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[Book Review] 'Lobotomy: Surviving the Ramones', an autobiography by the late legendary bassist Dee Dee Ramone, allows the reader a look inside the chaotic life and struggles of one of the true heroes of punk rock.
This, the book’s second edition, which includes an introduction by Legs McNeil of 'Punk' fame, is not by any means a definitive Ramones history. Rather, 'Lobotomy' is Dee Dee’s (nee Douglas Colvin) personal tale about his life, recounting both success and failures alike. He writes with such an honest tone, as he talks candidly about all facets of his life, from his nightmarish childhood growing up on military bases in Germany, to his struggles with drugs and low self-esteem, being in the Ramones, living the life of a “rock star,” experiencing mental breakdowns, and finally detoxing himself and finding peace. And let me tell you, it’s not pretty. However, through it all, we find out he was much stronger than he had ever thought, as he was able to overcome his demons. After all, he had watched many of his friends - Sid Vicious, Johnny Thunders, Stiv Bators, and Jerry Nolan – die, and he couldn’t believe that he didn’t end up just like them. And at the end we are left with a hopeful Dee Dee, which is why it’s all the more sad to think that only two years after this memoir was published, he died of an overdose at age 49.
As for technique, Dee Dee writes in a simple style, but because of the subject matter, it’s a compelling read. THe reader learns how being in the Ramones took its toll on Dee Dee: he loved being a part of this “happy family,” but at the same time saw himself as an outsider and hated being in the band because so much was expected of him. As the writer of a majority of the songs, he felt he wasn’t being acknowledged for his efforts. For example he penned “I Don’t Want to Get Involved with You” pre-Ramones, and also wrote such classics as “53rd and 3rd”, “Now I Wanna Sniff Some Glue”, “Loudmouth”, and “I Don’t Wanna Go Down to the Basement”, although the latter two were credited to Dee Dee and Johnny, he claims Johnny had no part in writing them. He channeled all of his “manic energy” into songwriting and wrote about personal experiences and his own feelings. Likewise the bitterness and tension between himself and Johnny is blatantly obvious on a number of occasions.
His narrative jumps around quite a bit. For instance, he just touches briefly on recording the Ramones’ first record and touring. He describes the departure of original drummer Tommy in a mere paragraph and just says that one day Marky was in the band. One thing he does elaborate on, however, is recording ‘End Of The Century’ circa 1979/'80 with Phil Spector, who he actually calls “the crown prince of darkness.” This is interesting in light of the fact that he was charged with murder recently. Still, sometimes he spends as much time relating a story about recording an album as discussing his rendezvous copping dope on 10th Street. Similarly, Dee Dee doesn’t give too many dates, so his account of events is somewhat ambiguous and hazy, but this acutally works because in a way it mirrors the state of mind he must have been in during many of the experiences he relates. This aspect almost makes the book seem more like fiction, as it’s more analogous to his entertaining ‘Chelsea Horror Hotel’ than a regular, run-of-the-mill biography. What also adds to this novel-like quality is the nature of some of the episodes he describes, be it getting knocked unconscious at a car wash or watching his friend’s car blow up and then sink in a quicksand pit in Alligator Alley. It’s amazing that so many insane things could happen to one human being, proving that Dee Dee was in fact a walking disaster. And although his details are odd at times, sounding quite childlike and innocent, he expresses some valuable insight into the everyday torment a drug addict feels and also on what the Ramones, a bunch of “ill-mannered low-lifes” meant to people. He realizes that they showed kids “that there is hope and that it is possible to rise above oppression,” which is an invaluable achievement.
All in all, ‘Lobotomy’ is a great book for anyone who is a fan of Dee Dee, the Ramones, and/or punk rock in general. He offers the reader a different spin on events pertaining to the legendary band and the scene that it helped spawn, as well as recounting extremely personal details about his life. It’s an emotional roller coaster that’s touching, sad, and funny, and if you’re like me, will instill in you an even greater respect for this self-proclaimed “social deviant” who helped change rock ‘n’ roll forever.