Saturday, October 25, 2008

Poisoned Heart

"I lived your life for so many years
all I got was self-pity and tears"

Whatever the credits on Brain Drain say, that's a classic Dee Dee couplet: blunt, hostile and dripping with self-loathing. If you expanded that line into 289 pages you'd have Dee Dee's autobiography, Poison Heart: Surviving the Ramones.*

In this, the first of Dee Dee's three books, he rails against those who tried to control his life (Mom, Connie, Johnny Ramone) while he stumbles from one intoxicant to the next. When not detailing his narcotic abuse, Dee Dee mainlines self-pity. That woe-is-me sentiment stalks the narrator, whether he's walking into an AA meeting (after crashing his Camaro) and declaring. "I felt they were all against me" or wrapping it all up in the epilogue by saying, "I feel vulnerable, out of place and unwelcome everywhere I go". It's not just disillusioning (even if you have few illusions about the Ramones), it's actually a bit embarrassing.

The actual music he was such a crucial component of only comes up in drips and drabs, such as when Dee Dee confesses, "To this day I still have no idea how they made the album End of the Century..." The scattershot narrative reminds me of Winston Smith's interview with the prole in 1984, when he discovers that the man's memories are too fractured to be instructive.

It's a sad read: the self-inflicted pain, the repetitive prose, the cheap snapshots of Dee Dee drinking with his dog and his teenage Argentinian bride. The saddest part of all is the cruel irony that, despite the few victories our narrator ekes out, within a few years of publication he'd die of a heroin overdose. I kept expecting a third person epilogue, (like for All Quiet on the Western Front) that would explain that Dee Dee died before the end of his particular war.

If you can survive this book, savour Dee Dee's defence of the two Ramones songs he seems proudest of: "Warthog" and "Poison Heart". Odd choices perhaps, but intriguing. "Warthog" risks being thrash-by-numbers but here Dee Dee explains it's warp-speed belligerence as pure rehab catharsis. On the opposite pole, "Poison Heart" flirts with singer-songwriter mushy-mindedness but instead it's Dee Dee's true autobiography - with a verse and a chorus that, together, show his defiance in the face of his own misanthropy.

"There's danger on every corner but I'm okay
Walking down the street trying to forget yesterday

Well I just wanna walk right out of this world
'Cause everybody's got a poison heart"

Remember the music - it's all that's left us.
Here's a bootleg of studio odds n' ends called Unreleased Tracks

Download Unreleased Tracks V. 1

* Re-titling the Second Edition "Lobotomy" was just cruel to Dee Dee.

Next: God Made Dee Dee Funky


  1. nice review, the book was very sad. it really seemed like he couldn't even remember being in the ramones for the most part!

  2. Sadness, yup sadness. Maybe "I Slept With Joey Ramone" will be a cheerier read.



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