Eyeballin': Dee Dee Ramone's History on My Arms

Though Joey and Johnny always got more attention, it is their erstwhile, original bassist Dee Dee who many feel best embodied the ethos of punk rock. Part drug fiend, part man-child, part live-for-the-moment musical searcher, Dee Dee's influence was so great that he continued to write for the band after he'd left it.

At the start, Hey is Dee Dee Home, culled from 1992 interviews with director Lech Kowalski, a production assistant asks if he'd like coffee. Dee Dee (punk rock resplendent in a cut-off horror movie T-shirt which shows off a lean body and a multitude of tattoos) asks instead for some sort of health drink called an "Oxy Quencher." "I'm a healthy Dee!" he beams, free from the junk. So it's ironic that his death - a decade later - came via a heroin overdose.

Those looking for a straight-ahead chronological recap of the Ramones' career had best better rent the incredible End of the Century. Here, Dee Dee riffs in fascinating free-form ruminations not just on the bruddahs, but the New York punk rock scene, his on-again/off-again relationship with the similarly tragic guitarist Johnny Thunders (and how he feels Thunders ripped him off for writing credit on "Chinese Rock"), and the meaning of all his body ink.

Even weathered by age and addiction, Dee Dee's charisma and genuine off-the-cuff spirit pervades. Rock shows? Just a way to break up the time in between scoring and taking the dope (which, during the holidays, arrived in Christmas wrapping paper). Bathubs? More for reviving friends from O.D.-ing than bathing. Subtlety in lyrics? Forget it. A '70s-era clip shows Dee Dee - wearing a Bay City Rollers T-shirt - unsuccessfully explaining to an interviewer that the Ramones song "Now I Wanna Sniff Some Glue" means just that - and nothing more.

Later, Dee Dee shows some annoyance at eventually becoming the "heroin guru" who penned "Chinese Rocks," viewed by younger musicians viewed strictly in that sense. "That's what dope is about...misery," he says. "Now, I got six months off it...and all my friends are dead." Eerie.

The DVD also includes two shorter films: History on My Arms (outtakes from the interviews heavy on tattoo talk, Dee Dee noodling blues music) and Vom In Paris, in which drummer Vom Ritchie's recollections of the disastrous 1989 sessions of the "Super Punk Group" of Dee Dee, Thunders and Stiv Bators. Finally, Dee Dee's Blues is a bonus CD of hotel-recorded demos.

113 minutes, MVD Visual, $19.95.

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Bob Ruggiero has been writing about music, books, visual arts and entertainment for the Houston Press since 1997, with an emphasis on classic rock. He used to have an incredible and luxurious mullet in college as well. He is the author of the band biography Slippin’ Out of Darkness: The Story of WAR.
Contact: Bob Ruggiero