Few places have as much bohemian cachet as the old Chelsea Hotel. Though visitors can still find plaques honoring former residents like Virgil Thomson, Thomas Wolfe, and Dylan Thomas, the building has lost its famously shabby character amid an endless renovation begun in 2011. The old Chelsea may be dead, but its spirit lives on in songs by Leonard Cohen, films like Andy Warhol’s Chelsea Girls, and works of art like this tight, compelling drawing by punk musician Dee Dee Ramone. Dee Dee lived off and on at the Chelsea in the 1980s and ’90s, and was a frequent visitor during the 1970s, when residents included Patti Smith, Sid Vicious and Nancy Spungen, Johnny Thunders, and other punk rockers.
The most manically creative of the Ramones, Dee Dee didn’t only write and play bass on some of the group’s best-known songs (“Rockaway Beach,” “53rd and 3rd”). He also wrote and illustrated the novel Chelsea Horror Hotel, in which, as the protagonist, Dee Dee is haunted by the ghosts of Vicious and Thunders, who had died of drugs, as he would in 2002. In the last six years of his life, Dee Dee became a prolific painter, capable of drawing quickly and spontaneously from his life and mercurial states of mind. The Chelsea was a fitting site for a well-reviewed posthumous exhibition in 2014. The building’s complex facade appeared in several versions—each executed with a minimalist vocabulary of repeated lines that allowed Dee Dee quickly to represent the building’s windows, chimneys, awnings, and signage.
This framed original drawing, done by Dee Dee around 2000, has a distinguished provenance: the collection of the late party promoter and curator Baird Jones, whose sui generis tastes were celebrated in a Gallery 98 online exhibition last year. Among Baird’s obsessions was his collection of artworks by celebrities from other fields, whose names he printed in bold on flyers for one-night parties-cum-exhibitions.