Marky Ramone Touring with His Own Blitzkrieg
Two words are about to appear before you. Those words are PUNK and ROCK. When you see those words, one of the first thoughts that will undoubtedly flash into your head is the Ramones. The Sex Pistols, the Clash, and the Damned may also flash, along with Richard Hell, or Sid Vicious. You might think about injecting heroin. Or maybe you think punk rock is dead. The reason the Ramones appear among these initial thoughts is they are that formative, significant, and influential to the punk sound and movement. To 1978 we go, to Manhattan—315 Bowery at Bleecker Street, CBGB, where Dee Dee Ramone asked drummer Marc Bell to join the Ramones. Marc said yes, became Marky Ramone, and would go on to be the Ramones' mainstay drummer until their end in 1996 (with a break from '83 to '87 for "personal reasons"). Marky's drumming combines heft, speed, meter, and, most importantly, stamina—perfect for the Ramones. As the only surviving member of their iconic lineup, Marky is touring with a band fronted by Andrew W.K. and playing a set of more than 30 Ramones songs. Marky carries on the legacy because he feels the songs are too good not be played and experienced. He spoke from his home in New York with a low, sturdy, down-to-business Brooklyn accent. For a legend, I didn't expect him to be so sincere and courteous.
How did Andrew W.K. become involved with this current tour and band? He was suggested by a friend who used to help run Studio 54, and he was interested. So we met up, and I gave him the set list that I wanted to do, and he rehearsed it on his own. Then he came to a rehearsal, and it worked. I didn't want a clone of any of the Ramones; I wanted a guy who could do it his way, engage the audience—he really pulls it off. So far, we've been to 12 different countries together.
You drummed with Andrew W.K. for a portion of his Guinness-World-Record-setting feat of drumming for 24 hours straight—a superhuman accomplishment. Yeah, he'd been going for about two hours when I sat in with him. He was pacing himself. It was a fun thing. He did it—24 hours—the proof is there. It's a great record.
Which of the songs in this current set are you finding yourself most excited about? These were all my favorite Ramones songs I picked out of the whole repertoire. That's why they're in the set. There are 18 Ramones studio albums, and I'm on 10 of them. But that doesn't mean I don't do songs off those first three albums—I do the ones that got the most reaction when I was playing with Johnny, Joey, and Dee Dee. I always remembered. We have a 35-song set list that we play live.
But if you had to say, which song makes you go "Fuck yeah" the most? Okay, okay, let's see. I love "Rock 'n' Roll High School," but I also love "Sheena Is a Punk Rocker." I love "I Wanna Be Sedated." I love "Blitzkrieg Bop" [laughs]. It's too hard to just choose one. There are so many good ones, you know?
Do you ever talk to anyone's families about these shows? They don't have anything to do with this. They're just family members. They have nothing to do with what I do, so they're in no position to disapprove anything. Tommy plays bluegrass now, and he's not a Ramone anymore in my opinion. And the other two, Richie and C.J., were never Ramones as far as I'm concerned.
Of the Ramones albums you were involved in, which was the hardest to record? We rehearsed a lot, so we were very quick in the studio. The album that took the longest was the one produced by Phil Spector: End of the Century. We usually made our albums in three to four weeks, but with Phil, it took five months. We weren't there that long; it was the mixing that took all the time. He put so many different instruments on that album that he had to keep listening to mixes and mixes and mixes. It wasn't rough making it, but there was just a lot of adventure going on in that studio, which I talk about it my book that I just finished. It'll be out in 2014.
So the whole Phil Spector holding you guys at gunpoint thing is a myth? But I want to believe. Sorry, that was just some story. It's a good one. I would let it ride [laughs], but it's not true. I'm gonna be honest about it. I was in the studio the whole time with the other three Ramones. Phil didn't allow anybody else in the studio except for his engineer. He had a license to carry, but he never pointed them at us. Guns can get heavy, so he would take the guns off and put them on the recording console. I know he shot off guns with other people.
The Ramones hung out with Stephen King when you all did the song "Pet Sematary" for the movie based on his book? Yeah, we got to hang out with him for a day and a night in Maine, where he lives. He was very happy we came to his place, and we were lucky we found it, coming all the way from New York. He was extremely hospitable. He brought us down to his basement that looked like a horror-movie set, and we sat around and ate dinner. He gave Dee Dee the book to read. Dee Dee took it home, read it, and then wrote the song in something like 40 minutes. He taught Johnny how to play the guitar on it. "Sheena Is a Punk Rocker" is also in the movie, in the scene with the baby and the truck—a crazy scene. Stephen would come to shows when we played in the area.
The Ramones had songs in movies before, with 1979's famous Rock 'n' Roll High School. You all also appeared in the movie. Thanks for blowing up that school. When we knew we were going to be in the movie, Joey started writing some lyrics on a napkin. There was one line that went "Cruising around with nowhere to go." But I said, "Well, Joey, let me think of a line that maybe makes a little more sense." I owned a GTO, and I suggested he change the words to "Cruising around in my GTO." And it was as simple as that. Joey wrote the song. Things would be written on napkins or paper bags, whatever was lying around.
Is "Beat on the Brat" about a specific brat? Do you know? Joey wrote that one. He was an unusual specimen, physically. As a kid, he got taunted and goofed on and teased a lot. After a while, that can get to you, like it did to him. So he wrote that song, "Beat on the brat, with a baseball bat." [Laughs] Of course, he would never have actually beat anyone with a baseball bat. Bullies are bad, because they always pick on the little guy—most of them are insecure, and they have to prove themselves. They'll never go up to the guy their size or bigger. My problem was I always fought with a guy bigger than me. And I never started a fight, it was always somebody hassling me.
I was glad when you and Joey made up on The Howard Stern Show. The funny thing is, we laughed about that. We knew we had Howard going. When we went down in the elevator after the fight, we cracked up. And then we went back on to make up, because we knew he'd want us to make up on his show as a "part two." But really, it was good to make up, because Joey did die of cancer, and I was able to do the solo album he always wanted to do. Family squabbles are going to happen—we were like brothers. That stuff, you look back on and you laugh.
What studio did the Ramones like to record in? Was there one where you all seemed to click more? We liked Media Sound on 57th Street in New York City. That's where we recorded. We liked the room—it was a big room, a lot of sound could bounce off the walls. Road to Ruin was recorded there, and out of that came "I Wanna Be Sedated."
On the production end, what would the Ramones aim toward for their particular sound? We always made sure we had good production on the albums. A lot of punk bands would do it themselves, which I respect. And I don't mean this to be facetious, but a lot of their production wasn't good. Maybe they did that on purpose. I think the Ramones' production holds up today—we always made sure that we had good producers, because we knew in the end, it's the music that's the most important thing. And you want that music to live. We'd leave in dirt, yeah, we didn't want it too clean.
Did you ever battle with producers over the sound? There was only one album I was disappointed with: Subterranean Jungle. I didn't like the sound of the drums. I didn't like where the producer was coming from. From that point on with every producer I worked with, I told them how I wanted the drums to sound. I also made sure I heard a playback of how they were going to sound. All in all, we would have a lot to do with the production of an album.
How does Marky Ramone want his drums to sound? I want the drums to sound the way I tune them. I don't want effects on them. Just keep it nice and straight, and let the drum breathe. So that's what we did. The separation of the bass and the guitar always came out great. We'd record the drums first. Then bass and guitar. Then Joey would do his vocals.
Walk me back to Max's Kansas City. Sort of a hub for New York art and music for a bit?
Max's Kansas City was where all the New York punk luminaries hung out, and bands that would be passing through. People would talk, eat, and drink, and then from there we'd go to CBGB. On any given night, in the back room, you'd have the Ramones, David Bowie, Alice Cooper, Lou Reed, the Dolls, Johnny Thunders, Debbie Harry. You'd have Andy Warhol, Jayne County. The restaurant and bar were downstairs, and upstairs was where bands would play. Capacity was maybe 200 to 250 people. Very intimate. I just finished playing these huge festivals like Rock in Rio, so it's good to get back to venues with this current tour. Max's was smaller, a lot of people didn't have to play there, but they wanted to.
I spoke with Glenn Danzig, and he said punk is dead and new bands calling themselves punk aren't punk. Do you agree?
Danzig was more into the horror stuff. I don't know if he's really a punk spokesman. I think there absolutely are good, new punk bands. I have a radio show on SiriusXM, and I hear a lot of great new punk stuff—Gallows out of London are really good, so are Riverboat Gamblers. I also like the Loved Ones. You gotta keep your ears open, you know? Lots of good bands are taking their cue from the Ramones, the Clash, and the Pistols. They mix it up and put their own spin on it.
Does it ever get old hearing bands that sound way too much like the Ramones?
I always feel like a band should be original. If they're that influenced by us, then great, I'm grateful. It's a compliment when I see a band in the jeans and the jackets, with Chuck Taylors, and counting off "One-two-three-four," and playing faster with songs that sound like us. I mean, that's been going on since 1977 when the Ramones went to England, and then England started its punk scene because the Ramones flipped 'em out over there. But in order to really be noticed, you can't sound exactly like your influences, because they're already there. You've gotta come up with something fresh—something that'll help you get noticed.
You collect old sci-fi movie posters. Which ones are your favorites?
I love Forbidden Planet from 1956. I like H.G. Wells's The War of the Worlds from 1953. Godzilla, King of the Monsters, which was a Japanese release, Invasion of the Saucer Men, and Metropolis, a silent movie from 1927. I have so many, it's hard to remember. I like to rotate them. It's like any other kind of artwork—you like it, and then wanna change it around a little.
You have your own pasta sauce. Marky Ramone's Brooklyn's Own Pasta Sauce. What made you want to put out your own marinara?
It was inspired by my grandfather. He used to be a chef at the Copacabana club in New York. He worked there for 20 years. When I was a boy, my parents used to take me to my grandparents' house, and I'd watch him cook when he'd cook for the family. When I left my parents' house after high school, I had to cook for myself, and the cheapest thing to make was spaghetti—with the cheapest ingredients. No virgin olive oil or plum tomatoes. No basil or oregano. At some point, a lightbulb went off and my manager said, "Why don't you have your own pasta sauce?" So I did it. And it's got the good stuff in there. A little nip of sugar [my favorite word he said the whole interview, pronounced shoogah]. It's gluten free. There's a cartoon caricature of me playing the drums on the label that an artist did. The thing I like about it is that 10 percent of profits go to a charity called Autism Speaks.
You're almost like a Zen figure now. From one of the greatest bands of all time.
Well, I was with a bunch of nutjobs for 15 years [laughs]. Johnny, Joey, and Dee Dee were a little off-the-wall. So was I, anyway. They weren't exactly what you'd call normal people. There were a lot of personality conflicts and different political beliefs. Traveling in a van, doing 1,700 shows, it could be very grating to the mind. There were a lot of situations where you'd get stressed out, and everybody would feel it. But we always played the best we could, and we kept all that stuff off the stage.
Any hints you can drop about your upcoming book?
It's about everything: the Ramones, the New York scene, playing with the Clash, and with Richard Hell and the Voidoids on that tour in 1977. Going to England and playing there, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and what went down there, getting the Grammy. Making the Rock 'n' Roll High School movie. The real reality of working with Phil Spector. Hanging out with Sid Vicious in New York when he moved to the Chelsea Hotel. Lots of stuff. And it's written by a Ramone, not a family member or a road manager.
I've spoken to a couple girls recently who I think have retro rock crushes on Dee Dee.
A lot of girls had crushes on Dee Dee [laughs]. Lots of crazy stories about Dee Dee are in the book, and I don't have to bullshit them. They're all real. The book is pretty informative [laughs]. Tell those girls they'll enjoy it.