Thinking Out Loud:
The Ramones drummer shares some punk wisdom
Marky Ramone, 59, is best known for being the Ramones' drummer between 1978 and 1983. He returned to the fold in the summer of 1987 where he remained until the band split in 1996. The Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame inductee recently released an autobiography, 'Punk Rock Blitzkrieg'.
I hated school. They abused me verbally and physically. Times are different now, but back then teachers did not nurture what they should have seen in you, to make you better at what you would eventually go on to do in life. Their goal was just to continue to perpetuate the mould that society puts on you as a youth, so that you can fit in with the masses. I hated it. All I wanted to do was play music.
The Beatles changed my way of thinking. I was only twelve years old when I first saw them on the Ed Sullivan Show. I was playing with my toys, and when I came into the living room they were there on the TV. They were very animated, particularly Ringo, and he was the guy that inspired me to play the drums. He wasn’t technically great, but he was extremely tight, and he got me on the path to becoming a drummer. They were the first band to write their own music, really. I was very impressed by The Beatles.
Keith Moon’s style was extremely hard to duplicate. I discovered The Who about two years after The Beatles, and Keith Moon was much more technically advanced than Ringo. As a 14-year-old, I just couldn’t understand what he was doing. Eventually as I got older I understood it a little better, but he really was one of a kind.
New York was economically downtrodden during the ‘60s and ‘70s. As I can recall, the hippies were still around and the Vietnam War was still raging. There was a huge divide amongst people for and against the war. The Civil Rights Movement was really at its peak, too. And there was a lot of animosity in the air, as well as all the peace and love and Paisley t-shirts. The drug dealers started coming in, and the city was overrun with not just marijuana, but also speed and heroin. Everything was discombobulated, and New York got hit pretty badly.
**Dog food is not meant for human consumption. **After I left school, I lived in a basement apartment with a concrete floor, no hot water, and a padlock on the front door. My friend upstairs had a dog, and when he moved out he left the dog food behind, which I ate. I cooked it up and put seasoning on it, and it sustained my appetite for a while. It’s not meant for humans, I can tell you that, but it was better than nothing. That’s how tough it could be at times.
**The first song I recorded with the Ramones was I Wanna Be Sedated. **They gave me a rehearsal tape of Road to Ruin, and a rehearsal tape of the live show that they were doing at that point. It was around 25 live tracks plus Road to Ruin, which in total was about 40 songs. I had to learn them all in two weeks on a boom box, with headphones and a drum pad. But it worked. The first show went great and there were no mistakes, and we were able to bring in Road to Ruin on time. So everybody was relieved.
**Dee Dee Ramone was my best friend in the group. **If you have a friend that makes you laugh every minute, stick with them for life. Like I describe him in the book, he was like a whirlwind hurricane. He was very extroverted, and out of nowhere would just say something crazy in front of anyone. That could get a little tiring, when you’re judged by the company that you keep. He liked pot, and would take any kind of drug, really. But he loved heroin. He was also a very gifted songwriter, and the main songwriter in the Ramones.
**Joey Ramone was very introverted and he lived in a bubble. **It was probably because of the way he was brought up. He was always picked on and teased by his fellow classmates. His father didn’t treat him too well either. But when he hit the stage he was the perfect, histrionic frontman. That was his space and he just became Joey. And you rooted for him because of his physical makeup and the fact that he wasn’t the typical Hollywood looking rock star. A lot of people gravitated towards him, and there was a genuine interest in his talent.
**Johnny Ramone was a conservative, right-wing fanatic. **He went to military school. And he was a total control freak. It’s one of the reasons why Tommy [Ramone, original drummer] left. But he also applied his very strict, regimented philosophies to running the band. I wasn’t going to take care of the business side of things. Joey couldn’t. And Dee Dee didn’t even know where to put a decimal point. So when it came to booking tours, Johnny worked very closely with the booking agent on behalf of the band. And it was good that he was there. But his politics and the way that he continued addressing them would get a little grating. That’s what brought on a lot of animosities and tension within the group.
Wayne/Jayne County was too extreme. Now, she’d be accepted. But at that moment in time, it was just too over the top. People didn’t want to see a transvestite playing rock ‘n’ roll. That was early ’74. People used to gossip about David Bowie stealing ideas from Wayne, and that rumour used to fly around a lot, but I think that Bowie had enough talent not to need to rip off other artists. He didn’t need to sit there and observe Wayne County and steal her stuff – as outrageous as it was.
**What happened to Richard Hell was unfortunate. **He was like a Bob Dylan punk poet. But I watched him succumb to heroin. He wasn’t a real New Yorker – he came from out of state – but he definitely had an impact on the New York scene with Blank Generation. Along with Blitzkrieg Bop, that was *the *New York punk anthem. It’s just a shame he loved heroin. The first thing he did when we were in England on tour with The Clash in 1977 was jump out of the car at a red light to go and meet Johnny Thunders. He was dope sick. And when you tour as a heroin addict, all you think about is where you can get your next fix. When he got it, he was a good Richard. When he didn’t, he was a bad Richard.
**I auditioned for the New York Dolls, but Jerry Nolan got the part. **We were all friends: me, Johnny Thunders, Jerry, Dee Dee Ramone, and everybody else. Their original drummer Billy Murcia died in a bathtub. He had a drug overdose and drowned, and they needed a drummer so I went and auditioned for them. I didn’t get the gig, but I did end up playing with Wayne/Jayne County, and I got that gig from auditioning with the Dolls because they all knew each other.
**We were grateful to find a place like CBGB’s to play in. **The proprietor Hilly Kristal really allowed punk rock to develop in New York. There was garbage, rats, gangs and homeless people all over the city, and it was a really fucked up time. But for a few hours in the day you could distract yourself from all the depressing situations going on around you, by going to CBGB’s and watching your favourite bands play.
The punk scene in the UK was more political. Bands applied politics to their music, and a lot of people related to it. But they all still loved the Ramones. Joe Strummer told me that they influenced The Clash, and everybody started playing faster and wearing leather jackets after they saw us. You could see the influence when we came over here, and we were very grateful that people liked us. But they all put their own spin on it, of course, and every band sounded different.
**Lester Bangs was the guy that everybody wanted to write like. **He was great. He had balls. And he said whatever he felt. I think he was the first guy to coin the phrase ‘heavy metal’. When I was in my first band Dust, we did an interview for Creem magazine where Lester was working at the time, and he wrote an article in which he called us a bunch of ‘greasy punks’. So I think he started all that, too. He wrote as an independent for a lot of different magazines, and he loved The MC5, The Stooges, and the Ramones. And it was great to have him on board. He was a great drinker, too.
I could go on for weeks about Phil Spector. He was the greatest producer America ever had. He was funny, egotistical, opinionated, and he carried guns. But he never pointed them at us. That’s all bullshit. His choice in wine wasn’t great though. He’d always drink this Jewish holiday Manischewitz wine, which was sweet and horrible. I turned him on to Italian wine, which was much better and he loved it. He was a big drinker, just like me at that moment in time. So we would go out to the clubs and drink, and hang out in hotel bars. He was also a perfectionist, and that would cause problems in the studio. Johnny and Dee Dee were intimidated by him. But me and Joey love him. He was Phil Spector, and we weren’t going to argue with him. He was a genius! But I guess when you get to that point in life you’re a little different. I don’t think he was necessarily bad, just misunderstood.
When I started out I didn’t think about fame or fortune, I just wanted to play. When you enter the business thinking about that first, rather than your talent and striving to be as good as you can be, then it won’t happen for you. You can’t think money and fame first. You have to think about the work, and how good you can get, and be. All the other stuff comes later. Take The Beatles, for example. They were playing five sets a night in Hamburg for two or three years before they got famous. They didn’t have any money to begin with, but they worked hard and honed their skills, and then they became great. That’s what happened with the Ramones. We never thought about being famous. I’m just a regular guy from Brooklyn who worked hard and got lucky.
**I had a great time and I don’t regret anything. **But the drinking did eventually catch up with me, and I was told to leave the group for four years. I went to two rehabs and got sober, and I learnt that it was more important to continue my dream than to end up killing myself or going to jail. It took a while, but after four years I got back in the Ramones again, and the first song that I recorded when I got back was Pet Sematary for the soundtrack to the Stephen King movie. You’ve got to have the willpower. The reason I put all that stuff in the book is because if anyone else has that kind of a problem and it can inspire him or her to get help, then great.
Marky Ramone was speaking to Matt Stocks. His autobiography Punk Rock Blitzkrieg is out now through Music Press Books.