on various collaborations. Despite serious substance abuse problems, he remained musically active until his death.

In the intro to Dee Dee Ramone’s book Lobotomy, Legs McNeil wrote, “Dee Dee was the archetypical f-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.”

And without him, the Ramones likely would never have existed and the history of punk music as we know it would not have been the same.

At Least One Of Them Was Held At Gunpoint By Phil Spector.

When the Ramones came out of Spector’s studio, relationships were damaged and loyal companions cast aside. The ’80s and ’90s would be a long, hard slog for a band that continued to release albums but had more or less given up on chart success. They instead focused on playing to adoring fans in Europe, South America and Japan, never deviating from the purity, the audacious simplicity, of that original vision. Of that, Erdelyi remains proud. “Through my life, I came up with a lot of ideas,” he says, “but this one not only happened, it worked out better than I could ever have imagined.”

The Ramones split in 1996 and affirmation would arrive when they were inducted into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame in 2002. In 2003, they featured in a documentary, End Of The Century. By then, Joey was gone, dying of lymphoma in 2001. Dee Dee and Johnny followed within three years.

“They wanted to be on Top 10 radio, and maybe they should have done, but in the long term they are revered in the iconography of rock’n’roll,” says Lenny Kaye. “With their very short songs, they brought everything back down to ground zero, in the same way, The Stooges had performed that alchemical reduction in form. Because it was so easy to play and understand, it was incredibly infectious. They made a load of great albums and their sound went around the world.”

The Ramones’ debut album goes gold nearly 40 years later …

The Ramones’ First Album Finally Goes Gold, 38 Years Later | Time.com

The Kids Are Losing Their Minds: The Ramones’ Debut At 40 – NPR

Johnny Ramone Was An Asshole But I Get It – Noisey

Johnny Ramone Talks Joey, Ramones Reissues – Rolling Stone

Linda Ramone – Wikipedia

Interviews: Linda Ramone on the Johnny tribute, Ramones t-shirts …

Johnny Ramone – Wikipedia

Rare Johnny Ramone Guitar Brings $71,000 at Auction – Rolling Stone

The Curse of the Ramones – Rolling Stone

Ramones – The Official Website of Ramones

Forty years of the Ramones: ‘They were the smartest dumb band you …

14 Insanely Punk Stories About The Ramones – Ranker

4 Kickass Ways to Remember The Ramones, 40 Years Later – Esquire

End of the Century: The Story of the Ramones – Wikipedia

‘Ramones’: The Story Behind a Debut Album From Punk Pioneers …

The Untold Story Of The Ramones – Inside This Week’s NME – NME

PUNK: From the Heart and to the Point

“End of the Century: The Story of the Ramones” – Salon.com


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