Lech Kowalski’s “Hey is Dee Dee Home” looks at the life & troubled times of Dee Dee Ramone

By on March 22, 2018

Hey Is Dee Dee Home is an hour-long tribute to Ramones bassist Dee Dee Ramone by low-budget documentary filmmaker Lech Kowalski, who apparently had so much unused Beta SP footage of the punk rock junkie leftover from their 1992 interview — footage he hadn’t used in his 1999 Johnny Thunders documentary, Born to Lose: The Last Rock N’ Roll Movie — that he used it in a separate film, which he assembled shortly after Dee Dee’s death in 2002.

Watch it now on Night Flight Plus.

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Kowalksi’s 2002 documentary film gives viewers a rather fascinating close-up and personal look at the life and troubled times of the Ramones’ bassist (born Douglas Glenn Colvin in 1951).

Dee Dee struggled off and on with his heroin addiction for much of his adult life, dying from a heroin overdose in California on June 5, 2002, shortly after the Ramones were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall fo Fame.

He’s seen shrouded in black shadows for most of his interview, which is intercut with vintage archival clips, including some great vintage Super 8 concert footage of the some of the early NYC punk bands.

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Dee Dee Ramone with girlfriend Connie Gripp

Kowalski’s lets Dee Dee spontaneously be Dee Dee, which is one reason why this candid and honest character study is so interesting to watch.

Dee Dee talks with a kind of childlike exuberance about his wild days as a Ramone, his love life, his cats, that time he got beat up by Debbie Harry (the ol’ horse shoe in the handbag trick), and recordings he made with Stiv Bators in Paris in ’88.

It was particularly interesting to hear Dee Dee talk about his attempt to put together a punk rock super group in Paris, which was apparently going to feature Dee Dee, Bators and Johnny Thunders before it descended into heroin-induced hellaciousness.

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There’s also an abundance of stories about his drug use, of course, and related topics, including the time he sold Joey Ramone’s TV for dope, hassles with NYC cops and stints in rehab, not to mention stories about his tattoos.

”I’ve got my history on my arms,” he says, holding them out to show his ink but additionally revealing his collapsed veins which testify to his long-term drug use.

At the time his 1992 interview was shot, Dee Dee was reportedly happily clean and sober and off heroin, saying with some obvious regret ”I feel like I became some kind of heroin guru.”

Read more about Lech Kowalski’s Hey Is Dee Dee Home below.

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That childlike exuberance, by the way, may be one reason why Dee Dee isn’t made out to be a “tragic figure,” as Greg Prato writes in his review of Hey is Dee Dee Home for the All Music Guide:

“It appears as though most rockers closely associated with heroin (Johnny Thunders, Sid Vicious, etc.) are made out to be tragic figures, but late Ramones co-founder Dee Dee Ramone appears to be an exception — maybe because he dwelled the planet for a hell of a lot longer than the aforementioned dudes.”

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Even though it’s likely that Dee Dee’s memories may have not been 100% accurate, it’s interesting to listen to Dee Dee recalling some of his past adventures, reliable or otherwise, many of which — no surprise, really — involve copping drugs.

The film’s title, in fact, comes from a snatch of lyric in the famous punk rock tune “Chinese Rocks”:

“Somebody called me on the phone
They said, ‘Hey, is Dee Dee home?
Do you wanna take a walk? You wanna go cop?
You wanna go get some Chinese Rocks?'”

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The song was written by Dee Dee Ramone and Richard Hell circa 1975, although Hell graciously gives Dee Dee most of the credit in Legs McNeil’s and Gillian McCain’s excellent book about NYC punk, Please Kill Me: The Uncensored Oral History of Punk.

“Dee Dee called me one day and said, ‘I wrote a song the Ramones won’t do.’ He said, ‘It’s not finished. How about I come over and show it to you and we can finish it if you like it?’ So I believe he brought an acoustic guitar over. And I had my bass. Basically the song was done, but he just didn’t have another verse. I wrote two lines. That’s all. It was basically Dee Dee’s song, though I think the lyrics, the verses I wrote, were good.”

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Dee Dee Ramone and Richard Hell

In Please Kill Me, Dee Dee adds:

The reason I wrote the song was out of spite for Richard Hell, because he told me he was gonna write a song better than Lou Reed’s ‘Heroin,’ so I went home and wrote ‘Chinese Rocks.’ I wrote it by myself, in Debbie Harry’s apartment on First Avenue and First Street. Then Richard Hell put that line in it, some I gave him some credit.”

The Ramones hadn’t wanted to play it because Tommy Ramone didn’t want to do songs about drugs.

According to Dee Dee, “Chinese Rocks” was inspired by Jerry Nolan of Johnny Thunders’ band, the Heartbreakers, who ended up recording the track, one of their best (the Ramones finally recorded it for their 1980 album, End of the Century).

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Lech Kowalksi also directed the ground-breaking 1980 punk documentary D.O.A., which focused on the origin of punk rock and was centered around the Sex Pistols’ tumultuous seven-city U.S. tour in 1978.

Kowalksi also directed the 1987 semi-documentary Gringo, Story of a Junkie, featuring John Spacely.

Watch Lech Kowalski’s Hey Is Dee Dee Home on Night Flight Plus.

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About Bryan Thomas

Bryan Thomas has been a freelancing writer/critic for All Music Guide, and a contributor to Launch, Music Connection, Big Takeover and numerous other publications and entertainment websites, blogs and zines, most of them long gone. He's written more than sixty sets of liner notes. He’s also worked for over twenty years at mostly reissue record labels -- prior to that he worked in bookstores and record stores, going all the way back to the original vinyl daze. He lives in the Miracle Mile neighborhood of Los Angeles, CA.