by John M. Borack
Today (September 18th) would have been Dee Dee Ramone’s 63rd birthday, which got me to thinking about the former Ramones’ bassist and the impact he and the band have had on my life. I was introduced to the Ramones’ music during my freshman year in college in a class called The History of Rock and Roll. (The class was taught by a Mr. Josephson, who looked like a cross between Buddy Holly and a really creepy looking undertaker.)
I vividly recall Mr. Josephson playing the class a snippet of “Sheena is a Punk Rocker” and labeling the Ramones’ music “psychotic drug songs.” Even though I wasn’t quite sure what that meant, I knew I liked what I’d heard and wanted to hear more.
It wasn’t long before the Ramones became one of my favorite bands. Their music sounded unlike anything I had heard before, and certainly was quite a bit different from the steady diet of Journey/Styx/Foreigner/Toto I was used to. It was because of the Ramones that I began seeking out music that wasn’t necessarily popular or played on the radio, as I still do.
I was fortunate enough to see the Ramones in concert five times, and each time it was a non-stop punk rock joyride, with the band tearing through their set with equal doses of fun and ferocity. (I had to go solo because most of my friends were still stuck in AOR-land.) I also had the opportunity to meet them once at a record store in my tiny Southern California town in the mid-’80s, and that day remains indelibly stamped on my memory. I particularly recall Dee Dee acting like an excitable little kid, running around, talking to fans, and generally having a great time. I also remember him signing my Rocket to Russia poster and enthusiastically telling me and the other Ramones how cool he thought it was.
The day Dee Dee passed in 2002; my family and I were vacationing in the Napa Valley, and for some reason I was driving around town by myself when the news came on the radio. It hit me like a ton of bricks, and I pulled into a parking lot and sat there stunned as I listened to the details. The Ramones weren’t supposed to die; they seemed eternally youthful, as did their songs (many of which Dee Dee wrote). It may sound like an exaggeration to some, but they were my Beatles.
It always seemed to me that Dee Dee was something of a tortured soul, and his battles with drugs have been well documented. No matter; today I’m thinking of the Dee Dee Ramone who helped create some timeless rock and roll, made millions of people happy, and showed an awkward teenager that there was so more to music than what was being played on top 40 radio. I’m sure that wherever he is now, he’s wearing his leather jacket, shaking his mop of hair and counting off one of his tunes. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to listen to “Sheena is a Punk Rocker.” Take it, Dee Dee…