Vera Was a Punk Rocker (Book Review)

New York Press
June 17, 2009

In the black and-white photos that captured Dee Dee and Vera Ramone’s 1978 church wedding, life looks like punk rock’s answer to I Love Lucy. Ex-teen runaway Vera Boldis lovingly eyes her mop-topped man-child from beneath a pinned-up lace veil. The Ramones bassist and main songwriter, wearing a wide-lapelled white tux instead of his usual rough trade leather and torn Levi’s, smiles back at her. More than 30 years later,Vera Ramone King has penned a vague but emotionally wrought memoir, Poisoned Heart, about her tumultuous time with the idiot savant behind “53rd and 3rd” and “Rockaway Beach.”

Ramone King still has bleach-blond rock ’n’ roll hair, but life is a far cry from her days with Dee Dee; she lives a quiet suburban life in Florida with her husband Kenny. Another victim of the Ramones’ curse—Johnny, Joey and Dee Dee all died in the space of three years—she was diagnosed with slow, metastasizing brain cancer in 2004, but is doing OK at the moment. Over the phone, she tells me what finally convinced her to write a Ramones memoir after all these years: Dee Dee speaking from the grave.With a spooky intensity, she says, “He asked me to write this book.” Given how he comes across in the book— like a violent, rage-filled perpetual adolescent—his ghost might be having second thoughts. She recently beat a lawsuit that was brought by Dee Dee’s estate seeking to keep Poisoned Heart under wraps.

In the late 1970s, Dee Dee was a bisexual knife-carrying junkie who made the moneymen at Sire and Warner Brothers nervous.The suits had big plans for The Ramones and needed someone to watch Dee Dee. Ramone King writes that hoping “a real home life” would keep him on the straight and narrow, the couple fled Downtown for a “little two-bedroom, one-garage apartment in Whitestone, Queens.” But Dee Dee chafed at the bit of domestic tranquility—frequently taking out his wrath on Vera, who he viewed as his paid handler. In her husky Queens accent, she tells me, “I was there to take care of him. It was a big load off their back, but a full-time job for me.” She adds, “I was his babysitter.”

When they were home,Vera’s main task was to shuttle an increasingly manic Dee Dee—in a losing battle to keep him off smack and coke—between 12-step meetings, doctors and songwriting sessions. More importantly, during the 10 months The Ramones crisscrossed the world, she kept him able to stand and play bass. A few months after their 10 year anniversary, the last remnants of the facade were shattered when Dee Dee left her and The Ramones on the same night.

Ramone King writes: “He went to the bank, cleaned out our account and headed straight for the city.” In the book—and during our conversation—the author paints herself as a paid employee of the band; but she never goes quite so far as to call her marriage a sham.

For Ramones fans, the greatest flaw in Poisoned Heart will be a narrator who frequently pleads the Fifth, even while berating Dee Dee for being a drug-addled thug. When the book begins,Vera is a 22-year-old divorced runaway hanging out with Rod Stewart in Miami. Despite having holed up with the hard-partying Stewart, she claims she was shocked by Dee Dee’s drug use. She tells me that her thing was a “glass of red wine with dinner,” and she never touched anything harder than a line of coke. “I never knew a drug addict until I met him.”

Along for the wild ride, she gets Dee Dee’s steel-toe boot in her face for not bringing him back the right brand of cigarettes and his switchblade to her throat when she tries to keep him from copping. But the most affecting scene in the book comes when she realizes her husband is never going to grow up and get straight.

It was Christmas, and Dee Dee was shacked up with a chick half his age on East 10th Street. “Me and my sister walked up five flights of steps with shopping bags of presents,” she tells me. The squalor in Dee Dee’s new pad sent her fleeing. “I could see through the other side of the door all those rubber bands, straps and cooking things were on the table,” she explains.

Choking up, Ramone King tells me that the thing Dee Dee feared most was growing old. “He was Peter Pan, he did not want to grow up, and he wanted to stay young forever—to act like a teenager.” But wasn’t that what she signed up for, that day in a Queens catering hall? Whatever Vera Ramone King’s role in a punk rock legend’s life, she lost something permanent when Dee Dee overdosed from a shot of heroin in L.A. in 2002. “I miss him terribly,” she says with a muffled sob. “I not only lost my husband, I lost my best friend.”