It wasn’t supposed to be like this. This review was supposed to be a piece of cake for me. I mean, it’s freaking Dee Dee Ramone! A lot of music blares in my studio, but no other band gets more play than the Ramones, none. There are other bands that are more important to me (the Clash), bands that I feel have more artistic heft to them (Television), bands whose logos I have inked into my flesh (X, Germs), but no band’s music makes me HAPPIER, or motivates me more than the Ramones.
So, why did “Dee Dee Ramone: A Memorial Exhibition” at Subliminal Projects make me so damn sad? Well Doctor, it’s complicated, but I’ll take a stab at it. I suppose the biggest reason is the dates. Most of these paintings are listed “circa 2002”, which places them among the last creative things Dee Dee would ever do. Which is sad on so many levels, but especially so because they’re really good. What’s more tragic, a talent dissipated, or a talent squandered? Sure, the work is crude, naive even, but oh man, it’s pure Dee Dee! Some of the more evolved pieces are actually collaborations with Paul Kostabi, but even those have Dee Dee all over them. There’s a clear admiration for the work of Jean Michel Basquiat running through all of these mixed media pieces, (which provides another connection to Dee Dee for me that only adds to my melancholy.) What Dee Dee does with that influence though is open a window into his psyche, and that’s a Pandora’s box if there ever was one.
Dee Dee’s life was never easy. From his nomadic childhood as a military brat, and hooligan teen years in Queens, his stints as a rent boy on 53rd and 3rd, to a crippling heroin addiction he was never able to completely shake, the man always danced along the knife’s edge. That sort of swirling chaos is fiercely evident in these late paintings. In scrawling verse, course drawings, dripping reds and spray paint bursts, Dee Dee simultaneously conveys his love of horror movies, provides fresh takes on old lyrics, pays homage to Basquiat and Warhol, and exposes the raw nerve-endings of a deeply troubled, yet innately artistic soul.
For anyone who has ever seen a Dee Dee Ramone interview, it might be tempting to underestimate the man’s intellect. But that would be an elitist academia-inflicted stance, not to mention dead wrong. While the vast majority of Ramones songs are credited to the group, it’s widely acknowledged that Dee Dee was chief songwriter among them. Dee Dee had this astonishing ability to deconstruct the workings of classic pop songs from the 50’s and early 60’s, then reassemble just the good parts into breakneck sonic gems. He kind of did the same thing here with these paintings. He absorbed all the visual information he found in the art he was fond of, and then wielded that information to express his poison heart. They serve to underscore his artistic restlessness. Aside from the Ramones, Dee Dee made a (egads) rap record, he wrote a Ramones bio, a tour journal, and a novel. Dee Dee always seemed to be trying to exorcise his demons, or at least document the futility of trying.
Everybody seemed to really be enjoying themselves at the packed opening on Friday night. Being late October, costumes were worn. Libations were consumed. DJ Shephard Fairey– who created a DeeDee Ramone painting for event and pulling a limited number of prints from it, which of course sold out–got the cretins to hopping. I wouldn’t be surprised if children were conceived in the parking lot. Dee Dee would have loved it. Yet it’s not that he wasn’t there that nearly brings me to tears, it’s that he kind of was, hanging naked and bleeding on the walls. Maybe I’m being a tad melodramatic about it all, but any hardcore Ramones fan who sees this show will know what I’m talking about. It’s outsider art at its most uncomfortable. For Dee Dee in 2002, it was the vanishing point.
“Dee Dee Ramone: A Memorial Exhibition” runs through November 17, 2012SUBLIMINAL PROJECTS
1331 W. Sunset Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90026 T. (213) 213-0078
F. (213) 213-0077
Photos: Keith Ross Dugas