Vera Ramone King spent a large part of her life loving the most notorious member of the Ramones — bass player Dee Dee Ramone. For those not old enough to recall, Dee Dee was the Ramones’ tabloid sweetheart. Despite the cliché rock-star debauchery, he was also a major songwriting force in the band. Dee Dee retained an infectious childlike charm and charisma that drew many to him, including the aforementioned Mrs. Ramone King.
Poisoned Heart, Ramone King’s memoir regarding her life with Dee Dee, is first and foremost a rock memoir with all the over-the-top excess you’d expect to hear from a band wife’s point of view. There’s a story arc that delves into Dee Dee’s mental issues, chemical dependencies, his stint as an aspiring rapper, and his tragic and untimely demise soon after the Ramones were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. We dropped Vera a line and asked — really — what was it like to be Dee Dee’s main squeeze?
Flavorpill: What was a day in the life with Dee Dee like?
Vera Ramone King: Well first of all, you never knew which Dee Dee you were waking up to. Was it the good one OR was it the “other” one? That was what would dictate the course of the day. We always woke up and had iced coffees with a few joints rolled up to start the day rolling. We’d sit and listen to Howard Stern on the radio. Then we would get ready to go to a doctor’s appointment or run errands, maybe go to the city for business purposes or do some shopping. Sometimes we’d eat out at our favorite restaurants and then usually every night he would go to his AA meetings, which would be held at a different place each night. After that we would come home watch some of our favorite shows on TV about UFOs. Dallas maybe Knots Landing or even Dynasty! We enjoyed the characters and followed the story lines each week and if he had to play a show — if I didn’t go with him — I would fill him in. We also watched a lot of wrestling on TV. We knew it was fixed, but nevertheless it was entertaining for us.
FP: Did you ever get caught up in Dee Dee’s drug and alcohol circus?
VRK: Fortunately for me, I did NOT have an addictive personality. I was not a saint but I hate any needles and have never shot up anything in my life. I can’t even stand to have my blood drawn at the doctor’s office. I look the other way! I guess being the way I was, it helped to balance out our relationship and keep things in check so to speak.
FP: In your book you don’t seem to have the highest opinion of Ramones guitarist Johnny Ramone. Can you tell us why?
VRK: My opinion of Johnny is strictly my opinion based on my and Dee Dee’s personal experiences. For instance, when we first got married Johnny came up with the rule “NO WIVES ON TOUR.” At the time we were the only married couple in the band! Then, when Dee Dee was very sick with Hepatitis B and had a 103 fever, Johnny refused to cancel any shows and made him play the shows despite the doctor’s warnings that he could be putting himself in danger. But, Johnny was also very business savvy and he always made sure [the band] made money while they toured and we were all on strict budgets and per diems in the early days.
FP: What were your relationships with Joey, Tommy, and Marky?
VRK: Joey had a big heart and was a very dear friend of mine always. Even when Dee Dee and I separated he would call often just to see if I was OK and if I needed anything to let him know. Sometimes we’d talk for two hours and he knew the pain and hard times I was going through. Tommy was smart and level-headed, he also had a good business sense. He was a very nice guy and I never once saw him lose his temper or act irrational in any way. We have also remained friends for many years. Marky was and still is great! He brought some laughter and fun into our lives and would help break up the tension that was sometimes almost unbearable at times when we spent long periods of time together on the road. He would make funny noises and jokes and kept everyone entertained when we desperately needed it.
FP: How did it feel to have Mick Jagger hit on you at a party?
VRK: How would any girl feel??? Of course I was flattered. He was Mick Jagger! I think it even flattered Dee Dee! This was thirty years ago but a moment in time I’ll never forget.
FP: How did Dee Dee respond to that?
VRK: Dee Dee didn’t really know what to say. He just held on to me tight and we both just sort of looked at each other and it was cool! He knew I wasn’t going to run off with Mick or anything like that.
FP: You seemed to have had a supernatural experience with Dee Dee in New Zealand. Can you elaborate on that?
VRK: To this day I can’t rationalize what actually had happened. I had never experienced that before or since. It was almost like [Dee Dee suffered] a possession that could have played itself out in the movies. It was eerie and gave me the creeps!
FP: After you and Dee Dee broke up he quit the Ramones soon after. Do you think one situation had anything to do with the other?
VRK: No, absolutely not! I knew well in advance what he planned on doing and tried to talk him out of it because I didn’t believe this was a good career move for him at this time. After 15 years and all the hard work he had put into the Ramones and to come so far only to throw it all away was not comprehensible to me or anyone else for that matter. It didn’t make any sense! When you’re a rock star for most of your adult life and adored by many, what do you do to top that? I did see it coming though and knew it was just a matter of time!
FP: Many people focused on Dee Dee as the drugged-out personality rather than the musician. What can you say about Dee Dee as an artist?
VRK: In my opinion, there is a fine line between genius and insanity. I think Dee Dee bordered on that line as both an artistic genius and sometimes a lunatic. His musical accomplishments speak for themselves. His lyrics were amazing and he wrote almost a song everyday! How many people can do that? Whatever he experienced on a day-to-day basis became a song.
FP: How many overdoses would you say you went through with Dee Dee?
VRK: It’s really hard to say. I could sit here and start to count but that would be just awfully depressing. I’d rather not go there.
FP: It was obviously a dysfunctional situation but outside of the drugs there was a lot of abuse, even death threats. Why did you stay with Dee Dee for as long as you did?
VRK: That’s very easy for me to answer. I loved the man unconditionally and really and truly believed that there would be a fairytale ending. Unfortunately, that was not how things ended, and it still makes me very sad at the way we both parted.
FP: The whole Dee Dee Ramone transformation into Dee Dee King — a hip-hop performer — seemed pretty surreal. What was that like for you?
VRK: I was totally supportive of him expressing himself in another musical direction and it made him happy! It gave him an outlet to write about other things besides Ramones music and he kept himself occupied with creating something new and kept his mind off of drugs!!
FP: That career path didn’t go very well for him. What was your take on it?
VRK: The Standing In The Spotlight solo album by Dee Dee was really a great album. Billboard gave it a great review and said it was a great party album. It was never meant to be a serious [hip-hop] album and it had a distinct original sound that had humorous lyrics but also a bit of rap. It was like a marriage of Ramones meets the Beastie Boys. I think the album, just like the Ramones, was ahead of its time and the record people just didn’t know how to market it. Nowadays, the music fans are a lot younger and in those days there wasn’t much of the teenybopper Hannah Montana audience. The record industry now has a much wider range, and can specifically target certain audiences that weren’t available then.
FP: If you could pick one memory with Dee Dee that you still hold dear what would that be?
VRK: There were many but I’d have to say when we first started dating. We couldn’t stand being apart from one another for even a few hours! It was a magical and very memorable time for me and I’m sure he would agree.
FP: Despite your resolve to change your life for the better, your reaction in the book to the news of Dee Dee’s death tends to make us believe you may not have been over him even then. What exactly were you feeling when you heard he had passed away?
VRK: I was totally numb with grief and dreaded hearing those words throughout most of my life! Despite our separation, we didn’t breakup because we stopped loving each other. There were other reasons for the split. We basically grew up together and he was not just my husband but I had also lost my best friend, companion, lover, and confidante. He will always have a piece of my heart and that will never change, whether he’s here or not.
FP: I got a little misty at that part of the book, I must admit. So what’s your life like now?
VRK: I am remarried for many years now to a wonderful man I met a year after Dee Dee and I separated. We’ve lived in Florida now for the last 15 years. My life is much more quiet nowadays; gone is the day-to-day drama that ruled it for so many years. It’s a new chapter, and I just take it one day at a time. I know what’s really important in life and I don’t take anything for granted. Life is a precious gift.
FP: What are your feelings about Dee Dee now?
VRK: YOU MAY BE GONE, BUT YOU WILL NEVER BE FORGOTTEN!!!!