“I see babies in onsies, people in their sixties, wearing Ramones shirts. I go to the mall and I see teenagers wearing them. And I’m thinking to myself: they couldn’t even get any airplay on the radio in those days. They are not here to see this and to enjoy everything they worked so hard for. It’s such a disappointment, a shame, that it didn’t happen for them like that. I can’t believe it when I see it myself. I really can’t. It’s just amazing to me.”
I’m talking to Vera Ramone King on the eve of the release of her autobiographical book Poisoned Heart: I Married Dee Dee Ramone (the Ramones Years) and asked her if she’d ever in her wildest dreams think about the effect the band would have on music in the future. Laugh at me if you must for posing such a question. But Vera lived, and survived to tell the tale, during the most important years of the life of the Ramones.
We’d been talking about one of the pictures in the upcoming book taken in Madrid, Spain, circa 1980. The title of it says that it’s her view from backstage. You can see Dee Dee, Joey and Johnny Ramone at the bottom of the stage in front of a massive audience. Playing rock festivals in Europe would have them performing to up to a half a million people at one time. Yet here in the states they were relegated to playing clubs. Having been witness to both, I figured why not ask her. And I have to agree with her, it’s sad to think they’re more popular now then when they were a live, touring band.
But let’s get back to the book. The pink banner across the dustcover calls it “A Punk Love Story” and it is. The story of how they met, fell in love and married is a modern day fairy tale. But unlike the ones we heard as children, this gives you a crystal clear picture of the reality of the situation. Truthful post-modern love affairs tell of the good, the bad, the ugly and everything in-between — as does Poisoned Heart.
The good includes marrying the man you love and traveling around the world with him. Dee Dee could be a loving and generous man. The bad was spending a good deal of your life together crossing the U.S. in a crowded van with a bunch of other guys. Even in the band’s heyday their lifestyle was not one of private jets and limousines. The ugly? Pledging your life to an addict who in turn could be self-destructive and abusive.
Now you are probably thinking, oh yeah, this is a book I want to read… not. It’s the everything in-between, really reading between the lines, that makes this book what it is, which is not a hatchet job or an vengeful tell-all. It is a straight up view of what it is like to love and live with someone who has a serious mental illness. A person who self medicates and eventually dies from an overdose.
If you are a Ramones fan, it’s a no brainer. Into punk rock? Poisoned Heart is a must read. This is the type of book that has never been written about the band before. Vera is the only woman in the Ramones’ circle to put pen to paper regarding Dee Dee or any of them. Just the fact that it does not rely on interviews with anyone gives it a different perspective. Many of the photographs are from Vera’s own collection just as she used her own personal diaries and notebooks from throughout the years to put the book together.
These things gave her an insider's look into New York punk that began in the late 1970s. Many bands from that era and area would do gigs together at places like the infamous CBGBs and Max's Kansas City. Blondie, Talking Heads, Television and Patti Smith are just a few of the other bands that came from that scene. Poisoned Heart is Vera's way of keeping Dee Dee's musical legacy alive.
Vera told me that, from all the pre-release interviews she has done, it seems as if everyone has drawn something different from her book. It’s as if people seem to relate to it on various levels, depending on their point of view. The fact that both men and women seem to identify with it on their own very personal level has caught her by pleasant surprise.
I dove into the book, thinking that it would be a cool bio to add to my Rock library, fueled in part by the fact that I have always admired the Ramones. The more I read it, I got a clearer picture of Vera than of Dee Dee. But that is not a bad thing. I see her as a very strong woman. Chapter Ten, "My Main Man," in particular is a good example of that… knowing that love wasn't enough, as powerful as it can be. And as the rest of the book goes on, Vera gains in strength and trusts in herself to do what she needed to do.
She and I talked about that as well: “For once in my life, I had to put myself first.” In doing so, eventually Vera was able to let herself love again. What does Vera hope her readers take for themselves after reading the book? Or, maybe better phrased, what does she hope to give them? Having survived an abusive relationship, does she feel that others can learn and grow from all she went through? “ I think I was very candid about the abuse I endured," she stated. "I hope that something positive can come from the book for men and women.”
“I’d like to bring more awareness to mental illness. I don’t think there is one person around that doesn’t know someone who’s ever been depressed, bi-polar, suffered from postpartum or manic depression. I think it’s been slid under the rug for too long. I just hope it has a positive effect on people.”
Who has had an effect on Vera? “I adore Sharon Osbourne. She is my hero. She’s brilliant. Not just as a manager, but as a person, too. What she’s been through, how she handles herself. The woman is sharp. When she was diagnosed with cancer, they were all devastated. She is the glue that has kept that family together.”
With the release of Poisoned Heart: I Married Dee Dee Ramone (the Ramones Years), I feel others can gain strength from her words and actions. “I hope that something positive can come from the book. If so, then it’s been worth it for me”.