Punk Rock Hall of Famers have been in the news lately, with a major new exhibit celebrating the 40th Anniversary of The Ramones first album release in 1977 at the Queens Museum; and Iggy Pop, the undisputed Godfather of Punk scoring his first number one album with “Post Pop Depression” and playing a knockout gig in his 2 decade hometown of Miami.
Often regarded as the first punk rock group ever, current Rolling Stone magazine’s coverboys, with all members having been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, The Ramones set the U.S. music scene on fire in the 1970s and up through their retirement in the 90s. They are being spotlighted on the HBO series Vinyl, and have an incredible retrospective show newly opened in Queens, NY called “Hey Ho Let’s Go: Ramones and the Birth of Punk” that will travel to Los Angeles in the fall and then around the world for the next 10 years.
As a teenager, I met the band in the 70s at CBGBs and worked with their art director and logo designer Arturo Vega up until his death in 2013. I lent some of my 20 year old Ramones swag to the Queens show and at the opening April 10th I ran into the gorgeous, gracious Vera Ramone King, widow of Dee Dee Ramone, who I had not seen in about 25 years. Vera was the envy of all back then, her sunny smile and sleek punky outfits made heads turn.
We started talking and it turns out that Vera now lives here, happily retired in West Palm Beach. Vera grew up in Queens and on a trip to Florida in 1977 had dated Rod Stewart a few times. But this is a different love story as she returned to NY and met Dee Dee. Dee Dee was the adorable, songwriting, bass playing genius, who fell hard for Vera the first night they met at Max’s Kansas City nightclub and married her soon after.
She wrote a must read book called “Poisoned Heart: I Married Dee Dee Ramone” (available on Amazon.com) about her wild ride love story and life with Dee Dee and the Ramones. Married to him in 1978, he wore an all white tuxedo suit and “My Mother made me wear that stupid veil” Vera says with a laugh. They stayed together against the odds from 1978 until 1995. She was in the trenches in the bands early years as they came up from the small clubs, toured non-stop, made records, videos, movies, and amassed fans that included David Bowie. Over margaritas and sangria, we dished about the early days.
“It was a real exciting time,” she says “and I am amazed the band has continued to get bigger every year. The Museum show is terrific; it was a little overwhelming at the opening. There were press and fans that flew in from all over the world to be there. I lent some items for this show and I have more of his things – lyric sheets, drawings – in the Ramones Museum in Berlin, Germany.”
Vera’s book tells of their attempt at a simple life in Queens, doing errands, shopping, watching TV shows like Dynasty and Dallas, and going to visit Dee Dee’s mother every Sunday. They tried to have a normal life in the whirlwind chaos of hardscrabble early touring in a van, through uneven success that found the band in demand as a live act but shut out of radio play. “DJ’s would be fired if they played them,” Vera says. “So we had to tour all the time to make money and it was hard on Dee Dee with his addictive tendencies.”
In a review in Billboard Magazine, Jim Bessman wrote: “As Dee Dee Ramone’s wife, Vera Ramone King was half of punk rock royal couple––but at tremendous cost. Her inspiring memoir ‘Poisoned Heart,’ while vividly portraying a marriage savaged by the late Ramone’s mental illness, also shows King to be a true survivor, not only of an abusive relationship but one of the most exhilarating periods in rock ‘n’ roll history. ‘I have chosen, rather than to cry over what I’ve lost, to smile about what I’ve had,’ she concludes, her own heart anything but poisoned.” Dee Dee lived to see the group inducted into the Rock Hall of Fame but died in 2002 of a drug overdose despite having been clean for years.
“I just want people to know all the sides of him and that yes he could be crazy but he could also be very kind, generous and funny,” she says. Another local punk rock King put on a helluva show April 19th at the Fillmore in Miami Beach. Iggy Pop is roaring to a new wave of success with his first number one album and a sold out national tour he is hinting will be his last at age 69. A Miami resident for the last 20 years, Pop has written a killer bunch of new songs that harken back to his landmark albums he produced with David Bowie in 1977. Looking tanned, rested and ready, his 2-hour show consisted primarily of early songs from the Bowie albums like The Passenger, Sister Midnight, Lust For Life and China Girl.
Despite having a cold because “I was stupid enough to go north of Florida” Pop wryly said, his bottom dwelling baritone ruled the show, while his stage and audience storming antics were ferocious and brave. He discarded his black tux jacket about 3 songs in, and strutted around bare chested, his blond highlighted hair flowing behind him on the starkly lit stage. The band, led by Josh Homme, was tight and joyous with a layered wall of sound for Pop to lean on.
He gave a big long extended wave and a grin at the end, knowing he had given it his best shot and hit the mark. Punk rock doesn’t usually grow old – or up – this gracefully.
Interview with Vera Ramone King, Widow of Dee Dee Ramone, Talking about Punk Rock and the 40th Anniversary of The Ramones First Album Release in 1977.