Unhappy Accident

Dee Dee Ramone died the same way he lived -- by accident

Jun 26, 2002 at 4:00 am
Back in '73, scientists discovered little areas in our brain that help deaden pain. These, it turned out, are our own tiny opiate factories, pumping out little proteins called endorphins that fit precisely into little receptors on our neurons, with physiological effects rivaling only those of the orgasm. That's why opiates such as heroin are so addictive. They fit nicely into those same receptors, unlike other drugs, which have to bounce around a bit to try and find purchase -- like a hexagon trying to fit into a square hole. Heroin slides right into our brains with that same smooth, satisfying thnonk of a guitar cord being plugged into an amp.

And that's why Dee Dee Ramone died. He had quit and started shooting up again, quit and restarted throughout his life. As much as people like to wax philosophical about rock stars who live and die this way -- that they found fame to be empty, that they were covering up hurt, that they were creative souls who found the world too much to handle -- the most likely explanation is that heroin is a bitch to kick.

We tend to leave out that little detail; we certainly did with Kurt Cobain, whose death evoked essay after essay about his tortured soul and barely a word about the fact that only about 10 percent of heroin addicts are ever able to kick the habit. Because the drug's effects are so fundamentally a part of our makeup, the temptation to take heroin again is overwhelming. Imagine if someone told you that you could never have an orgasm again, and yet the option was still available -- you'd just have to resist. That's what it must be like to kick junk for good. You can have a little foreplay with booze, a little heavy petting with pot, but never again will you grab the sheets and shake in ecstasy after treating yourself to that prick of chiva.

So, like many addicts, Dee Dee died of an accidental overdose after returning to the drug. It's fitting that he went out by accident, because everything that was worthwhile in his life started that way. A group such as the Ramones doesn't get planned. Three-chord songs about sniffing glue and beating on brats and living on Chinese rocks are happy accidents. In fact, it can be said that whenever Dee Dee did anything deliberately it was a disaster.

Take his solo effort under the name of Dee Dee King -- no, take it, please! It was his foray into the rap world, and man, did it ever suck. The cover of the 1989 LP, Standing in the Spotlight, features him dressed in the usual Ramoneswear -- Converse Chuck Taylors, tight jeans, leather jacket -- but with an LL Cool J twist (a Mercedes-Benz hood ornament hanging from a thick chain around his neck) and a Run-DMC hat. He, uh, "raps" about being half-American, half-German and macerates the "Mashed Potato" hip-slop style: "Well I drive a Mercedes/I like to impress the ladies/and knock out the homeboys too/This ain't the twist or the boogaloo/The mashed potato is the groove/It's gonna make your body move/Make you snap, crackle and pop/I'm the masher of hip-hop."

He got that last part right. Probably the only thing funnier than this record is the press release Sire sent out to accompany it: "An early single garnered favorable response, and invited comparisons to such innovative rappers as Jazzy Jeff.... It's safe to say that the Ramones changed rock forever, and you can be sure that Dee Dee King will do the same for rap." Then there's poor Dee Dee's quote: "I've always considered myself first and foremost a lyricist." Sure, dumbass lyrics worked perfectly with the Ramones, but that was a happy accident.

Even after Dee Dee abandoned "branching out" musically, he tried his hand at fiction. His autobiography, Lobotomy, was great -- sincere, sad and darkly sweet. But when he tried writing a novel about the Chelsea Hotel, it wasn't good at all. Unlike the easy flow of his autobiography, he was being too deliberate, and he failed.

So now two of the Ramones are gone, and all the punks who said, "Two down, two to go" when George Harrison died now have their own mourning to do. Dee Dee's solo shows were fun: basically regurgitated Ramones stuff with a whole lotta audience participation. In his last years, in fact, he was merely going through the motions, not really trying very hard. And that's what made it fantastic.