Title: Chelsea Horror Hotel
Rating: 3 Stars
First of all, ignore the rating. I had no idea what rating to give it. I’m still not sure how I feel about it. It’s not a well written book but I was pretty entertained by it. It’s probably one of those books that people will give either 1 star or 5 stars to it.
I was just wandering around the University Book Store, really not intending to buy any books at all, when this book all but leaped out of the shelves at me. Dee Dee Ramone wrote a book? And it’s a horror story set at the infamous Chelsea Hotel? And it seems to have been inspired by the writings of William S. Burroughs? And it was published about a year before he died of a heroin overdose?
I’ve just been re-reading Please Kill Me, the brilliant, horrifying, hilarious oral history of punk rock, so of course, I had to buy it.
The work is made up of 31 vignettes, all taking place at or near the Chelsea Hotel. Most of the stories appear to be taking place on the same day, ostensibly the last day of Dee Dee’s life. The setting is somewhere the late 1990’s. It’s basically told in the form of Dee Dee’s diary.
Dee Dee is living with his wife, Barbara, at the Chelsea. He’s living there not because he wants to but because he has nowhere else to go. With his reputation and with his dwindling funds, he is, much to his regret, living in the same place that he started at over twenty years ago.
Real characters, dead or alive, appear in it. There is Stanley Bard, the true life manager of the hotel. Dee Dee’s wife, Barbara has a prominent role. There are various denizens of the hotel with names like Leonardo, Loretta, Fernando, and Bambie, that may or may not be real. Dead punk rock friends, like Sid Vicious, Stiv Bators, Jerry Nolan, and Johnny Thunders, all make appearances.
Most stories start off comparatively normal. In several of them, Dee Dee is taking his dog, Banfield (who, by the way, talks to Dee Dee), for a walk. Although Dee Dee repeatedly claims that he’s a nice guy that just wants to live his life, in fairly short order his errands turn into misadventures.
He sees his paranoid, hated, next door neighbor, Joe, on the street and pushes him in front of a bus and kills him. Bambie, who’s actually a male cross dresser, comes on to Dee Dee. Barbara catches him, and together Dee Dee and Barbara murder Bambie and throw him out the window. In the basement of the Chelsea is a satanic cult that throws their victims into a bathtub full of piranhas.
Things continue to devolve. By the end, the hotel has nearly collapsed, a chasm to hell has opened up underneath it, and Dee Dee, Sid, Stiv, Jerry, and Johnny are playing one last song before, one by one, they slip and fall into the abyss of hell.
So, what to make of all of this? First of all, by no means is it technically well written in any way. Dee Dee was diagnosed as bipolar. He was on and off heroin for decades, but considering the fact that this was written pretty close to when he overdosed, it’s not a bad assumption that he was under its influence while writing. This is reflected in the writing.
This is pretty classic outsider art. If the author was not Dee Dee, this book would have never seen the light of day. However, since it is Dee Dee, and his back story is known, it can be interpreted within the context of his life.
I did find the first chapters to be pretty amusing. It was fun to think of Dee Dee, just trying to get through a day, trying to be an average Joe, and weird things just keep inevitably happening to him, much to his dismay and disgust. I found his repeated cries of what a nice guy he is and why does this keep happening to him to be pretty hilarious.
The chapters themselves were very short. In most cases, they were only a couple of pages. He’d jump right in, set the theme, shit would go down, and then close the chapter. In that way, the stories reminded me of Ramones songs.
By the end though, as events were approaching the climax, chapters were getting progressively longer. By the last chapter or two, the novel had pretty much spun completely out of control.
So, bottom line, if you are a Ramones fan, you could very easily find this work to be interesting and/or amusing. If you don’t get the Ramones, have no idea of who Dee Dee was, then you’re going to read it, probably hate it, and wonder how such a piece of trash got published in the first place.