This week our series on the renowned artists, writers and musicians who have lived, or currently live, in the Hotel Chelsea continues. Today’s Resident Bohemian is legendary punk rock musician Dee Dee Ramone by Jess Sauer. -RJ
In reality, Dee Dee Ramone fatally overdosed in Hollywood, California, in the summer of 2002. In fiction, he fatally overdosed in 1998, amid the ruins of the Chelsea Hotel. In reality, Dee Dee’s wife found him dead in their apartment. In fiction, well, in Dee Dee’s own words in his novel Chelsea Horror Hotel: “The heroin exploded into my brain. Then in an instant, I collapsed dead on the floor of the stage. And I sunk down into Hell as demons hovered over my body.” The stage is the one he’s sharing with an all-dead punk supergroup comprised of Sid Vicious, Johnny Thunders, the Dead Boys’ Stiv Bators, and the New York Dolls’ Jerry Nolan. The demons—at least as far as Chelsea Horror Hotel is concerned—are literal.
That Dee Dee accurately predicted his manner of death in a book published the year before doesn’t bespeak an eerie prescience so much as a resigned logic: given his decades-long struggle with drugs, the likelihood of him dying that way was strong. Out of context, the death Dee Dee imagined for himself might appear to be the blaze-of-glory fantasy of a washed-up icon, but this isn’t the case. Chelsea Horror Hotel’s dominant mood is plaintive, and Dee Dee bumbles around the Chelsea in a Charlie Brownian state of weltschmerz, plagued by cockroaches both literal and human. Defeated even in his fictional final moments, Dee Dee lip-synchs “Chinese Rock,” his own song, in order to earn money for a last shot of heroin, which he scores from the (literal) Devil. He’s annoyed with his fellow punk icons and cursing that his chosen profession has involved hanging out with so many creeps. There’s no romance implied in Dee Dee dying at the Chelsea; Chelsea Horror Hotel may be a fictional account of Dee Dee’s years at the hotel, but his distaste for the place is unmistakably genuine.
Chelsea Horror Hotel is a poison-pen letter to New York, but Dee Dee’s vision of the Chelsea’s squalor, inspired by his life there in the late ’90s, is ultimately far too goofy to be truly grim. There are Satanists luring bums into the basement and feeding them to piranhas. With the help of his dog, a talking Airedale named Banfield, Dee Dee gleefully bumps off his neighbors one by one, shoving them into traffic or skewering them under exposed mattress boxsprings. All the while, he earnestly wonders whether his problem might be that he’s too nice for New York. When a neighbor uses black magic to vaporize Dee Dee’s body, leaving only a cartoonishly floating pair of eyeballs, Ramone writes, “Obviously I am frustrated to the max right now.” By the book’s end, the hotel’s been reduced to rubble and is balanced precariously on the gaping mouth of Hell—subtlety was never Dee Dee Ramone’s, or any of the Ramones’, strength. In reality, Dee Dee is dead and the Chelsea lives on, but it’s a very different Chelsea. Dee Dee, at least, died a real Ramone.
“Chinese Rock” by The Ramones