It’s early August and I’m waiting for a phone call. Not just any phone call; I’m waiting for Marky Ramone, the last living member from the “classic” Ramones lineup to ring me. We have an interview scheduled for today to discuss his new memoire, “Punk Rock Blitzkrieg: My Life As a Ramone.” I’m a bit nervous because I’ve been a Ramones fan for as long as I can remember, and I’m practicing my poker face for when he calls.

Finally, the phone rings. I decide to let it ring a few times not to seem too eager. Then I pick up: “Hello?” “Hi, is this Andre?” The accent is very pronounced. It’s working class, it’s every character from every Martin Scorcese movie. It’s a Ramone. In the background, I hear the stereo in the room he is in, blasting some Italian music from an obscure film he describes to me. I don’t recognize it, but give the universal, “oh yeah” answer, and dive into it.

marky ramone with bookMarky has just published a memoir, detailing his life growing up in New York, learning the drums, and most notably, joining the Ramones. But there is more to him than the Ramones. While this is the act he is most associated to, and will likely be his legacy, I learn that he was and still is the eternal “gigging musician”; in and out of bands like Dust, Richard Hell, the Voidoids, and finally the Ramones. He was the Ramones’ second drummer, replacing the original, Tommy Ramone, who left in the early years of the band. He has seen a lot, and while he could sit back and enjoy it someplace far away, he is still in the thick of it, determined to enjoy every last moment, as long as it’s fun.

AP: I love how in your book, you really capture the essence of life in a band, and the “band experience”.

MR: It’s what I went through, I just had to put pen to paper and […] voice to tape, but I got it down. You know it’s something you have to confront, you gotta get the skeletons out of the closet, you gotta tell it like it was, the ups and the downs, and […] what it takes, and the sacrifices, and I think I conveyed that in the book pretty well.

AP: New York is almost a central character to your story, and to the Ramones’ story. I was reading your book in a coffee shop when “New York I love You” from LCD Sound System came on. The song talks about what New York used to be, and now that it’s cleaner and safer, how some of the magic was washed away with it. Do you think the Ramones could’ve existed in today’s New York?

MR: Well, everything is relative to time, because so many genres of music have been done since the Ramones, so who’s to tell. Considering the Ramones’ sound, I think the band would have been accepted immediately if it came out today. Back then, no. […] It was so different, that nobody wanted to book us anywhere, nobody wanted to play us on the radio. I think [by] now, people would have been desensitized to that kind of onslaught, that kind of music, which is the Ramones style. When a lot of people did see us, including Tommy when he was in the band, they were just blown away; they didn’t know what to think, what to [expect]. Their senses were assaulted by this wall of sound and you know, there were no guitar leads, no stops between the songs. I think now, the shorter song, the song that gets to the point quicker, and a much faster-paced society than it was 30-40 years ago, I think the band would have [been accepted] much quicker by the youth of today.

AP: What’s astonishing when we look back on the Ramones stuff, is that when we look at bands today, like Green Day, etc., they had a blueprint, but you guys had nothing to fall back on when you created this music. You didn’t have a blueprint did you? What was the scene like for you coming up?

MR: The thing was that in ’74,’75, punk started at CBGB’s but in England, they were a year behind. They had very good bands, but the thing they had at the time was “pub rock”. All the bands, you know, the Pistols, the Clash, they weren’t together yet, they weren’t unified yet. They were all in different bands, and all this other stuff, but they definitely had an eye on New York City and the bands they focussed on were the Ramones, and the Heartbreakers, and Richard Hell.

So, you know, everybody who came from England who [liked] this music, took it back [with them] and cut their long hair […] like Richard Hell and started wearing sneakers, and leather jackets and jeans, and started counting off their songs. England always did that; they looked to America to see what was happening like The Beatles [did] with Chuck Berry, Little Richard, Jerry Lee Lewis, and the Everly Brothers. But they integrated [that] sound with their own influences, and created The Beatles. Obviously, they were very original, but they borrowed a lot from American rock, and that’s what England did with punk and CBGB’s.

marky ramone debbie harry

with Debbie Harry at Cipriani NYC for Night of the Stars, Oct 2014

AP: Did it bother you at all that the Ramones only enjoyed mainstream success much later? That what you were doing had to be exported to England before coming back to the States to be accepted?

MR: Well, you never know what happens in life, you can get thrown a lot of curve balls. But we persevered, we did a lot of touring, we amassed larger audiences as time went by, and now, the band is bigger than ever. I guess death definitely sells. It’s evident with so many artists, especially rock and blues artists, so when Johnny, Joey, and Dee Dee died, it was a sad, sad affair, and a lot of people capitalized on that and lined their pockets. That’s the way it works. So it’s good that England looked at the other side of the Atlantic as something that was good instead of something that was horrible and [that they] chose to emulate the punk scene.

AP: Every time we hear about how the Ramones weren’t very good musicians and —

MR: They didn’t have to be (chuckles)

AP: What is interesting about you is that you came in as the “real” musician who had toured and done sessions. How was it joining that band, knowing that you were a more experienced drummer, but that you had to respect the style that had already been established by Tommy?

MR: The thing is that you have to play to the music, you have to play to the song. You can’t overplay or underplay, but you can add things tastefully to certain parts of the song just to give it more icing on the cake. Tommy’s style fit in with the Ramones. 

I used to watch Ringo a lot playing the high hat. I always used my fingers and wrist. In Dust I was always very technical. I [also] liked a lot of jazz drummers. I liked the way they played; the fact that they were using their fingers, and that’s how I can play the high hat that fast. Using your whole arm and shoulder and wrist is a lot of weight, but if you [just use] your wrist and fingers, you’re right there with the stick and it’s not holding you back, you know what I mean? It’s like an exercise. […] But when I [went in] to do Road to Ruin, Tommy was the producer, which was good, because we already knew each other and we had a really good rapport. I was glad that he [was producing] because I knew he was gonna get a good drum sound. [Also] if there were any questions I need to ask about anything that might not have been done [to his liking], we could […] go grab a slice of pizza and come back to the studio, and he would just tell me if things were going good or not, and there were no complaints.

the ramones road to ruin

The Ramones getting ready to record “Road To Ruin”

AP: You describe your second stint in rehab as a kind of boot camp, and a need to step away from Rock n’ Roll for a bit. Can you talk a little about that?

MR: Well, it was even worse than a boot camp. That made me definitely realize that living your dream was more important than drinking with the boys every night. I stopped young, which was important. I know a few guys who stopped in their forties and fifties, and to me that’s a little late, but better late than never, you know?

AP: And you became a bike messenger?

MR: Yeah, my guy in rehab said you gotta get a physical, regular job, just so you can stay in shape and meet different people. I always liked bike riding, and I knew the city very well, and I had to stay out of the lion’s den for at least a year, and that meant the music business. So I did that, and also mixed cement. We were closing down crack houses in Brooklyn. These are things that make you humble, you know? And I had to do it because it definitely helped my sobriety. Mentally, I had to stop thinking about drinking, and it took about a year to stop getting the urge.

AP: Do you think it’s easier today to make it in the business than it was back then, or is it the other way around?

MR: Well…it was easy for us to get a major record deal. […] Today, because of all the pirating and downloading, it definitely stifles a lot of artists, so they are reluctant to probably be in the music business because of all this stuff. Is it easier to get your music out today? Yeah, because of the information age, but back then, you had to make acetates, you had to make cassettes, you had to send them out, you had to wait, you had to make sure the person listened to it, you had to follow up. Now, you just push a button and the song goes to the vice president of A&R and PR. So, it has its good points and bad points. […] The thing is this: if you have an original band, people will take notice. If you’re sounding like [another group] and trying to copy the usual formula, you might get overlooked. […] You have to stand out. I know it’s hard, but [you have] to come out with something original.

marky ramone live 2013

Live in 2013

AP: We hear a lot about the famous Ramones infighting. Do you think the focus on that angle overshadows the true message of the Ramones?

MR: Ah, no, no, I mean, every family fights; brothers fight, bands have arguments. With us, that was just Johnny and Joey, they just didn’t like each other. But it didn’t affect the music. In the end, what really matters fifty years from now, is the music. […] Look at Paul McCartney and John Lennon, look at Keith Richards and Mick Jagger, you know what I’m saying? There’s always something.

AP: With this autobiography you’re looking back, but what is next for you? What does the future hold?

MR: Well, I continue to tour with Andrew WK as my singer. We do 35 Ramones songs, we tour the world, and they love him. He knows how to engage the audience. I didn’t want a Joey clone, I wanted people to do it their way, but the music’s the same, and that’s what’s important. Being in the Ramones for 15 years and 1,700 shows, nine studio albums, I guess I’m the guy that’s left, you know what I mean? […] I will continue as long as it’s fun.

 

“Punk Rock Blitzkrieg: My Life As a Ramone” by MARKY RAMONE is available now.

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About The Author

Andre Papanicolaou
Collaborator - RREVERB

Andre Papanicolaou is a Montreal-based singer/songwriter, producer, touring and session guitarist. Over several years of recording and touring with other artists (Vincent Vallières, Daran, Pascale Picard Band, Patrice Michaud), Papanicolaou began to carry around a notebook and write down a series of essays. He brings to RREVERB a unique point of view: the one of a professional musician.