If you spent any time in the Detroit/Ann Arbor cultural scene in the last 50 years, chances are you know the name Hiawatha Bailey, the only Black and Native American member of the White Panther Party. He was on the front lines and rubbed shoulders with the Stooges, MC5, and John Lennon. Busted for drugs, when he was released from prison, he immediately formed a punk rock band, Cult Heroes, after being the roadie for the legendary Destroy All Monsters. A true PKM hero tells his own story, through Todd McGovern.
Hiawatha Bailey was born in the postwar American South, Columbus, Georgia, on the Chattahoochee River near the Alabama border. Like many other Black families in the region, the Baileys made the journey North in search of work in the auto industry. They settled first in Detroit, then in Hamtramck, a city within Detroit proper. It was here a young Hiawatha started Catholic school – and that’s when trouble began.
He recalls, “I remember the Mother Superior coming over to the house and telling my parents, `Hiawatha is extremely difficult to condition, but with your permission, I believe I can beat him into being a good, God-fearing Christian.’ That’s a real quote. My mom said years later, `Well, of course we gave her our permission.’ Thanks, Mom!”
“My dad worked at Chevrolet plant in Hamtramck. He’d drive 30 miles to work each day then 30 miles back at the end of the day. On their lunch break, they’d talk about their families. ‘Well, what’s with your oldest son with that weird name?’ Around this time, my grades were starting to flop.”
Being the oldest male child among his other eight siblings meant that a high level of expectation was placed on Hiawatha that he was unable to meet. After his father gave him one of three choices — be sent to military school; move north to Saginaw and live with Uncle Joe, a cop who headed the juvenile division; or move with the rest of his family to the country. “I thought, ‘Yeah, the country! Hanging out in the bushes like Tom Sawyer, white-washed fences and canoes! Turns out, it was more like sloppin’ hogs, plowin’ fields and kissing country girls’.”
The farm was located in Belleville, between Detroit and Ann Arbor. The Bailey family was surrounded by relatives. “My aunt lived out there. She owned 20 acres. Down around the corner was another aunt. My grandfather had a trailer there. To him, it seemed like a secure place to raise a knucklehead like me. Then it just became boring.”
If you spent any time in the Detroit/Ann Arbor cultural scene in the last 50 years, chances are you know the name Hiawatha Bailey. Hiawatha is one of those larger-than-life Zelig-like characters who exist at the intersection of cultural movements. Although not a hippie, he lived in a commune in the late 1960s/early 1970s; a community activist with the White Panther Party, Hiawatha was on the front lines and rubbed shoulders with the Stooges, MC5, and John Lennon; and an ex-convict who when released from federal prison immediately starts a punk rock band. Now in his seventies, he looks at least a decade younger. Rail thin and 6’6,” Hiawatha and I had two long conversations about his life as a revolutionary, the only Black and Native American member of the White Panther Party, and his experiences in rock n’ roll. This is his story in his own words.
“The summer of 1966, just after I graduated high school, the local Ford factory was accepting applications. During the summer, they’d do a changeover, put in new machinery for the next year’s model. The union guys would all take their vacations, so they’d hire new people. I got home from the interview and my mom asked, ‘How’d it go?’ I told her I got hired. She said, ‘That’s great! I wouldn’t have thought an 18-year-old would get a factory job’. I said, ‘But I don’t want it.’ She said, ‘Yeah, you do!’”
“The next morning, my lunch was packed, she’d taken one of my dad’s work uniforms from the factory, had it ironed and pressed for me and sent my packing with my lunch. After my 90-day probation period ended, I became a union member and full-time employee. At some point, after I’d been working at the plant for over a year, I got turned on to pot! Time or Life or some other stupid periodical published an entire edition devoted to ‘The Hippie Movement.’ It had a section on ‘household psychedelics’ – you know, nutmeg tea and smoking banana peels. I was trying all this stuff. When I discovered marijuana, it provided a different perspective. It led me to believe there were brighter horizons.”
I enrolled in junior college – not for the education but to ensure I had a student deferment from the draft. A couple friends of mine went to Vietnam and came home in coffins. So, I became more and more psychedelicized. It was around this time when there was an article in TheDetroit News about a guy named John Sinclair and the Detroit Artists Workshop, an arts collective. Sinclair and some other local hippies were having a ‘Love-In’ on Belle Isle. I thought, ‘Wow! Hippies, man! That sounds great. Smoking pot! Bell bottoms, love beads, and Nehru jackets!’ We started to hang out on Plum Street in Detroit, where the artist community was. I remember thinking, ‘I’m going to check out this path and see where it leads me.’ It led me to Ann Arbor, which at that time was just mind-blowing. There were free concerts at West Park on Sundays with bands like the MC5, The Up, The Stooges and The Rationales playing. Everybody would sit around on blankets, passing joints, not wearing underwear. I remember thinking, ‘Yeah, this is it, man! This is the life for me!’”
When I first moved to Ann Arbor, I lived in a commune. The guy who managed the place dropped a bunch of acid and went to Mexico, looking for mushrooms. The house was taken over by hippies. We all had our own little apartments and nobody paid rent. I thought I had reached nirvana!
Back in Detroit, John Sinclair committed himself to community organizing. He formed ‘Trans-Love Energies,’ trying to bring together Detroit’s counterculture and student groups. But times being what they were the Trans-Love Energies office and houses kept getting raided by the Detroit Narcotics squad. After the Detroit uprising in July 1967, the harassment became too much and Trans-Love Energies moved to Ann Arbor.
Everybody would sit around on blankets, passing joints, not wearing underwear. I remember thinking, ‘Yeah, this is it, man! This is the life for me!’”
WHITE PANTHER PARTY
At some point in 1968, Huey P. Newton, a co-founder of the Black Panther Party was asked what like-minded white people could do to support the Black Panthers. He said they should start similar groups in their own communities. So, that fall, John Sinclair, his wife, Leni, and Pun Plamondon morphed Trans-Love Energies into the White Panther Party.
I started seeing these posters popping up all over town, announcing a community meeting at a local coffee house: ‘Panther White Is Running!’ The Black Panther Party was happening in California. I thought this might be some kind of ‘Anti’ group, some neo-Nazi, racist thing. I snuck into a couple of their community meetings and, in a short amount of time, my life was radically changed. Their political ideology was based on Chairman Mao and the dialectics of Marxism and Leninism. It tantalized and stimulated my intellect to the point where I thought, ‘Now this makes sense to me!”
Then Dave Sinclair, John’s brother, came over to my commune and said, ‘You seem more worldly and more intelligent than most of these other people. Why don’t you come with me?’ I wound up moving my whole commune into the White Panther House. We played an integral part in their organizing, as they were new in town and we knew all the cool people. At first, a lot of people thought we were a local version of the Black Panthers, which basically meant having guns. But it wasn’t really – it was us, uniting mother country radicals to meet our own needs, seizing the time in a self-determined fashion. In a sense, it was a precursor to the DIY ethic of punk rock!
I was a roadie with The Up at the time. In the White Panther Party, everybody had something to do with the orderly running of three different houses in Ann Arbor. We were also building what we called ‘Rock-n-Roll Radiators,’ where were these 15-inch SRO speakers and hand-built cabinets. It cut back on a lot of expenses and renting them out to other bands brought in extra income to the party, too.
White Panther Party – Programs
The White Panthers had a number of positive community programs. Instead of putting kids into the public school system to be taught by strangers, we started a Children’s Community, which was a day-care and school for children who lived in one of the various communes in Ann Arbor. We also started the People’s Food Co-op, as well as the People’s Community Center, a meeting place with office space for Ann Arbor’s revolutionary organizations. It was an abandoned Cadillac dealership owned by the city of Ann Arbor. They let us use it just to keep us all out of their hair.
There was some point when we felt we needed to increase our visibility nationwide. We liked the street theater aspect of the Yippies – the Youth International Party. We reached out to Abbie Hoffman and Jerry Rubin. We said, ‘Look, you guys don’t have any politics, we got politics, but we need a more mass-oriented entitlement for ourselves’. Frankly, the White Panther name was alienating to a lot of people and wanted to get them to let us use the Youth International Party name. We invited them to Ann Arbor for a meeting, but it turned into a 3-day orgy. Everybody floppin’ around with no bras, fuckin’ titties and bell-bottoms. In the end, they wouldn’t give up the name.
Those guys weren’t that much fun. They were knuckle-headed anarchists and we were revolutionaries.
Looking back on it, while the White Panther Party’s Ten Point Program may have seemed idealistic and lofty, we were really implementing a lot of the topics that were covered under those ten points: Free food, free shelter (which we never really did accomplish)…people getting together to become organized. Why? Because it was easier to find a place for ten raggedy-tag, hippie derelicts to rent a place than it would be for one or two.
At some point in the mid-Sixties, the CIA opened a local office to recruit prospective employees from the University. One fall night in 1968, a bomb was set off in that office. As it went off in the middle of the night, no one was injured, but the White Panthers were suspected, with the focus falling on Minister of Defense, Pun Plamondon. Pun immediately went underground, which is a story unto itself. But he became the first hippie to be listed on the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted Fugitives list.
I remember once putting up flyers…and this limo pulls up. It was Harold Moon, a bail bondsman who helped us a lot back then. He told us to call him “Uncle Harold.” Anyway, it was Uncle Harold in the limo. He said, ‘Hey, Hiawatha, what are you doing?’ I said, ‘Putting up some flyers, why?’ He said, ‘There’s some people who want to talk to you. Hop in.’ I hop in this limo and there are these FBI agents. ‘We know you know where Pun Plamondon is.’
Pun immediately went underground, which is a story unto itself. But he became the first hippie to be listed on the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted Fugitives list.
The last time I’d seen Pun was at Bowling Green University. I was climbing a pole to hang a parachute for our light show. I heard someone say, ‘Hey, you sure grew up to be a good-looking Negro.’ I looked down from the ladder and thought, “My God, it’s Pun! He’s supposed to be in Algiers! This was prior to him getting busted up north for littering. The whole Party was under surveillance by the FBI.
FREE JOHN SINCLAIR
In 1969, John Sinclair was arrested and sentenced to ten years for possession of TWO JOINTS! We dedicated ourselves to communicating how unrighteous it was. All the time spent working to get John out of jail, we were conscious of coming off as threatening to the powers that be. We wanted to be seen as social workers, invested in our community.
Acknowledging that most, if not all, members of the Michigan State House in Lansing had never smoked weed, we sent out two joints to each. Along with the pot, we included an R. Crumb diagram about how to smoke marijuana and what happens to you once you do, along with a letter asking them to light up and see what they thought after toking down. Our thinking was, ‘Hey, the only reason why these guys don’t understand how cool it is to get fucked up is because they don’t have access to it. Well, they don’t have that excuse anymore!’
We had some success. For instance, we circulated hemp petitions, health and marijuana prohibition petitions, and Free John Now petitions. We got enough signatures to get a referendum on the ballot to vote for the marijuana laws to be overturned.
We were also organizing a major concert to shine a light on John’s case, to be held at Crisler Arena, where the University of Michigan men’s basketball team plays. We’d had a number of people already committed, including Archie Shepp, Bobby Seale, and others. One day, I was on phone duty when a call comes in. A guy with an English accent says, ‘This is John Lennon. I’d like to speak to Dave Sinclair.’ I was like, ‘Oh, yeah, whatever dude.’ CLICK. I hung up. Then the phone rings back a few minutes later and it was Yoko. ‘Hello, this is Yoko Ono and I’m calling for John. He’d like to speak to Dave Sinclair.’
Oh, my God, this is real! This is actually John Lennon and Yoko Ono! I ran upstairs to tell Dave. That was the day that Lennon had called and wanted to be part of what was going on. He said he’d written a song dedicated to John and he would like to come and perform it. It was ‘Ten For Two’.
With John Lennon’s support, all of a sudden other people wanted to play. Stevie Wonder calls. Imagine, stoned little me sitting there answering the phone, tripping my brains out, getting these famous people calling up out of nowhere, but that shows you how mass-oriented what we were doing was.
John Lennon Performs at the John Sinclair Freedom Rally, December 10, 1971:
Within 48 hours, Sinclair was released from prison in Marquette, Michigan. John Lennon actually called him after he was released.
Phone call between John Lennon & Yoko Ono and John Sinclair:
WHITE PANTHER PARTY DISSOLVES
As far as things on the street were concerned, when John [Sinclair] got back, he started managing Mitch Ryder and some other bands that really weren’t so supportive of the cause, when we were working all those months to get him out, so we felt a little disrespected by the Chairman once he got out.
[John’s wife] Leni had been hanging out with [jazz saxophonist] Archie Shepp and some other guys that were coming around. She was lonely. I mean, her husband was locked up. She was taking care of the kids and the houses, being the mother of the revolution. John found out and was all pissed off and wouldn’t leave his room. He wasn’t the person we’d imagined he would be on his return.
John decided it was time to dissolve the Party. We’d gotten him out of jail and it was time to go our separate ways. I remember watching the “Ten For Two” movie and he says, ‘So, Hi, what are you going to do now?’ I said, ‘What are you talking about.’ He says, ‘Well, you made it into the movies.’
There were a couple shots of me at Crisler Arena. I wasn’t thinking about that. I was thinking, ‘Come on! We’re fighting a revolution! We finally got our chairman back, let’s take over the world!’ That wasn’t what he had in mind. He was ready to move on.
I couldn’t believe we got him out actually and it eventually changed the pot laws in the state.
After Sinclair’s release, I remember a meeting with the MC5. Fred [Smith], Mike [Davis], and Dennis [Thompson], who were into further supporting John’s cause. Wayne was adamantly against it. He’d say, ‘John never did anything for us, except he brought all this heat down us because of his politics, which really weren’t our politics. We were into the music.’ It might have gotten dark for Wayne and those guys. They were starting to get slaphappy with their fame and being signed and doing bad drugs. We, in the Party, were still trying to carry on and get them the support for the work we were doing – and they were not into it. Wayne was the main resistance for the band helping us anymore. So we just moved on.
LEXINGTON, KENTUCKY PRISON—THE US NARCOTIC FARM
“When the Party broke up, I went back to selling drugs and surviving. I sold some pot, LSD, and then eventually, cocaine. I made more money doing that…one big sale and I could support myself for a month or two with the profits. But I didn’t know I was being watched by the Feds all of that time. I got busted for sales of cocaine in 1973 or 1974.
I wound up getting sent to the FCI – the Federal Correctional Institute in Lexington, Kentucky. Turns out it was the same place where Billie Holiday, Gene Krupa, and a bunch of other famous people had been locked up. It was for drug addicts who were there as opposed to being put it regular prisons. I was sentenced under racketeering and profiteering roles. I was too academically oriented. They decided I needed to be punished. My sentence was four years or three years with special parole to follow.
While in Lexington, each time I was up for parole, I wrote an article about ‘Positive Mental Attitude.’ I figured if it was the warden’s pet program, I’d support it. So, I wrote a schlock article that was just garbage, as far as I was concerned, but I thought it would endear me to the warden and would advance me to the parole board earlier and get my sentence reduced.
Well, Dr. Doris Sutton who was the Chair of the English Department at the University of Kentucky was working with Lexington FBI. She was in charge of education and rehabilitation for federal prisons. She got a hold of this article I wrote about the PMA program. The editor of the newspaper was being discharged so she looked me up, had me removed from the laundry room and placed as the new editor of the newspaper. So for most of the four years when I was incarcerated at Lexington, I was editor of the prison newspaper.
It was minimum-security prison. The guards had no guns, no clubs. No nothing, no bars or anything. I found out about a lot of stuff that was going on in that place, like drug experimentation, the addiction research center, which was part of the prison that nobody had access to, except for me as editor of the newspaper. They were doing weird experiments on people who had triple life sentences. They were doing experiments with methadone and various drugs trying to figure out addiction rates and studying bone healing rates. These inmates who had no hope of ever getting out of prison would sign-up for these experimental programs. They’d get paid for it and the money would get sent to their families. Anytime those people were on the move within the penal facility, everybody was locked down. You’d have to turn and face the wall when those prisoners were being moved.
Freedom of the press was a way to get into those programs and find out what was going on. I tried to print articles about them but most of the time the education department would just say, ‘You can’t do this.’ They got tired of me saying, ‘…but freedom of the press.’
But I made it through those four years. At one point, I was walking through our dorm – it was sort of like a dorm and the University of Michigan, I happened to walk through one day and I looked over and saw this guy. I thought, “Naw…it couldn’t be him.” I ended up walking over to him and said, ‘Excuse me, but are you Michael Davis?’ Mike goes, ‘Yeah…why?’ I said, ‘Well, you know, I know about the MC5! I was in the White Panther Party!’ Michael Davis, the bass player for the MC5, sittin’ there.
We were reading Rolling Stone magazine one day and we read that Wayne had been busted. It said that he was being sent to a Federal Correction facility, but no destination had been named. Mike looked at me and said, ‘I bet you any amount of money they send that fucker here!’
Well, Wayne came in and was in the heroin unit, next door to the unit I was in with Michael – ‘unity’ – which was for LSD felons and cocaine dealers. Mike and I became good buddies and he also kicked heroin while there.
He and Wayne weren’t getting along. When the Five broke up, something was going on between them. I was like, ‘You know, you guys, we’re in prison. That shit was doable on the outside, but we are Federal prisoners. I’m #297-50117. I’m not Hiawatha Bailey. You’re not Michael Davis and you are not Wayne Kramer! C’mon you guys, let’s get it together!’
I got Wayne a job on the newspaper as a graphic artist. He refused to do anything. He wouldn’t draw or write. ‘I’m not doing anything, I’m just gonna sit here,’ he said. So that leaves me and the rest of the newspaper staff had to cover his ass because he refused to do anything. I recall saying, ‘You don’t understand, we are in the bowels of the beast! You don’t have any right to say now. I got you this cushy job. Mike had a studio down the hallway where he just sat and painted all the time, doing oil paintings that were used to decorate the prison. I spent a lot of time trying to get Wayne and Mike to talk to each other.
They finally did and we started rehearsing, trying to play music and do shows in the prison. That was my plan, yes. I had my 12-string guitar –I’m trying to learn how to play. We could wear our own clothes, so I’m running around in earth shoes and bell-bottoms. I figured, ‘I’m just gonna turn myself into the musician that I’ve been supporting all this time. When I get out, I’ll start a band.’
POST-NARCOTICS FARM AND THE CULT HEROES
I was the last one to get released. Go figure. The only Negro, you know? Plus, when I went before the parole board, I could either have declared myself an addict and gone under the NAR Act, which is the Narcotics Addiction and Rehabilitation Act and done less time, but I would have had to declare myself as a racketeer who profited from my drug usage. I refused to do that. “I’m a Marxist-Leninist Dialectical Materialist and I support the People’s cause.” I kept runnin’ that shit. So each time I went before the parole board they said, ‘See you in six months!’ Those guys got released because they were defined as drug addicts and I refused to define myself as such. I was a revolutionary!
I got released in 1978.
I moved into this farmhouse out on Plymouth Road [in Ann Arbor] with a friend of mine who looked me up. I was working for another friend’s marking stamp company. He gave me the company, actually. He thought that was my reward for not narc’ing on people when I was locked up. So I moved into the farmhouse with my friend Pam.
We went and found Michael Davis on New Year’s Eve at his parents’ house. We brought him back and he moved in with us. He joined Destroy All Monsters as their bass player, along with Ron Asheton on guitar and Niagara on vocals. Everybody rehearsed at my farmhouse and I started as a roadie for Destroy All Monsters.
I told them, ‘I’m just learning the ropes. I want my own band. I wanna do what you guys showed me to do. I want to use a band to promote my political agenda and cultural pursuit that I believe to be true and help bring it to the masses.’ That was the basis of starting my band, Cult Heroes.
Bobby Lee, Raoul Martinez Rodriguez Garcia, this Cuban friend of mine, Leon, Brad Northrup on bass were originally in the Cult Heroes. Then Lee quit the band and I found Jim Conway. We just started working ourselves. Our first gig was opening up for Destroy All Monsters at Hamburg pub in Hamburg, Michigan. I’ll never forget the marquee said, ‘Destroy All Monsters and The Occult Heroes.’ I said, ‘You gotta change that marquee. We’re the Cult Heroes not the Occult Heroes. It’s different, you know?’
“I’m a Marxist-Leninist Dialectical Materialist and I support the People’s cause.”
So, that was our first gig, opening up for Destroy All Monsters at Hamburg pub in Hamburg, Michigan. Ron Asheton heard us and said, ‘You guys sound ok, you wanna play?’ I said, ‘We’d love to!’ ‘Well, why don’t you open for us at the Hamburg Pub?’
So we go on and play our eight songs. Afterward, I asked Ron how it was. ‘Well, to be honest with you, Hi, you guys are a lot better than I thought you were gonna be. What are you gonna do for your next set?’ And I said, ‘…What?’ Ron said, ‘With only two bands on the bill, you guys gotta play two sets.’ We knew eight songs and we’d just played all eight of them! ‘Well, you gotta do something,’ Ron said.
So we went on and just played our first set backward. It turned out to be great. At the end of the first set, it felt like we were kind of jelling. When we started the second set, it was easy to ride on through with those same songs in reverse order. That was the beginning of my career as a performing artist.
Cult Heroes – “TV EYE”:
After that, every place Destroy All Monsters (DAM) would play, I’d push my band as the opener. When DAM played Max’s Kansas City or CBGB, we’d hop in the car and drive East. We booked our own gigs at these places that DAM played, and that was the beginning of it. I couldn’t believe it.
When my band, the Cult Heroes got together, we went to NYC and I met with Danny Fields. I was talking to Lenny Kaye. He gave me Danny’s address and I went over to his place. I walked into his apartment/office. He had his lifesize photo of a nude Iggy hanging behind his desk and I thought, “OK, we’re gonna be able to get along!”
He sent my band over to CBGB to meet with Hilly Kristal and he loved us. Hilly, man, what a knucklehead. I mean, he was cool…he was Hilly. We wound up getting a Saturday night gig at CBGB. We went back to play. Scott Morgan had put this thing together. I forget what it was called, but it was Deniz Tek; they were touring the country. They wanted me to come join. We played the Polish National Hall on Diggs Street in Brooklyn. It was small but great. It was packed. I went on and did a couple Stooges song. I was freaking out. Ron Asheton said, ‘Hey, we’re just gonna go out and do the three Stooges song that we rehearsed. We’re gonna do the show exactly the way we did it in Ann Arbor’. It was a great show!
At Max’s when we played, they named a sandwich after us!
As the group ages – my guitar player is a nurse; my drummer is a mailman; my bass player works for the university. They all have a total dedication to rock-n-roll is what we started out doing, but as life passes, people get older, get married and domestic and economic duties pull them away from the band.
So that’s the reason only a couple times a year, I pull out the whip and crack us back into shape and at least get on stage a couple times a year. The Blind Pig is always really supportive – they give me a date anytime I want it. I’m always trying to put a gig together for my birthday.
Time moves on. We’re not in our 20s and 30s anymore and people have things they have to do. It’s the nature of things and it’s the same with the rock-n-roll community as well.
I am still politically active in regards to things that are still important to me. I am no longer on the front lines. In terms of my politics, they remain the same. I still want to people to have more power to do the things that need to be done. We still need to be thinking about education, poverty, and future generations.
Onward through the future!
Within a ten-year period (late 1960s – late 1970s), Nico, Johnny Thunders and Dee Dee Ramone all lived in Ann Arbor.
I never met Nico, but I had many dealings with both Johnny Thunders and Dee Dee Ramone.
HIAWATHA ON JOHNNY THUNDERS
When Johnny came to town, he was playing with Wayne Kramer then, I think, they had a band called Brothers of the Road. I was running a club out of a VFW Hall, as well as working at Fantasy Fashions, a retro clothing store.
I would go to the garment district in Ohio and buy all these clothes that were going to be turned into rags. If you got in there early enough, you could buy good things. I’d bring it back, launder, steam it, and sell it as second hand clothing. Across the street was Seva, an organic/vegan restaurant and in the basement was the VFW. I went over there and met “Old Bob,” this vet who had a little Indian sidekick, named Jesse. I talked to him about renting the hall to do shows.
When my band, the Cult Heroes got together, we went to NYC and I met with Danny Fields. I was talking to Lenny Kaye. He gave me Danny’s address and I went over to his place. I walked into his apartment/office. He had his lifesize photo of a nude Iggy hanging behind his desk and I thought, “OK, we’re gonna be able to get along!”
We became the house band and I started bringing in other acts. We had Brothers Of The Road, with Johnny. Johnny was high. He came in the store and just fell in love with this lady. He actually had three kids with her; I can’t remember her name to save my soul. But he was in town for three or four years and they had two or three kids in that time. Julie! That was her name. We called her Julie Thunders. They had Little Johnny, Guido, and, I forget the third kid’s name. They ended up getting divorced or separated and then he took off.
HIAWATHA ON DEE DEE RAMONE
The Ramones would come here to play and Dee Dee would just GLOM onto me. Everywhere that I moved in town, there was Dee Dee. He would be magically living two or three doors down from me. He would come over in full disguise. He’d knock on the door and I’d peek out the peek hole and there’d be an old fisherman peeking in my peek hole. I’d say, “Uh, can I help you.” And he’d say, “Hiawatha? It’s Dee Dee. Open the door!”
There was no way to get rid of him, so I just became his buddy. He was always wearing these weird disguises and nobody would recognize him and then he’d get all pissed off!
He was going to give me money to turn my back on rock-n-roll and chose one person, any person of my choice, and he would finance us going anywhere in the country or the world. If I’d just turn my back on rock-n-roll and became a good little Hiawatha. Rock and Roll is not going to do anything for you except make you hate all your friends and give you flat feet like it did me! I can’t wear normal shoes because I had to wear those stupid sneakers in the Ramones all those years and now my feet are flat. And the same thing will happen to you unless you turn your back on rock and roll.”
I was like “Arrgh, whatever dude, you’re crazy.” He came over once and said, “Hiawatha, you used to be a revolutionary. You’ve got to help me! I’m just walking along, going through the [University of Michigan campus] Diag, it’s a peaceful afternoon and here they just come whizzing by me on their bicycles. [The students] know my nerves are shot because of the Ramones and they’re just doing this to torture me. So I karate-chopped this student off his bicycle. I want you to join with me. We’re going to eradicate Ann Arbor of all this bicycle traffic.”
I said, “Dee Dee, you can’t do that!” He said, “Oh yes I can and if you’re truly a revolutionary, you’ll help me.” I’d just listen to him. He was crazy. I mean, I’d never tell him that, but he was. He took me down to his apartment once. He must have had 30 stolen bicycles in various states of disassembly. He’d put on his ninja gear, dressed all in black and had all of these burglary tools. He’d go around town and cut the chains off people’s bicycles, take the bikes out behind his apartment, disassemble them and pile up. I said, “Dee Dee – This is a college town; those are students’ bikes. You’re gonna get arrested, Dee Dee. This ain’t New York!”
He had this thing with a group of drag queens. There was a group of drag queens in town who Dee Dee decided were his staunch enemies. He was always jumping on guys from “The House of Chanel.” This girl Gena who he was dating, was their friend before him. He swore that they’d just turn her into a lesbian. He was out of his mind. Totally paranoid with karate skills. He was always doing weird shit.
Another time, Dee Dee met this girl who was underage and trying to get into this concert and was underage. Dee Dee hooked up with her and wound up taking her to New York. Her mom was the mayor of some small town outside Ann Arbor. She called me and said she knew who I was and what I did to keep myself above water. She was going to turn me in unless I found Dee Dee and made her daughter come home or at least call her. I called Dee Dee’s place in NY in the Chelsea Hotel. She answers the phone and said, “Oh I thought I’d never get a chance to thank you for introducing me to my rock and roll hero. Now I’m his girlfriend!” I asked, “How are you enjoying New York?”
“It’s the weirdest thing! He won’t let me out of the room! He won’t let me go anywhere. I told him I wanted to go to the movies and he said I didn’t have to. He went down to the electronics district and bought a VCR and a bunch of bootleg movies. When he got back, he couldn’t figure out how to make them work, so he threw the TV through the window. Then he said he was going back down there to deal with the fuckers who sold him the faulty machine.”
I said, “You know what, all I’ve got to tell you is watch out for his dark side…AND CALL YOUR MOTHER!”
About three hours later, I get a phone call.
“It’s Dee Dee. Now be a good Hiawatha and don’t start crying, but there is no Hiawatha. There is no Ann Arbor.”
He went through a whole list of people who didn’t exist because he decided they didn’t exist.
“And how dare you tell people to watch out for my dark side. I don’t have a dark side. YOU have a dark side. You’re selling pot to innocent students. And don’t ever contact me again. You don’t exist.”
That was the last time I talked to Dee Dee. Next I heard of him, he had O.D’d out in California.
I still love him. He was just a tortured soul.
Cult Heroes – Live at Mile High Club in Ann Arbor, MI – 1982:
Cult Heroes: “Down On The Street” from Ron Asheton Memorial show:
Note: Hiawatha Bailey is the subject of an upcoming documentary, “Song Of Hiawatha,” directed by Jeffrey Wengrofsky.