scrap bar; johnny thunders vs. dee dee ramone
in the end, it’s all doo-wop.
if the book “please kill me, The Uncensored Oral History of Punk,” by Legs McNeil and Gillian McCain holds sway regarding the history of the punk (whatever it was), then the last chapter, which had a story chronicling the seeming “end,” rhetorically speaking, was played out in scrap bar.
it might have played out in a dozen other places too, but i was only here for this one.
i read the book when it first came out and do not recall what perception, if any, the author’s interview was meant to exhibit and when i spoke to Legs a few years later about it, he acknowledged he wasn’t there and had no context to add. by then, it was 2009 and he’d be looking for “the green room” in goodbye blue monday.
talk about a disconnect….”you’re standing in it,” was my reply.
anyway, this is my story about that story.
it involved an incident between dee-dee ramone and johnny thunders; had the drama and desperation you’d expect when junkies collide and could only be described using words like “cartoon-violence-in-hazed-slow-motion.”
i know this because i was there, in-between them.
the punk-glow had already gone out on the musical candle some years back, replaced with metal-big-hair-glam-stripper-guns and roses-rock and they were all in scrap bar whenever they were in town.
it was their time to strut. sebastian bach vs. axl rose was what mattered now.
the same thing would happen a few years later when nirvana hit.
imagine watching the nirvana, “teen spirit” video standing next to a guy with big black hair bushing-out from a flat-brimmed leather hat, decked in black shirt, pants and studded MC jacket, silver and chrome chains, black snakeskin boots and armloads of black gasket rings up his wrist, who at the video’s conclusion, turns and says, “that’s not gonna last.”
i busted out laughing, “whaaat?….say goodbye, guy! it’s over for you. you’re done. maybe it’s time to go country.”
we’ve been witnessing this since….., well for me, doo-wop, elvis and the beatles.
it happens to almost everybody. ask david lee roth or warrant.
of course, some bands and performers transcend “their time” and remain vital, whether by reinvention or just being who they are; dylan, lennon, iggy, bowie, david byrne, patti smith, debbie harry, joey ramone (who felt the heat of anonymity, but got past it),
when a word like, “legend,” is thrown around, not everyone makes the cut.
over the years at scrap bar, i had gotten to know johnny thunders. a sweetheart with a truckload of demons all wearing “heroin” union-labels. i would continually watch him kick, only to go back.
because of this, whenever he’d ask to play an acoustic set here, i’d tell him, “i’d love you to, but you’re gonna nod halfway through the second song,” and he’d tell me, “no, i’m good now…” and so on, until one day, i said, “ok, we’ll set you at the front corner of the bar tomorrow night, eleven o’clock,” and he showed-up, acoustic guitar in hand. we had a slightly-full house because word got out about johnny’s set.
he appeared from the office hall at the bar’s back, carrying his guitar, walked to the front of the bar, sat down and began to play.
he lasted through the first song. that was it. heather, a tall, beautiful redhead who worked as our female security/bouncer, kicked dope seven years earlier and was one of johnny’s best friends, helped him down from the bartop and shuttled him to a bench-corner up front, put his guitar in the office and let him nod off.
i blamed myself for letting him use the office to get ready.
that was that.
regarding dee dee; we knew each other, but he always seemed “otherwise-engaged,” whether too high, uncomfortably in search of drugs, money or both.
the night of the junkie showdown, the bar was crowded.
johnny and i were walking toward the back. it may have been during one of his pleas to perform or an apology following the time explained earlier. i don’t remember.
i bought him a beer, knowing he was already buzzed on the other shit, but what the hell?
at the end of the bar, in an area a few feet before the restrooms and videogames on the right, stood dee dee, also heavily-pinned.
as johnny moved toward him, he raised his beer mug. i wondered if he was trying to keep it above the crowd or was going to spill it on dee dee. i was not privy to their drama, so if they were at odds, it was news to me.
what unfolded happened in slow motion, not because of “the perception of violence,” that makes it seem that way, but because it was two stoned-junkies about to go at it. johnny’s plan, i think, was to bust the beer mug on dee dee’s head, but he failed horribly. i got in between them, but johnny’s outstretched arm reached its mark, with the beer mug meeting the left side of dee dee’s head, above the temple and ear. this wasn’t a crash. it was a kiss.
upon contact, like a 45 rpm on 33, heard a long, slow-motion “ouwwww” come from dee dee, as he stepped/fell-back, the weed-smoking bikers in the back moved up to buffer him in the event he was going to hit the ground. johnny tried to move toward him, but i moved him away asking, “what the fuck is this?” and continued moving him toward the front of the bar.
the actual event was over in a matter of seconds. the drama following….a while longer with dee dee holding the side of his head keeping the “owwwww,” going.
friends and fans gathered around to be part of the moment.
johnny stayed up front and after a few minutes, he left.
i guess testosterone trumped heroin that night.
returning to the back, i looked in on dee dee.
he still had his left hand covering that side of his head. i walked to the nearest bartender and said, “quick. give me fifty dollars from the register,” and returned.
“you ok?” i asked.
“my head….my head,” in a pained, dope slur.
“listen, he’s gone and i’m sure you don’t want the cops in on this,” casually handing him the folded cash into his other hand, i said, “take this and do yourself a favor.”
i looked at his head where his “injury” was. there wasn’t even a bump. i don’t think johnny’s assault could have bruised a grape, but that’s just my opinion.
for the following two or three weeks, i would be visited by dee dee, complaining of complications from his injury.
each of these visits required another fifty dollars in “medical” fees.
johnny returned and promised never to do what he did again.
a while later, johnny got clean, or at least onto a methadone program, and came to scrap bar to say goodbye. he was moving to new orleans.
he looked happy and full of the kind of hope that precipitates a new adventure.
it’d be the last time any of us would see him.
he’d be dead a very short time after moving there and from what everyone heard back then, his last hours on earth were not good ones.
dee dee would eventually get clean, too and stay that way for a while, but would OD about a year or so after joey ramone’s death from cancer,
but you already know that.