Interview: Vera Ramone King

Dee Dee Ramone’s First Wife Tells Her Story About Their Marriage
By David Chiu

Punk rocker Dee Dee Ramone was probably the most interesting, colorful and wild of the Ramones. Not only a bassist, Dee Dee, who died of a drug overdose in 2002, played an integral part of the band’s musical legacy since he also wrote a lot of the Ramones songs. In 1989 he tried his hand at rap and recorded a solo album under the name Dee Dee King,

Vera Ramone King knows well about the unpredictable nature of Dee Dee Ramone as his first wife for 17 years. In her recent memoir Poisoned Heart: A Punk Love Story, King describes their tumultuous marriage, one that included Dee Dee’s drug use, his erratic behavior, and physical abuse towards her. At one point, according to the book, Dee Dee threatened King by holding a switchblade towards her neck, then forcing her to drive back to New York City so he can get drugs—an episode that ended the marriage right there. Yet King also writes about the tender and loving side of Dee Dee, such as his generosity towards strangers and his attempt to save a man through mouth-to mouth.

Poisoned Heart also documents the world of the Ramones as it offers insight to the personalities of the two other famous band members, Joey and Johnny, the latter depicted as very controlling and domineering in the book.

Today King, who is a brain cancer survivor, has remarried and now resides in Florida. She spoke to NewBeats about writing the book (which also contains a foreword by former Talking Heads’ Chris Frantz and Tina Weymouth) and living with the unique personality of a punk legend.

Your book really captures the two sides of Dee Dee: the good and the bad.
That was part of the reason why I wrote the book. I know there is only a certain legacy that has been left behind. I wanted his fans to know that there was a lot more to the man that they know about. I hope that came across but not in a negative way.

I’d rather just say that I wrote the book because I wanted his fans to know that there was a lot more to him than just the legacy that was left behind, kind of like a drug induced legacy that people remind themselves when they hear name. And there quite a few different sides to Dee Dee. He had a lot of loving qualities as well. He was a very talented person and I wanted to bring some of those things to surface and have people know what he was all about.

If I read correctly from the book, you first met Dee Dee at the former New York City venue Max’s Kansas City?
That is correct. That was mainly where I used to go. He wasn’t playing there that night. We just happened to meet at the bar. He came over and stood next to me and we talked about three or four hours. And he asked me for my number—he said he was leaving to go to the United Kingdom—he was going to London to do some shows. And he asked me if you could call me when he got back. I came home from work one day and my mom said to me A Dee Dee called you from England. I was like Oh my God! Oh my God! And he called me back and he said he was coming home and wanted to see me when he got back. From the moment he came back, we were inseparable. It was just one of those things—we just clicked.

It was love at first sight. He said it in many interviews before while he was alive, and for me it was the same thing. I’d love his sense of humor, I thought he was really funny. He had that sexy raspy voice that I adored. He was absolutely adorable and he was a rock star.

Many people probably don’t know that Dee Dee penned a lot of the Ramones songs.
Towards the end he started singing more. And that’s when he wanted to expand his writing capabilities. He wanted to write about different things other than geeks and freaks and warthogs and pinheads. The band sort of stifled him and wanted him to write that same old stuff. And that was when he came up with the Dee Dee King thing because rap was starting to become big. It wasn’t a serious rap album by any means nor was it supposed to be, but it still had that sense of humor of the Ramones and a little bit of rap involved. It was kind of a rap and roll kind of album. It was very cute.

In writing the book, what was the hardest incident or memory that you had to recall?
There were several painful incidents that I thought I had forgotten about and I really didn’t, and I would get very emotional when I would start to remember it. And it was still very much there. Dee Dee will always have a part of my heart, but at some point I had to make that break, break that chain because I wouldn’t be sitting here talking to you now if I didn’t. I’d probably be dead right now.

For as long as you stuck by him, did you ever think there was a possibility he might change or you can change him?
When I got married I took my vows very seriously. I think we both did. We married for better or worse, richer or poorer. And things were a lot worse than better. You always have that hope in there in time things are going to get better, he’s gonna change. But I think in the end you can’t change people, they are who they are, and it’s a hard lesson to learn. If they would have told me the same thing now I probably wouldn’t change my mind. I was very strong headed when I was younger. I went with my heart, not my brain. I think I still do (laughs).

Still, there was the very generous side to the man too.
Just in general, he was very, very giving, not just to me when he screwed up. He would go out and buy me the most lavish present or three dozen roses. It was more than that. If somebody admired something he had, he would just give it to them. Here you can have it. I would say to him That was your favorite knife. You loved that knife. [He was a knife collector]. He’d say I know. But I wanted him to have it. It made him happy to see that he made other people happy. That was an admirable quality I thought that he had. And that incident with the coat, I bought this gorgeous black cashmere coat and then two weeks later he came home in the freezing weather without a coat. I said What happened to your coat. And he said he gave it to some homeless man who was living in a cardboard box on the Bowery. And that was typical Dee Dee. He wouldn’t think twice about something like that.

What do you want people to come away from reading the book?
I would just like them to know that the legacy he left behind, that there was a lot more to him than what was written about. I want people to know that he loved his fans more than anything and he enjoyed what he did until the day he died. He was a very special human being. People like him don’t come around that often. His life ended early, just like Joey and Johnny’s. I don’t know if there is such a thing as a curse. it never really occurred to me until many years after all this started to happen. It all happened when they were around the age of 50. It was just a little bit eerie that all of that happened around that time.

Of all the songs he has written, what’s your favorite of his?
It’s a song he wrote on his Dee Dee King album. It’s called “Baby Doll.” That’s the way I signed the end of my book. Baby Doll was a song he wrote for me on his solo album. It’s quite touching: “Until we see each other in the highest trails above, Faithfully yours forever, Baby Doll.” I chose those three to end the book because it was my sign off letter to him. And he knows exactly what that means.

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