Marky Ramone: The “last link” to the Ramones dishes on drumming, pasta sauce for autism, and what happens when you hang out at Stephen King’s house.

13 Jan
Marky Ramone at the 2009 Tribeca Film Festival. Photo by David Shankbone, courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

Marky Ramone at the 2009 Tribeca Film Festival. Photo by David Shankbone, courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

Marc Bell, aka Marky Ramone, spent decades behind the drum kit for the Ramones, arguably the most important and influential punk rock band of all time. They were the leather jacket and ripped jeans-clad architects of punchy two-minute, three-chord songs about beating on brats with baseball bats, shock treatments and lobotomies, sniffing glue and wanting to be sedated. Simultaneously, they simplified and repackaged your parents’ rock and roll into Ramones music, recording distinct versions of The Searchers’ hit ballad “Needles and Pins” (a song co-written by Sono Bono) and Freddy Cannon’s “Palisades Park” and asking if you wanna dance under the moonlight (“do you, do you, do you, do you wanna dance?”). Tragically, singer Joey Ramone died from lymphoma in 2001 and didn’t live to see the Ramones’ induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame the following year. Three months after the induction ceremony, original bassist Dee Dee Ramone died from a drug overdose. Guitarist Johnny Ramone died from prostate cancer in 2004. In July of 2014, original Ramones drummer Tommy Ramone – who’d recommended Marky be his replacement in 1978 – also succumbed to cancer.

Marky Ramone, thankfully, remains alive – and active. He continues to play drums, and recently released his autobiography, Punk Rock Blitzkrieg: My Life as a Ramone (Simon & Schuster). His book tour stops at Changing Hands Bookstore at Crescent Ballroom in Phoenix on January 20, where Arizona Republic music editor Ed Masley will host a conversation with Ramone  (click here for tickets). I recently caught up with Marky to talk about the book, the Ramones, New York City in the 1970s, overcoming personal demons, his radio show on Sirius, his pasta sauce, his beer, and his charitable interests. I told you he was active.

You’re considered the last surviving Ramone. CJ [bass player from 1989-1996] is still out there, but as far as longtime, original members, you’re –

The last link (laughs).

Exactly. So being the last link to the Ramones, what was the process of writing this book like for you?

It took five years in the making. You just can’t write a book overnight. It was time-consuming, obviously, and your memory has to serve you well. I always took around a composition notebook with me to write things down. I own the largest Ramones video library in the world, so if my memory didn’t serve me correctly, I would always go back to the notebook and my videos. So it was a combination of that, and just having [the book] sound like me. I had two writers before Rich Herschlag, who helped me sound like me in the book, who didn’t. One sounded like the King’s English, and another one sounded very Brooklynese – ‘deez’ and ‘doze,’ like I was on The Sopranos or something. But Richard Herschlag caught my voice in print, which I was very grateful for.

Prior to joining the Ramones, you drummed for some seminal punk bands – Wayne County and the Backstreet Boys, and Richard Hell and The Voidoids. Can you describe the energy in New York City in those days?

In the mid-70s, New York City was downtrodden. There was no money, there were garbage strikes, Washington wouldn’t send us any money to help bail us out, so we were basically on our own. But we as a band were lucky to have CBGBs. And then you’d have Blondie, Television, Talking Heads, Richard Hell and The Voidoids, etc. And we were lucky to have that place to play. So we just went along with all the excitement of living in New York City, and that’s basically what the sound of the Ramones is – things stay open 24 hours, the subways, the population explosion of New York City. It all went together with what we were doing.

As far as the individual members of the Ramones, you each had your own image. Joey was the introverted singer, Johnny was the outspoken guitarist and band leader, Dee Dee was the eccentric genius bass player. What would you say your role in the band was?

The regular guy from Brooklyn (laughs). The drummer.

Every band needs one.

Oh yeah. Without that, we’d be listening to Bach, Beethoven and whatever. They’re great, too, but there would be no percussion.

You left the band for a while in the ’80s to go into recovery. What kept you going, or what was your inspiration, during that time?

Well, I believe that in life, you have to follow your dreams, and if an obstable gets in your way, you have to move it out of your way. My obstacle was my periodic drinking, and I realized if I continued, that I could have ended up killing someone or maybe myself, in a car accident, etc. But then I realized – why was I put on this planet? Not to just drink, but to drum and have a good time with a great band. So those were my thoughts, and it got me out of my depression or whatever. I went to a few AA meetings, and I learned a few things. And I put them [to use] in my everyday life, and I learned what was important: Getting off your butt and working and doing what you were meant to do.

punk rock blitzkriegThere’s this great scene in the book, with the band at Stephen King’s house, that tells the story of how the Ramones ended up playing the title track for the film Pet Sematary. Do you stay in touch with Stephen King?

No, but if we do run into each other – I’m sure he’s very busy, and I’m always very busy – but we would definitely take time to say hello and talk to each other. He invited us down to his house in Maine. We had dinner with him. He handed the book Pet Sematary to our bass player, Dee Dee Ramone, and he skimmed through it and he wrote the song in 40 minutes. And that – that’s genius. So that’s our relation with Stephen King. And he always mentioned us in some of his books, which we were always grateful for.

Among the many things you do is host “Marky Ramone’s Blitzkrieg” on Sirius satellite radio, where you play a wide range of punk rock bands from various eras. What’s your opinion of today’s punk rock, compared to the first wave?

Well, you know, people don’t really change. People are still confronted with the same anxieties and frustrations as we were, years ago when the first wave came. There’s insecurities with job situations, and your relationship with your boyfriend or girlfriend, and everyday life, school, things that just normally happen. So people don’t really change when it comes to being a human being. It’s technology that changes. The only difference is that now we have cell phones. So really, the lyrical content of the new [punk] groups is basically the same.

You have your own pasta sauce, Marky Ramone’s Brooklyn’s Own Pasta Sauce, and a portion of proceeds benefits a nonprofit called Autism Speaks. Why did you choose this cause to benefit from your sauce?

I’m able to use my motor [function] and I can play well. They can’t, and I feel horrible when I see that. And they’re able to communicate, but they can’t, and it must be very frustrating, and there’s different levels. And when I see that, it breaks my heart, and I just figured that I want to give to this charity through the purchase of this pasta sauce. Also, I have a beer coming out, and part of the proceeds will go to Musicians without Borders, to help musicians. So anything I do with my food companies, I will donate to charities, some of it.

I’m glad you brought up the beer. Tell me about your beer. Did you start by homebrewing?

Oh, no. I don’t drink. What I did was, what a wine taster does. He swishes it around in his mouth, and then he spits it out. I wouldn’t swallow it. The beer is a dark ale, a beautiful dark ale, and it was conceived in Spain, so it’s an import, but it will be everywhere in the United States within the next couple of months.

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