Marky Ramone talks to Patrick O’Heffernan about punk’s past, future and his new book
In 1978, a young drummer named Mark Bell from the defunct band Dust was asked to take over the drums from Tommy Ramone in the early punk band, the Ramones. He did, changed his name to Marky Ramone and the rest is history, as the Ramones became one of the most famous and respected bands in modern time. His new book: PUNK ROCK BLITZKRIEG: My Life As A Ramone, tells that history, as it happened, through the eyes of the one remaining member of the band, Marky Ramone. Marky talked with our music critic and radio host Patrick O’Heffernan.
Patrick. Marky, you have written a very good book. I have read it twice and it not only reads well, it feels well – it feels like truth. how did you make sure you avoided the mistakes and exaggerations of other books about the Ramones?
Marky. Well, I was there. I observed 15 years of being in the group, obviously the other members, 1700 shows, you can’t make that stuff up. What’s in the book is definitely for real, including myself -he brutal honesty about what I went through. You know, you live and learn and make observations about yourself. That is the book – its very comprehensive and it was time to write it. I read all the other books. I am not going to critique them, but this is the real deal. in the other books, no one was really around, except for our tour manager. So the other books I take with a grain of salt. This is the inner circle of being in the Ramones. They were my brothers, band-mates, business partners and like any family you get to know each other very well.
Patrick. That is why it was worth reading twice. I worked my way through college partly as an collaborator on books for celebrities from business and politics, so I understand that what you accomplished was not an easy process. I know you went through two collaborators before you found Rich Herschlag. How did you work together?
Marky. Well the first two collaborators didn’t get the way I talk in the book. Richard was a lot different – the words he put down on paper sounded like me. And that was important to me to engage the reader when he or she is reading the book. He nailed it. The book is 400 pages and definitely sounds like me. And I wanted the reader to feel like he or she was in the inner circle -I wanted that feeling in the book from my childhood all the way through when I won the Grammy and was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and my time in the New York punk scene at CBGB’s and Max’s like the person was with me all the way as long as he or she is reading it.
Patrick. You achieved that. In fact one of the things that stands out in the book is the voice – your voice – reading this book is like talking with you and hearing your thoughts at the same time. was that hard to do – to reveal yourself like that?
Marky. You know, you got to get the skeletons out of the closet and the reason I was so brutally honest about myself is that I was writing about 3 other people. If you are going to write about the other people, you have to nail it about yourself too. I really didn’t reveal anything different about the other three or four members, but it is more in depth, especially when I had my drinking problem and I got asked to leave the band. I didn’t have to put that in, but if someone is reading the book and I can help them if they have that problem, maybe that is something that I have achieved.
Patrick. This book is jam-packed. There are a ton of memorable lines in the book, but one that jumped out at me because it seems it jumped out at you is on page 310, at the bottom. it is a quote from Monte: “Mark, we need you” . What went through your mind when you heard that?
Marky. Well, when they asked me to join the band a second time after 4 years of not being in the group, I was a little reluctant because of the hassles I went through before between Johnny and Joey. But I said, I enjoy and love playing the music, and that is the most important thing. And I didn’t want them not play anymore or take months to find somebody else. They had commitments. So I said to Joey, I’ ll meet everyone at a rehearsal studio and the only person who showed up was Joh, and that was good because he was the only who was necessary. We played ten songs and it was like I never left I got them out of a rut because I didn’t want to see that happening to them.
Patrick. When you heard Monte use the word “need”, did that cut into your heart at all?
Marky. Yeah. The other guy who replaced me four years ago deserted them – .just walked out without saying a word. You can get court-marshalled for that in the military. And Clem Burke from Blonde –who was a great drummer, but he was a Blonde drummer, not a Ramones drummer – he lasted 2 days.. That’s when they needed – I knew the songs and I was able to play and I got sober. I loved these guys, they are in a predicament. What would I do if I want in a band and I needed one of the integral parts to continue. So I understood what was going on, and I said yes.
Patrick. Let me read something else – from the chapter entitled“ Dog Days”. There were times when music became a job. There were times when music became a burden. But I understood now, maybe for the first time, that playing was not a job. Playing was not a burden. I was born to play. That realization came late in your career. why did it take so long?
Marky. In the beginning when you’re a struggling, like anyone else – playing in different bands and having to wait around to play and moving the equipment yourself, and the other things that come with it…trying to establish yourself as a known musician, that takes time. With the Ramones, it was mainly just playing – I didn’t consider that a job. The things you have to do – fly, be in the van, tour, sound checks, interviews, play shows, you have to expect that. But I never felt it was work. When I was out of the band for 4 years I wanted to do physical things to help with my sobriety, and that was work. I did construction, I did demolition, put up iron gates in crack houses. I did that to say in shape because I wanted to go back to drumming…I know what it is like to do physical labor. I also met all kinds of different people out of the music business and that helped me. They worked And I got back into the band…that was not work, it is totally different…it is doing what you want to do and following your dream.
Patrick. And you have accomplished that. One of the funniest passages in the book was when you were at a Cracker Barrel and had decided not to eat a beetle. When you and the band left the restaurant. an elderly lady who had been watching you guys inside the restaurant came up to Monte and said something to him. do you remember what she said?
Marky. Yes. Monte was our tour manager. The lady told him that it was very nice of you to take care of these retarded boys – I don’t know the politically correct term – but that is what she said. She was surprised that he was able to take care of us.
Patrick. I just had to laugh – it said so much.
Marky. There are so many things in the book to laugh about.
Patrick. While telling the story of the RAMONES, you also give us some good drum lessons – I love the description of the tempo changes in “From a dry camel”-for instance. you give us a look into what goes through a drummer’s mind. Which leads me to ask, how do you describe your drumming style – what is your signature?
Marky. The Dry Camel song was from Dust, my first band. We did two albums and we were one of the first heavy metal bands in America at the time. But compared to the Ramones, Dust was a very technical band – the Ramones is a very straight ahead band – eighth notes and quarter notes. What I can say about my drumming is that I can adapt to different styles. When I was growing up at home and in my late teens and early twenties, I listened to a lot of different guys and genres. I liked jazz drummers, I liked Dave Brubeck, I liked Miles Davis, I liked Buddy Rich, Keith Moon, John Bonham, I liked Ringo. All these great drummers, I was so influenced by them I absorbed all that and I applied it to whatever I was going to confront in the studio. So you can say I am adaptable
Patrick. Do you ever play with your twin brother?
Marty. We definitely jam when we have the time, when I go to the studio where he lives. He is a blues enthusiast and a great, great guitar player. I have done a few tracks with him. But he has his own thing going and I have mine. When we get together if there is something he wants me to record, I will help him out.
Patrick. Dust was such a great band. Tell us the story of heir breakup and also, where we can get their albums.
Marty. Dust broke up because we were in high school and my father wanted that diploma on the wall. I rehearsed with them and then went to summer school and night school. We started touring with major bands throughout the US, but we were 16, 17 years old. There were so many responsibilities and obligations and we weren’t really grown up yet. We had to finish high school. Then Dust fizzled out – the guitar player Richie Wise who was 19 and half and already graduated, produced the first two KISS albums. I just started recording with other artists and so did Kenny Aronson the bass player. You can get the Dust albums on Sony Legacy. We mastered them on one CD and on wonderful vinyl.
Patrick. Do you have a favorite album and song. And are there any songs you don’t like?
Marky. I love Rock and Roll High School, because it was part of the movie soundtrack. My favorite album is Road to Ruin, the one I was on and the first Ramones album. An album I don’t like is Subterranean Jungle I don’t like the drum sound. There are some good songs, but the producer tampered with my sound – he made it sound like drum machines and I was disgusted. That was not the Ramone sound.
Patrick. Is your drumming different today than it was when you were first in the Ramones.
Marky. No. I continue to play the world with my group and we do 36 classic Ramones songs. Andre WK is my vocalist but I played them the same way I did when I joined the Ramones. You have to because that is what the songs call for. There is a whole new generation who didn’t see the Ramones – I went to China and Dubai and Viet Nam and Russia, places we never dreamed of gong to – and I see them everywhere. This onslaught of new people who love this band. So my drumming is still the same.
Patrick. You honor a number of women punk artists in the book– Joan Jett, Debbie Harry and others. How would you describe the impact women artists have had on punk?
Marky. It is great to see women liking the genre. Debbie Harry is great., I saw them many times at CBGB’s and we all knew each other. We all have angst – we still deal with life on its terms. Nothing really ever changes; , there is still war, and poverty and political problems. That has been going on before punk started. So it is really cool to see women sing about what they feel. And they can do that – a punk song is two minutes and you can reveal your feelings in that time and record it and hopefully everyone can relate. Debbie Harry did a great job of doing that, so did Brody of the Distillers who I really like and Joanie – she does very well and we did a song together called “Don’t Blame Me” on one of my albums, and it was a joy to have a woman singing along with my male singers.
Patrick. We are almost out time, but I have a request from my drum instruction who wants to know what current punk band do you think is the best musically?
Marky. There is a band in London called the Gallows that does some very interesting things. I like the drummer from the Riverboat Gamblers and I like the way Tre Cool from Green Day kind of goes along with what I play. There are a lot of good drummers out there. follows what I do
Patrick. You cross generational divides…all ages love what you do. Why is that?
Marky. I think it is the lyrical content, the energy that young people see what we did and that I continue to do today. They want to be part of it. They are fed up with samples and tapes and getting ripped off at concerts when bands are singing along to tapes. They see that and they know when a performer has to rely on that stuff. Now they are going back to organic bands, they know that the bands are from the street- we real , we are not fabricated and didn’t have to rely on crutches.
Patrick. We are out of time. I want to end by reading the last paragraph in the book. You write that “John, Dee Dee, Joey, and all the wonderful people we worked with in the Ramones as well as our friends in other bands were blessed and cursed by the same thing : they were way ahead of their time….the time they were looking forward to is now.” Marky I think you are exactly right, and I am glad you are out there making music. Thank you for joining us today and giving us this wonderful look into your soul and into the soul of punk.
Marky. Thank you and any time Patrick.
Patrick O’Heffernan. Host, Music FridayLive!
Interview conducted Jan. 23, 2015 in Los Angeles
Listen to the full interview at http://bit.ly/1BT9Ybh