In his new book, Chelsea Horror Hotel, Dee Dee Ramone brings to life an era that’s been dead for a while, though some refuse to let sleeping dogs lie. Dee Dee‘s beloved dog Banfield was welcome at 222 23rd Street, and that’s why after 20 years Dee Dee found himself living once again at New York‘s classic and dilapidated Chelsea Hotel.
At the Chelsea, owner Stanley Bard let artists pay rent with paintings he knew were worth dough, and as Dee Dee remembers with disgust, “I can’t believe that he would have a Vali Myers painting over the basement entrance. I mean, c‘mon, mister, that painting is worth a lotta, lotta money!” Dee Dee’s crowd were the underdogs, even too creepy for the gender-bender-chic freaks at Max‘s Kansas City, so they were relegated to CBGB, but everyone from frowsy hookers to poets and rock stars (who often dressed like frowsy hookers) fit in at the Chelsea.
A lot of legendary shit has gone down in that building. Let’s see, there was the famous Marilyn Monroe “balcony shot.” And Andy Warhol made a movie there; his ingenue Nico named her album Chelsea Girl after it, and she allegedly gave Jim Morrison a blowjob there, too. But much more infamous than Jim‘s rising mojo was the night Sid killed Nancy. Dee Dee left just before Sid moved in. “I had to get away from him,” he recalls. “The band was giving me a lot of grief [over his various dependencies], and I had to get rid of my friends — and you know, Sid really wanted to join the Ramones as a drummer.”
The Sex Pistols got a lot of credit for it, but before Dee Dee Ramone came along, no one articulated the politics and desperation of boredom quite like him. And yeah, a lot of people talk about Patti Smith and Richard Hell as being these holy punk rock poets, but if they were doing the-Beats-meet-Rimbaud, then for the sheer pathetic outrageousness of “We’re a Happy Family,” Dee Dee is the punk rock Genet — a victim of the system who makes dysfunction an art form.
But Dee Dee‘s no longer restricted to the Thorazine-induced Brian Wilson song — short, sad but bubblegum sweet. His post-Ramones career is two books strong (he’s also written Lobotomy: Surviving the Ramones), and he‘s transforming punk poetry into hallucinatory prose. Perhaps more telling than Legs McNeil’s horrific Please Kill Me, a book idea Dee Dee swears that McNeil ripped off, Chelsea Horror Hotel is a fantastical tale that finds the punk of punk himself summing up what New York downtown life was like in the ‘70s — and he doesn’t skimp on the lifestyle‘s aftermath and casualties.
“I’m lucky I had the Chelsea — it was my home,” Dee Dee says while sitting outside the Cyber Cafe on Hollywood Boulevard and La Brea Avenue, 3,000 miles away from the Chelsea and his other familiar corner of 53rd and Third. “I was making a sociological comment. It was the haphazard lifestyle of an artist or writer, or drunk, or scenemaker, and I was part of that privileged outlaw class — we don‘t have to work in the afternoon.”
Dee Dee has translated his stay at the Chelsea into a modern-day A Christmas Carol, except all three of his ghosts come from Punk’s Past, and have no morals to tell. “He‘s always going to be angry with me, that one” — he seems exasperated by Johnny Thunders’ bitter persistence, and refers to him as a demon rather than an actual ghost. The other two visits are from Stiv Bators and, though he tried to avoid him, good old Sid. All of their deaths were drug-related, and by all accounts Dee Dee ought to be there with them. Apparently no one could get rid of Sid, not even the hotel‘s owner; he got so sick of the tourists on the first floor that he switched the room numbers, so though Dee Dee was staying in Room 117, he’s sure that it used to be Room 100 — the scene of the crime.
Dee Dee calls his novel “one last show” with the boys before he “closes the book” on the whole scene, but now that Joey‘s up there in the clouds, can we expect another visit? “I put him to rest in a private funeral when I took a walk in the woods.”
Dee Dee hesitates and says somberly, “I think Joey’s fighting me in this life, and I have to take it to the grave. I‘m only human, and I can’t fight a demon. All I can say is, ‘Would you gimme a break?’ I do hope he forgives me if he feels I slighted him in any way.”