Marky Ramone (born "Marc Bell") was The Ramones' drummer for the larger part of their career, serving from 1978-1983 and again from 1989 through the band's 1996 retirement. He is also the only member of the classic Road To Ruin line-up to have survived the tragic 2001-2004 string of deaths (Joey and Johnny from cancer, Dee Dee from heroin overdose), and has thus reluctantly become the resident Ramones historian and spokesperson. Before the Ramones, Marky played on classic records by Dust and Richard Hell & The Voidoids; since the Ramones, he's released two records by Marky Ramone & The Intruders as well as performing on CDs by the Misfits, Joey Ramone, The Ramainz, The Speedkings and Teenage Head. He is also working on a book! One brisk November evening in '08, Marky was kind enough to speak to me on short notice before embarking on a "Marky Ramone's Blitzkrieg" tour with former Misfits singer Michale Graves. My questions are in bold; his answers are in regular print.
How you doin'?
Good! How are you doing?
So you're getting ready to leave on tour tomorrow?
Yeah, we're gonna go to Ireland, then we're gonna go to UK, then we're gonna go to Italy and Spain. It's like a half-vacation/half-tour thing.
Oh, okay. How'd you get mixed up with this guy - Michale Graves?
I knew him, and I always liked him as a singer, and he was a Ramones fan, and I put my braincap on and the next thing you know, he was delighted to be in the band. I sent him my '30 Ramones songs' set list, and he knew them all, which was amazing! And it just shows that the guy was, and still is, really into the Ramones. That's a plus.
And who else is in the band now?
A guy named Alex from AntiProduct on guitar, and Clare on bass. I wanted a girl in the group.
Okay. Do you have a publisher for your book yet, or have you looked into it?
Or an agent?
I've had a few bites from people, but it's not really ready yet. I mean, people will always give me their cards and 'Call me if you need anything,' you know what I mean?
But I'm always open to anything.
How close is it to being finished?
Well, the DVD's done. The book - probably I would say a couple of months. It's really in-depth. It's written by a guy that was in the band for 15 years. So I really have a lot to say in the book, and itís very precise. It is what it is; it's the reality of it, you know?
Is it just about your time in the Ramones or does it cover -
Oh, everything. The beginning of punk, Wayne County, Richard Hell & The Voidoids, the Clash tour we did, working with Phil Spector, and hanging out with the other Ramones before there even was a Ramones. Because they used to come see my band in the Village, Dust, when I used to play with them.
What record do you think contains your finest performances as a drummer? Like if you wanted to show someone what your best work is.
On an album?
Okay, second Dust album, Richard Hell & The Voidoids' "Blank Generation" album, "Road to Ruin" The Ramones, "Mondo Bizarro" The Ramones, and let's see what else. I would say I guess "Loco Live" for the speed that I'm playing on the hi-hat, the ride cymbal and the drums - the sheer intensity of the eighth notes. But I like "Pleasant Dreams" and I like the last Ramones album, and that's really about it. The most embarrassing album that I'm on, that I didn't like, was Ramones "Subterranean Jungle." I hated the production.
Is The Intruders the only -
Oh wait wait wait. The second Intruders album is something that I really have to say I like my drumming on. The first one's okay, the second one really - I don't know what planet I was on when I was doing that!
Is that the only post-Ramones band that you've considered 'your band,' and that you've written new songs for?
Is that something you'd be interested in doing again? Or do you prefer just going out and drumming?
I don't know. I usually just do one or two albums with a band. I just did a thing for a group called Teenage Head from Canada. They're a really big band in the country of Canada - a punk band. Me and Daniel Rey, one of the Ramones' producers, we did their first album. I really like the way it came out. Unfortunately the singer just died, and they're having a big party for him. He just passed away; he had throat cancer. So that just came out a couple of months ago. I was very happy with the way that came out too.
Okay. I heard that you were a bit angry with Johnny's widow for her endorsement of John McCain?
Well, I don't think she should be going public to endorse anybody using the Ramones name. I didn't want fans to think that all the Ramones were conservative right-wing people. Look, each to his own, but me and Joey were Democrats, and he would've been delighted that Obama won.
I interviewed Tommy Ramone about five years ago -
And he mentioned that when he left the Ramones, one of the main reasons was that the three other personalities in the band were driving him crazy.
Was he exaggerating, or were you just better suited for -
No, that was one thing. But he really - Johnny and Dee Dee would harrass him, and he wanted to produce. He really wasn't road-worthy, but he stuck it out for 3 1/2 years. His main interest was producing. Now he's playing banjo and he's doing folk music, which is something that I guess he likes. And more power to him, because me and Tommy are friends. I think that it's a cool situation and I hope that it takes off. But he always got harassed by Dee Dee and Johnny.
How would you compare your first tenure in The Ramones to your second, in terms of the interpersonal dynamics of the band and the -
What was that again?
How would you compare your first years in the Ramones, and then you left for a few years and came back - was the atmosphere the same both times?
Well, the problem was that up until '83 I was drinking. I wasn't an everyday drinker; I was periodic. The problem was that Dee Dee was doing dope. We were young, you know? I was 3 or 4 years younger than they were and I was enjoying myself. I had a good time for the five years, but then I had to leave. They told me to leave. So when I came back after a 4-year getting sober situation, I came back and the animosities were still the same between Joey and Johnny, which was a shame. But it never affected our music. I always gave it my best and I was always in the middle of the arguments, and I wish that they would've made up at one point, because they both passed away unfortunately, and it would've been good.
What kept them working together if they hated each other so much?
What kept Johnny and Joey working together if they disliked each other so much?
Because they liked the band. They liked the music, and that's what kept it together. And they liked playing. Now, did the animosities help the playing? Maybe it did! But I always felt that any kind of animosities you have towards each other, just keep it off the stage and play for the audience. That's why they're here, you know? And that's basically it.
Did they and Dee Dee seem to have fun with the touring and everything?
Touring, we did about 110 shows a year. I did 1700 shows with them - one thousand seven hundred shows. I think at some points we could've maybe taken off a little more, but we liked it. We were very restless people, we were very hyper. So when we would tour, a lot of energy could be released. So I guess it was either/or, you know?
You've been married since the mid-'80s, right?
Was it difficult being away from home so much?
No, because a lot of times I would take my wife with me. A lot of times I would go alone, but she's been everywhere, you know? So after a while, it just dies down - the anticipation of going to another country and seeing the sights, etc. You know what I mean?
This tour you're going on now, what speed are you playing the songs?
Oh, I'm gonna play them just a little faster than the albums. Not "Loco Live" - that was too fast. Way too fast. But you know what? It sold more than "It's Alive." "Its Alive" was much better. A lot of comments that I got from the younger fans was that they liked it because of the energy. I didn't like it as much as "It's Alive" because it loses the groove. The Ramones had a certain groove, intentionally. And when we got to playing that year -- "Loco Live," I think it was '90-'91 -- it was so easy to play that we were playing so fast! That was the thing, you know? We were like out there in outer space land.
Yeah. To me, I just don't like the mix of "Loco Live."
I don't like it either. You should've heard it before I went back in to remix it!
Oh wow, really?
Yeah, it was horrible. It was too compressed, there wasn't enough guitar, there was no hi-hat, and the guy who produced it never saw the Ramones live! So luckily, I went back and I tried to salvage some of it. "It's Alive" was redone in the studio. You keep the drum track, and then Joey and Dee Dee and Johnny did it over in the studio.
I didn't know that.
I know. Look, I hate to say that but I'm just being honest.
I was wondering. I've seen footage of them on those tours. I was wondering how Dee Dee managed to hit the correct bass notes when he was jumping around like crazy.
I know. I know.
During your years after "Subterranean Jungle," before you came back, were you still playing music?
No. I was advised by a counselor to go out and look for regular work. I had all this money in the bank, I had all the free time in the world to do whatever I wanted, but that was the bad thing. I had to have a close relative take care of my financial situations, because I would end up spending it all. So I didn't have access really to anything. So I got regular jobs, I was a messenger, I was a demolition guy, I put up wrought-iron fences in crack houses in New York. Let's see, what else did I do. Basically that. I worked with an acetylene torch, putting up the gates and fusing metals together. So I was really, you could say, a construction guy. But for about a year, I would walk around Manhattan delivering messages, envelopes, things like that. Because I had to look for a different reality, to get out of the music business for a while. Because it helped. I dealt with different people, secretaries, bosses. Taking the train at 5:30-6:00 in the morning, coming home 7:00 at night. That's the way I got straight. It helped get me off alcohol, besides two rehabs. And I've been sober I guess 24 years.
Wow. Was it still easy to stay sober when you got back in The Ramones?
Oh yeah. I had no more temptation. I was just surprised that Joey was getting high. I tried to help him, but I think he realized it later and he got together. And Dee Dee was taking prescription psychodrugs to keep on an even keel. But he was mixing them, and he was very strange. So when I came back in the band, that's what Dee Dee was into and that's what Joey was doing. Joey was doing a lot of drinking and stuff.
Dee Dee was on prescription medications?
What did he have? What kind of issues?
Well, he was bi-polar.
Oh, that's right. I remember reading about how he would go on these sprees and buy a bunch of watches and stuff.
Bi-polar. He had different personalities. He was schizophrenic. But he was my best friend. So I tried to understand, but it's very difficult when you're not the person inflicted with these problems.
Do you have any idea why he would've taken that last shot after he'd been clean? Do you have any idea what was going on in his life?
I think, because he was clean and he didn't have a support program, he thought, "Okay, let me get high and see what's it like." So he did it, it was too strong, he didn't do it for years, and boom, he died.
Had you made peace with Johnny before he died?
Oh yeah, yeah. I did "Raw," the DVD "Raw." And I went to Johnny's house and interviewed him, and we're talking in the background throughout the whole movie. It went gold in three countries. I was the executive producer on that. But that was the last time I saw him, but while I was out there, he was very weak. He had to stop and then take breaks. And then a few months later, he passed away.
After he passed away, were you - I don't know, I guess you're not superstititious about a Ramones curse or something?
Yeah, I can definitely understand that. Okay. And also, you have 300 robots!?
More! More now.
When and how did you get obsessed with robots?
Oh, I like sci-fi movies, I like tin toys. I like toys that are very unusual, and I think tin robots are very cool because they each do their own thing, you know? Robby The Robot from Forbidden Planet's great - an excellent robot. The Comet Robot's great. There's a lot of good robots out there that were made in the '50s that I have.
How do you get them? Off of like ebay?
No, this was pre-ebay. This was the '80s. The original Robby was only $150 then. And now you can't get one for like three or four thousand dollars!
How did you get them? Oh, you gotta go?
Yeah, I gotta.... And that's what it was like.
Yeah. On the subject of collecting, I now own 47 different Ramones tributes.
Oh, okay! I know what you mean.
Tributes - 47 different ones! I've never heard of a band having that many.
I know. Me either. And I play them on my radio show on Sirius Satellite - 28 Faction, Tuesday night 8:00! And all I do is play punk, and I do play those bands sometimes because they put their effort and money into doing things like that.
Yeah, that's very cool. Okay, I'll let you go if you have to get going.
Yeah, I have to leave tomorrow so I'm really stuck here for time.
Oooh okay. Alright, well thanks for taking the time.
Do you ever go on MySpace?
Alright, go on there again because there's some new stuff on there.
Oh cool, alright.
Thanks a lot.
Return to Mark Prindle's Record Review/Interview Site - look under "E" for a Tommy Ramone interview! And be sure and read my Ramones review page from beginning to end!