I’m kind of bored with politics right now, honestly. Maybe it’s the proverbial sap rising as the temperatures around here do, the gradual lifting of the cold-weather curtain to reveal the same old world painted over with fresh possibilities. I’m restless and easily irritated, always feeling like I’m missing something without ever knowing what it is – and at the same time, I can slip over into near-euphoria just by going outside and breathing the air. So, yeah, politics is kind of dull for me right now.
The two constants in my life have been music and motorcycles; whenever I’ve needed a lift over the years, it’s usually been one of those two interests that’s provided it. And likewise, whenever I’ve been just silly excited over something, it’s one of those two things I run to to help me celebrate whatever it is I feel like celebrating. A nice, long, head-clearing spin on the Harley, or Motorhead or Ray Price cranked to way past eleven — these are the milemarkers on my personal highway, the things I come back to again and again to remind me of exactly who and what I am in the times when I’ve been confused and uncertain. They’re what make life worth living, or my life, anyway.
So with that in mind, I think I’m going to do things a little differently this week: unless something extraordinary happens, I’m going to focus less on political issues and more on these two things. In terms of the raw number of words or posts it might seem a bit lean around here, but I think it’ll be fun just the same. And given the political climate lately, maybe we could all use a bit more of that.
A regular around these parts has sent me a few e-mails detailing his time on the road with Dee Dee Ramone. It’s been great for me to read these things; these are real-deal road stories from a guy who’s been there and done that, and he writes well enough that I asked his permission to post them here. For those of you who’ve lived the road-dog lifestyle at some time in your life, well, I know already what your reaction is going to be. For those of you who haven’t, you’re going to get a glimpse into what lies behind the “glamour” of the rock and roll circus. It can be ugly in places for sure, but speaking for myself, if I only took one thing away from reading these tales it was just how much I truly do miss being on the road.
We’ll do this in installments, since some of these e-mails are rather lengthy, and also because, well, I’m a notorious tease. So without further ado, I yield the floor to Scott for Installment One:
I’ve been frequenting your digs for maybe a year or more – our opinions on matters political and otherwise appear to be nearly identical. Your piece “sums up three years of bloggin” about brought a tear to my wife’s eye.
Until just now I hadn’t read your piece on Dee Dee’s passing. (here – ed)
I played with Dee Dee in the Chinese Dragons; toured with him for two years (’91 -‘ 93.) US mostly, but some South America, where the Ramones are the Beatles.
When Dee Dee got hungry on the road, he would often sit up from the front bench in the van, and inquire “Can we go to McDonalds?” We would pull off at the next available set of arches, and he would often don a blanket or shawl like a babushka, and lead everyone into the place. He would instruct us that we were to refer to him as “Grandma Colvin.” (Dee Dee’s real name was Douglas Colvin, in case you didn’t know – ed)
When he had a healthy amount of grey stubble kicking, some sunglasses, and missing teeth displayed, he did in fact look a lot like an old Russian lady, but with sailor ink.
It was a strange trip, no doubt. I was bumming around in Detroit bands. This was ’91 or so, and if you recall, the whole Seattle thing hadn’t quite trickled down to the proletariat. Suburban rock clubs were still pretty hair metal. The few punk bands that were kicking around were either sharing dive stages with speedmetal bands, or opening for the Jane’s Addiction of the week downtown. I was doing that when Dee Dee’s road manager saw me playing and asked me to come play with the Dragons.
The last thing Dee Dee was interested in playing was old Ramones songs, or anything remotely punk, for that matter. This was a bit after the Dee Dee King thing fizzled away. He was hanging around in Royal Oak, sitting on sidewalk benches, pretending to be indifferent and somewhat bothered when punk rock kids pestered him to be buddies and tell stories.
The other fellas in the band explained that of course, there would be the obligatory Ramones/Hearbreakers songs in the set, but Dee Dee was adamant that the focus was to be blues. Huh? Yes, blues. Buddy Guy, Muddy Waters, etc. Now, I’ve played every, and I mean every, type of music that includes a drumset, professionally and otherwise. Blues can be great when it’s inspired and done right, and Oh-My-God-Fucking-Kill-Me-This-Is-So-GodDamn-Boring-And-Lame the other 95% of the time. I needn’t specify which category the flavor of Blues we were to play fell into. Remember playing “Dust My Broom” when you were 17 in a garage full of white guys in an inner-ring suburb? Yeah, that was about it. So you had a choice: embrace DD’s vision, or blow it off. I wasn’t about to blow off going on tour full time with a paying band – AND playing with one of my heroes. More than anyone else in the band, I had actually grown up a damaged punk rock kid that only made it through adolescence by the grace of the Ramones, Sham 69, and Black Flag.
I didn’t meet Dee Dee ’til the night of my first gig with them in Chicago, at the Double Door, I think. We had practiced a couple/three times just myself, the guitar player Ritchie, and the singer/bass player Al. I had known Ritchie and Al from the early 80s. They had a Damned/glam type vibe back then, and now were from the black jeans, black hair, shit kicker end of things. I could hang in any corner, so whatever.
Wow – this is turning into a f-ing autobiography, bleech.
Anyway, to sum up the Dragons…We were designed to, and should have, sucked it, but actually were not that bad. For real. Did some good covers – Motorhead, NYDolls, plenty of good Ramones.
I had to teach Dee Dee how to sing and play Wart Hog (one of the many songs Dee Dee wrote for the Ramones, and one of his best-known and most loved signature songs – ed). That was odd. People were screaming for it all the time, but no one knew it. I was the little punk rock kid in the band, so I did. Showed Richie and Al. Dee Dee came to practice. We tried to play it. He didn’t know it. Now I know you don’t always play a song just like you record it. Songs evolve. Arrangements are open to amendment and revision. He really had no clue at all. I think he forgot it on purpose at some point way back when those guys were on the skids, whatever. I wrote down the words for him. Tabbed out the riffs and changes. That was one of our more popular numbers. I must tell you, that was one of the high points. There weren’t many, but the ones that stick out were very high, very clear, valued. I don’t think about them enough. Your piece on Dee Dee when he died made me think about the ‘moments.’
See, Dee Dee, for all his difficulty (he was kind of like a 12 year-old girl most of the time), could really crank it out. You could see it when he picked up a guitar and just started down-stroking to warm up. You saw it, felt it from across the room. His wrist was strong and agile and powerful. He was playing Les Paul Juniors at the time, through a Fender Twin I think. Nothing big – no real knuckles in the tone at all, mostly just clean jangle.
There were lots of little things that served to remind you who he really was. He could tune up fast and quiet, and didn’t bother tuning up unless it really needed it, which was good. No sense in fooling with it if you don’t have to, right? Why break up the flow? Next song. Go. Quit f-ing stopping all the time to tune up, you putz. He didn’t always know the songs that well, but would pay attention, even if you thought he wasn’t, or couldn’t, and would jump right back on.
Like I said, though, that was a weird time in Rock. Dee Dee was trying to separate himself from just being some old punk rock guy. It seemed like L.A. music biz rock was still hovering in Guns and Roses’ shadow. To have a viable rock act, at least for Hollywood, it needed to be some kind of blues-based thing. Ugh. That was a real source of tension. It was hard to act legit, I have to admit. Dee Dee made me buy black jeans. Yep, I had none. I had gas station pants, (you remember, back from before they were hip-sanctioned and had a Dickies label on ’em,) and ripped, bleached blue-jeans. I had to buy black jeans to be in the band. I happened to have some longish hair at the time, too, but I always had it in a bandana or baseball hat or something. This was unacceptable. I had to wear it down to be in the band. Ugh. I just cut the crap off after awhile. Now, if it weren’t for the fact that I was a really good drummer, (honest,) I would have been gone for that, too. After all the re-emergence of the punk ethos, and the ascendance of the garage aesthetic, that sure seems silly, doesn’t it?
(Next installment tomorrow – ed)