Dee Dee Ramone Changed MY Life

I wrote this immediately after we lost Dee Dee on June 5, 2002. I’m crying just opening this file and haven’t re-read it since I wrote it. If not for Dee Dee Ramone, this archive might not exist. For him I picked up a camera and that’s all I can write right now. Bless you, dear, sweet, immensely talented Dee Dee. If only he knew he was so beloved and changed music forever. Forever in our hearts, Dee Dee.

June 5, 2002: I got out of the shower Thursday and took the phone from my now ex-husband. People want to know why I got into taking punk photos: I loved Dee Dee Ramone’s cheekbones. My friend Sandy told me he OD’d. I asked if he were dead and when confirmed, let out an anguished cry that surprised both her and I. My depth of sorrow and inconsolable grief overwhelms me. I’ve lost too many of the most important creative people in my life and in our culture and dealt with it, although I sorely miss emailing Tomata du Plenty.

I sent a photo of Dee Dee and myself and a close up of his young, sweet, beautiful, sexy face an email to my friends starting with “now I wanna sniff some glue.” The most powerful line they ever wrote and sung was “all the kids want something to do.” A truer statement was never said. You don’t have to be a kid to feel it. It’s the reason we turn to rock ‘n’ roll. It’s why great rock comes from the street.

No one was closer to the street than Dee Dee. He gave the band its hard edge, its gritty reality, blessed with the band’s great sense of dark, black humor to balance the apocalyptic terror. They are our spokesman. They expanded the language of rock that bands such as U2 and the Clash expanded. That is why they are so important and I why I obsessively shot over 50 of their shows and hung out with them.

The absolute highlight of my life in entertainment and in life was meeting the Ramones after their LA Roxy show August 12, 1976. I listened to Rhino’s repackaged “Ramones Leave Home” with live recordings of the show where I first shot them (my first rock photos ever). I rarely have access to a recording of a live show that I shot. Thank you Rhino and the Ramones! I’ve met and hung out with the Clash, the Germs, John Lydon and Keith Levine when they were in Pil, X, Screamers, the Go-Go’s first incarnation, and so many bands and fans.

My most exciting time was with the Ramones. They were shamans. Their magic could only be fully experienced live. That’s why the fans loved their live shows. You can’t capture them on film, video, print or CD.

Go to and read this about Dee Dee: “He’s mad, bad, and dangerous to know.” The Dee Dee I knew was never dangerous to me. He told me they had to carry baseball bats because they were harassed walking in the Bowery. He said they looked different, especially tall, weird-looking Joey. He wasn’t criticizing Joey; he never criticized his band-mates. But he, along with Joey, had big hearts and no one was more vulnerable and accessible than Dee Dee in the early LA tours. He was so sweet, so kind, so insightful, so conflicted and open about it.

He invited me to join them for dinner but when I began to get into the cab, Johnny said only the band, even though his girlfriend Roxy was in the cab. Johnny didn’t know me and I understood where he was coming from. I respected him for his assertiveness. But Dee Dee argued with him. He invited me and he wanted me to join him. I can’t write this without throbbing tears because very few people have ever stood up for me. He only recently met me. All I’d done was take photos of them, ask him questions about their songs, tell them all how much I loved them and kept telling them they were going to be very important and big someday.

I only felt that one way about one previous band when I heard their first US single, “Please Please Me,” (released prior to “I Want to Hold Your Hand“). Like every rock lover of a certain age, saw on the Ed Sullivan show. But when I saw them at the Hollywood Bowl, I only heard screaming girls. But the Ramones fans wanted to hear their idols and dance.

I felt the Ramones were on par with the greatest of the great, the revolutionary Beatles. I guess Dee Dee needed to hear my sincere support. I had no idea of their struggles then or later. They really worked hard. They had a rough life and I was always so sad they were locked out of the radio because the fans loved them. They were amazing and the powers-that-be, such as promoters, record distributors, publicity and marketing departments, and the media (magazines and radio in those days, pre-internet) just didn’t get the fact the Ramones were the most influential and important band since the Beatles.

Read “The Ramones, an American Band” for shocking detail of their neglect and mistreatment by the industry that originally nourished and supported rock, a wild mix of surf, Motown, soul, San Francisco hippies, British invasion, and the geniuses that sprung from them: the Beatles, Brian Wilson, Phil Spector, The Doors, Jefferson Airplane, Creedence Clearwater, The Who, the Stones, and lyrical Joni Mitchell. Maybe dear reader we should include Dylan, Led Zeppelin, Hendrix, Clapton, Iggy, Velvet Underground. The point is we had so many choices and these bands influenced and encouraged others. What if the doors were closed to them as they were to the Ramones? They were in the wrong place at the wrong time. And that sucks.

The people whose job it is to know the record business are clueless. I raved on and on to everyone in the industry about the bands who deserved attention and support and would be remembered. Everyone in the industry thought I was out of my mind. They loved my photos, but I never wanted to shoot their stars I just wanted to promote certain neglected bands. They didn’t know what to make of me. And the performers were often leery because they didn’t trust the press, but I was very independent and that scared people. And I was flaky, spending too much at the shows and parties. But that was the point.

History has forgotten the bands the rigid music industry promoted at the expense of the Ramones and other important, vital and exciting bands. I tried so hard to get my punk photos published. I experienced what X sang in “Unheard Music, “Elvis Costello’s “Radio Radio” and the Ramones’ “Do You Remember Rock ‘n’ Roll Radio?” I remember watching seeing most of the rock shows executives later erased or melted down for its silver content, too stupid to realize the truckload of money they could have made putting that footage into new deliveries such as video, CD, DVD and whatever is coming down the pike. Damn those idiots.

Many of us felt exactly what the Ramones felt: we heard great music on the radio and saw it on TV from the early ’60’s to the early ’70’s. What if the Beatles, the Who, the Rolling Stones or the Doors were not on so many TV shows like the afore-mentioned Ed Sullivan, Shindig, Hullaboo and variety/interview shows such as the Smothers Brothers, Mike Douglas and Dick Cavett with their wonderful interviews. Did the Ramones ever have a decent interview on TV or regular rotation of their songs on the radio or TV? I have always been saddened regarding their fate. I heard, read and saw on TV so many punk bands with hits but the Ramones (and X) were locked out.

It’s all the more amazing their influence and importance to so many bands and fans. They needed to seek out and find the Ramones. You can’t keep some of the public from getting what it wants. But there was a huge public out there who needed the Ramones and were denied because the Ramones weren’t on the radio and the people who should have supported their career didn’t “get” them. That’s the breakdown of modern music. Drag, huh?

Then miracle of miracles! They’re in the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame but more importantly, you can’t turn on the TV without either hearing one of their songs or songs inspired by them on ads, TV programs. My ex watched a tape of “The ’70’s Show” the night we found out about Dee Dee’s passing. He saw the teenagers toilet-paper a house while “Blitzkrieg Bop” played in background.

I feebly tried to find Dee Dee about a year ago. I’ve tried to contact a few performers and fans from the past to show them some of my photos and talk about the past, but they’ve declined. I didn’t want to deal with rejection from Dee Dee, so I didn’t contact him. Then I read about him on the net and wondered if he would have liked to see the photos and talk. I had forgotten how much he allowed himself to open up to me. And for that I am deeply anguished. Regrets . . .

I talked with them by the Sunset Marquis pool, where they were staying when they played the Roxy, August 11 and 12, 1976 — their first LA gigs according to Johnny’s records in “Ramones, an American Band.” We talked in hotels on the road, with Joey and Dee Dee hanging out around the pool and letting me take photos of them, backstage, waiting in a diner, even Joey holding a bottle of bleach at the laundromat.

Dee Dee told me I was normal compared to the girls he met. He thought I had no problems. Insecure, neurotic, fat me with no problems? I wondered who he’d been hanging out with. He said Connie, his New York girlfriend, put heroin in his coffee when he was trying to clean up for the Ramones first tour to the West Coast. She didn’t want him to leave. I was shocked and saddened his girlfriend wanted him to be a junkie and fail. Certainly he deserved a loving girlfriend who’d support his success.

Dee Dee liked that I wanted nothing from him except to talk about his song lyrics and tell him the group was going to be famous. He could just be himself around me. I told him I wanted to be there when they played arenas. I had seen the Who and Arrowsmith and other groups at Anaheim Stadium the summer I saw the Ramones, although nothing beats a show at the Whisky.

The Whisky was the best! I stood halfway up the stairs, leaned against the railing for support when shooting, danced, and took great shots often while being high. Great backstage. They let us graffiti the walls! It was our place to play, dance, get high, have sex, and leave our mark on the best damn music. But arena rock was the barometer of superstardom. Dee Dee doubted this scenario, but I told him it would come to pass and it did. But I wasn’t there. I only shot them from August 1976 to the end of 1978.

Dee Dee loved my car, a big sky blue Chrysler New Yorker (when gas was 36 cents a gallon) and I have shots of them hanging it. I lent a roadie my car to drive from Huntington Beach back to the Hollywood hotel to pick up or repair equipment. I’ve never lent my car to anyone before or since. Tomata, Joey and Arturo (Vega, their art director) wanted to go to Little Tokyo. So I drove them. I have wonderful shots of us, including one with Joey standing next to a transformer robot as tall as him, both with an raised fist (Spin published it in their tribute to Joey, July 2001). I have shots of Joey in toy and record stores and at the laundromat, holding up a bottle of bleach.

I have shots of Dee Dee napping and taking a bath and both in and around pools. Unpublished shots. I have a color shot of Joey with our arms around each other and he’s wearing the Carbona t-shirt he wore in former manager (and very sweet man) Danny Fields’ iconic shot seen on the cover of Spin, May, 2001. I treasure the black and white shot I have of Dee Dee with our arms around each other, both holding our fists up in the air. Johnny is sitting on the leather sofa behind us. The paneled walls of the Whiskey’s backstage are covered with graffiti.

There’s a wonderful expression on Dee Dee’s face. I have other shots of performers and myself and they’re next to me, not with me. Dee Dee was not just posing, but enjoying our friendship at that moment. I even have a shot of him kissing me, but that was for fun! Dee Dee opened himself to me because he felt comfortable with me and knew I didn’t want anything from him but to enjoy their music and shows, take photographs and remind him the band was and is great.

I came to a record signing on Vine, south of Hollywood, across the Pic ‘n’ Sav type store where the punks changed the low price tags to even lower price tags to put together their punk looks, along with really cheap thrift store clothes (who do you think started thrift shop fashion that became so costly and trendy starting in the ’80’s? The punks of course).

I was speaking to Dee Dee and the others about a photo pass. I think they were playing the Palladium and I needed a pass. I could bring my camera into the Whisky, Roxy or Starwood most any time, but the larger places had extremely restrictive photography policies, none worse than the Santa Monica Civic (where it wasn’t allowed). Monte leaned over and told me not this time, not ever again. I looked at him and wondered what crime I committed.

I believe it was a Sire art director, perhaps John Gillespie, who loved one of my early live shots from the Whisky, when it still had the metallic backdrop left over from glitter. The Ramones and the Sex Pistols were greatly influenced by the New York Dolls, America’s top glitter band. The metallic background was a fitting backdrop for the transition from glitter to punk. He wanted the photo for the back of either their second or third album. He was overruled but used it for publicity. I never even got a copy of it. Another photographer got the press kit and I saw it: my photo with my photo credit.

Wow, my Ramones photo used for their publicity! That was a coup for me. I didn’t know what I did to be banned from the Ramones, but this became a common occurrence. I spent a huge amount of time and money trying to get my photos published to help the bands (I sure didn’t get paid!). Then when more established and expensive photographers showed up, I was out. Didn’t matter if the other photographers didn’t care for the band (that’s an understatement) or take better photos. It’s X’s song, “It’s Who You Know.” Or how you are perceived.

Here’s the saddest part: just a couple of weeks ago Rhino Records contacted me for Ramones shots from 1980 to 1985. They used some of my earlier photos and mislabeled them as from 1980, even though the back of the photos had earlier dates and locations and I always print a list with descriptions and dates.

You’d be amazed how many people use my photos and crop them badly (or stretch and distort, an infringement on my copyright and the viewer’s pleasure at seeing what I saw when I shot them) and misdate or miscredit them, messing up history. Anyway, I was tempted to pass off my earlier photos as later ones but I’m not unethical. I’d never knowingly alter the truth or history as I remember it or discover its truth from researchers who pay attention to dates and locations.

This is not a criticism of Rhino. Hey, I love Rhino. They have saved my life, from the Animaniacs to Fred and Ginger, all of “That’s Entertainment,” Spike Jones (and a man I wish I photographed when I saw him), the late, great Phil Ochs (I don’t have the new boxed set) and on and on. I can’t get enough of their catalog! Corporations just don’t get how much time it takes to document history correctly. I know Rhino’s design groups put in energy but mistakes are made due to lack of time with minimal proofing (a lost art).

Do you see the irony of being denied access to taking photos for historical documentation and then 24 years later being asked to provide those photos? I knew I needed them for these times, but it was impossible to convince anybody! No one realized the value of the small, loyal, devout independent photographers. The performers and fans were denied a thorough visual history because they wouldn’t let us take photos.

Did they think we were trying to steal their souls? Or was I really obnoxious? (Quite possible. I got on some people’s nerves).

Somehow, in late 1978, I managed to obtain permission to photograph the filming of “Rock n’ Roll High School.” I recall telling the band when they were in a booth at Gazzari’s or the Whisky. If it were Gazzari’s we probably would have been there to see a very early incarnation of a raw, crude and very punk Go-Go’s. The Ramones were very cold to me and someone told me they really didn’t want me. I sure got those vibes. I didn’t know what was going on, but I passed. I had many shows and parties to cover and although I realized the historical importance of shooting the filming, something didn’t feel right.

Enough trouble and rejection come by way without looking for it. I was never an assertive photographer. I shot the bands I believed in and tried to have as much fun as possible to balance the hard work of shooting, trying to get shots published and find the money for this expensive endeavor. I never wanted to be where I wasn’t wanted or it felt just too weird.

More early adventures: Dee Dee bought t-shirts on their first tour and I washed a red t-shirt with white ones. He forgave me. I still can’t forgive me. Creem magazine reported they “were followed around by a 250 pound cherub named Jenny.” That was about 95 pounds more than I weighed. For some reason I corresponded with Lisa Robinson and she told me to write a letter to the editor of Creem but I don’t recall if I did. I was flattered to be mentioned, but did I look 100 pounds more than I was or was someone being mean? I think it’s funny.

It’s better than when the Clash, in I think a Rolling Stone article, told of Joe Strummer’s new instant Polaroid camera. He said he saw “some girl backstage taking photos with that camera.” Hey Joe, I toured around a bit in England with you all — sat next to you in a van, knew some of your road crew rather well, shot you from LA to the Bay area and I’m not “some girl.” Just kidding, I love the Clash and again was glad to be mentioned at all. But Dee Dee spread the word about me.

I was sitting upstairs at the Whisky. Two guys approached, with spiky hair, ripped white men’s long-sleeved office shirts, ties made of newspaper clippings, and one with his hand extended. I’d never seen anything like them. He said, in his wonderfully unique voice, “; I’m so glad to meet ya! Dee Dee Ramone told me all about you. I’m Tomata du Plenty and this is Tommy Gear.”

I was speechless (I’m unfortunately usually a motor mouth. I think and talk really fast and am too verbose because I go into a lot of detail.) I was soon to read about and hear Tomata, the lead singer and Tommy, who played the synthesizer, and ( I think) they both wrote songs for one of the greatest bands ever, the Screamers. Tomata hung out with some of the Ramones in New York (I think Dee Dee and Joey).

What a wonderful way to meet Tomata and Tommy! I regret never asking Tomata more about his New York life or friendship with Dee Dee. I forgot about it when I emailed him a year or so prior to his death. Dee Dee’s passing has awakened memories and feelings I long ago repressed or forgot.

And now we’ve lost the two most important, creative Ramones, those with the open souls and whose passion to music and working with others and being creative didn’t abate until the days they died. What a legacy! They taught us much about being alive. It’s vital to be inspired by Joey and Dee Dee, who both persevered in great illness. Joey was prone to illness and often used a cane. Dee Dee was plagued by his addictions. Yet they never gave up, never stopped creating. In spite of lack of recognition, of money, of respect. They taught us how to play and dance to a new kind of meaningful and fun music (with a beat and you can dance to it), rebellion, fashion and they taught us how to live.

They died as they lived. Joey wouldn’t stay in on a beautiful snowy New York day and fell, giving the cancer a final victory over his injured body. Dee Dee lived longer than one might expect due to his demons and drugs. I picked up a camera and spent nearly 5 years documenting punk and it started with his face. I studied his face taken within the last few months, exploring his deeply chiseled features, now monumental in depth. His life was in his face. What a life!

Focus on Dee Dee’s dedication to his muse, his need to create and express his thoughts and feelings. He touched so many of us because his demons, his poetry, his struggles are ours as well. The Ramones and other punk bands gave us insight into ourselves, politics, economics, society and a release via their music from that insight and terrifying and seemingly unalterable future. The Ramones were our guiding light.

That is why we mourn. They gave us so much and had so much more to give. And finally they were receiving everything they deserved: recognition, hopefully money, respect from their peers and so many who followed in their trail-blazing path. And now they’re gone. We mourn they didn’t get to enjoy more years of adulation and rewards. I hope they realized the tide was turning. I hope Joey and especially Dee Dee, who felt so alone, knew they were not alone. That so many of us loved them. Really deeply truly. It just took too damn long and now the dearest and wildest of the punks are gone. But never forgotten.

Thank you Tommy, C.J., Marky, Richie, but especially Joey, Johnny and Dee Dee. May your struggles and burdens be lessened. Peace be with you. You occupy a chamber of my heart.

One comment

  1. Leslie O'Leary

    This is a beautiful tribute to Dee Dee and the Ramones. Thank you, Jenny.

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