The Confusing History of the Ramones’ Horror Song ‘Pet Sematary’
If horror-movie fans stuck around to the end of the 1989 movie Pet Sematary, they heard the Ramones song of the same name as the credits rolled.
Some fans of Stephen King, whose same-titled book inspired the film, didn't enjoy its leap to the big screen. Others loved the results.
The Ramones song seemed to fare similarly – while “Pet Sematary” was one of their biggest hits, and secured them more TV time than almost anything else they ever did, it was also nominated for a Razzle award for Worst Original Song that year.
If audience response was a little confusing, so too is the story behind the song. What’s certain is that King was a massive Ramones fan; he even mentioned the band in the book. What’s also certain is that the two parties met at some point. But details behind the history of the song's ties to King and the book seem to have been lost along the way.
In his 2014 book Punk Rock Blitzkrieg: My Life as a Ramone, drummer Marky Ramone clearly recalled having dinner in the basement of King’s home in Bangor, Maine, in 1982, after the author had booked the band to play in association with a radio station he owned. During the evening, Marky wrote, King "handed Dee Dee [Ramone] a copy of his bestselling novel, Pet Sematary.” It was the same night, Marky said, that Dee Dee announced his intention to leave the band.
King called that version of events “bullshit” soon after the book’s release. “We didn’t eat at my house,” he told Rolling Stone. “They never even came to the house. We ate at Miller’s Restaurant, the only fancy restaurant in Bangor. … I don’t remember if we talked about Pet Sematary. I might have said something about a song. What I remember is that Marky was the only one who was articulate. The other ones really weren’t.”
King later said of Marky’s account: “I said to my publisher, ‘This story about them coming to my house is total bullshit.’ But I also said, ‘Don’t change a fucking word.’ It’s like James Stewart in The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance. When the truth and legend are in opposition, print the legend.”
It’s also worth noting that Pet Sematary was published the year after the meeting took place, though it’s not impossible that copies already existed. Also, Marky was fired from the band in 1982 as a result of his addiction issues.
The movie – and its 2019 remake – follows the story of the Creed family, which moves from a big city to a rural town where a mysterious pet cemetery (misspelled “sematary”) appears to be connected with an older burial ground that has the power to return dead bodies to reanimated zombie form.
The song appeared on the Ramones’ 1989 album Brain Drain, and, continuing the horror theme, its video was set in a graveyard and featured cameo appearances from Debbie Harry and Chris Stein of Blondie, among others.
Watch the Ramones' 'Pet Sematary' Video
By that time Marky was back in the band, but the video ended up being Dee Dee’s last appearance as a member of the Ramones. In an interview shot during the making of the video, he said "it’s good that after 15 years the Ramones are still together, still friends and still happening. And I think we’re doing better than ever.”
Watch the Ramones Talk About the Making of 'Pet Sematary'
Despite those words, he later wrote in his 2000 memoir Lobotomy: Surviving the Ramones that "it was tough recording the Brain Drain album because everyone took their shit out on me. I dreaded being around them. It drove me away — I didn't even end up playing on the album. Everybody in the band had problems: girlfriend problems, money problems, mental problems.”
Even though it’s unclear when he wrote “Pet Sematary,” it is known that he didn’t contribute bass tracks to the recording. Producer Daniel Rey, who got a writing co-credit, played instead.
Listen to Marky Ramone Talk About Stephen King's 'Pet Sematary'
Marky remained convinced that his memory of events was accurate, saying in 2015 that “Stephen King is a big Ramones fan. … He’s a great guy, very tall, very intense-looking. His eyes are very intense, you can see he read a lot … and we hit it off. He asked us to do a song for the movie soundtrack. … He gave Dee Dee the book to read; he read the book and wrote the song in 40 minutes. I’m forever grateful I met the guy. He wrote a nice quote in the book about me. So thank you, Stephen.”