Dee Dee Ramone

[Originally published in the Boston Globe in September 1992. Used by permission of the author.]

Is there life after the Ramones?

Sure. But if you’re founding bassist-songwriter Dee Dee Ramone you’ve got to return to near-zero and try and build it back up again. Hence, you tour without an album, without any hype and you play a late booking to a 100-plus curious Ramones fans at a small club on a midweek night.

And you’re happy to be there. Hell, you’re happy to be alive. Dee Dee Ramone has spent a fair chunk of his 40 years on the planet hooked on cocaine, heroin and methadone. Because he’s a famous rocker, when he goes on the road — tours England — he’ll have young rocker/wannabe pals offer him syringes loaded with heroin. After all, the whole punk rock/hard drugs connection took off when the Ramones toured England in 1976: Why not cement that bond more than a decade and a half down the road?

“Drugs make everything worse,” Dee Dee Ramone says, downstairs at Bunratty’s, following Wednesday’s gig. “And it’s humiliating. I was under the rule of them and they were the boss. They’re not an alternative to depression; they make it worse. We all find that out. . . . Most of all, I feel like I’ve been given a break by God or something.” Dee Dee says he’s lost five close friends to complications stemming from drug abuse — including ex-New York Dolls Johnny Thunders and Jerry Nolan — and he says he’s been straight since August 28, 1991.

Dee Dee left the Ramones a couple of years ago. He began, and then aborted, a rap incarnation as Dee Dee King, relocating to Detroit. In March he linked up with guitarist Ritchie Screech, bassist Alan Bama and drummer Scott Goldstein and formed the Chinese Dragons. In between, though, there was a lot of tough stuff. He split with his wife Vera and, he says, was busted for assault and drug possession a couple of times.

Dee Dee says he left the Ramones voluntarily as far as he can tell — and even contributed three strong songs to their current Mondo Bizarro album — but adds, “I ran for my life, for my self, from my life. It was like leaving the Mafia. That was a rough band to get out of. It’ll always be following me around. . . . I have no friends, I have no family, the only hope I can have is to forget it. . . . But the Ramones really didn’t leave me stranded. I’m not miserable. Something happened.”

Perhaps part of that is good ol’ rock ‘n’ roll salvation. Dee Dee, who has switched from bass to guitar and lead vocals, is clearly happy fronting the Chinese Dragons, which is a good, though not great, band. Dee Dee and company rocked through Ramones standards like “I Don’t Wanna Walk Around With You,” “Chinese Rocks,” “Warthog” and “I Wanna Be Sedated,” played a batch of new tunes and sped up the Foghat-identified blues song “I Just Wanna Make Love to You” and Motorhead’s “Ace of Spades.”

There is a shot of the hard-rocking blues in Dee Dee’s new mix, as well as classic simple/comic punk rants like “What About Me?” — chorus: “You always get your way!/What about me?” Also a telling tune called “Don’t Be a Dope Fiend.” That, in effect, is Dee Dee’s core message, though he won’t hit you over the head with it. What he’s saying is that there’s a lot of fun to be had in life, drugs seem to aid and abet that fun, and then they let you down hard. But you can still come out rocking.