Marky Ramone: Telling It Like It Is

By Jeb Wright
Photo of Marky by Martin Bonetto

Marky Ramone has been there, done that, and went back for more.  He helped start American Heavy Metal with the band Dust when his name was Marc Bell, and then became an icon drumming for Punk Rock legends the Ramones, taking the moniker Marky Ramone as part of his initiation into the band.  In January of 2015, he will release his autobiography titled Punk Rock Blitzkrieg: My Life as a Ramone.

In the book, Marky takes us from his Brooklyn, New York beginning, to his high school days where he beat up teachers as well as students, to his time in Dust and how he went on to become a Ramone.  He helped bring the band to new fame, joining in 1978 for the iconic release Road to Ruin, which featured the classic “I Wanna Be Sedated.”  By 1984, he was asked to leave due to his alcoholism.

Marky opens up about his drinking, as well as his recovery, admitting he quit music and worked as a bicycle delivery person while he got his head together, and becoming a regular at local meetings of Alcoholics Anonymous.  Ramone rejoined the Ramones four years later and lived with the dysfunction and chemical appetites of the band while remaining sober. 

Marky is genuine.  His book, as well as this interview, comes straight from the heart and with a thick Brooklyn, New York accent.  While he may not have excelled in school, Marky has street smarts and a sense of right and wrong that is dead on.  He tells his side of the story in his book, and it is a story worth reading!

Jeb: before we talk about your book, I want you to know that I am a fan of the Ramones, but I am a fan of Dust as well.  I got Hard Attack from a friend’s record collection in around 1978 and loved it.

Marky: That is a great album.  The first album was heavier, but that one was better produced.  I was 17-years-old back then.  Richie Wise, Kenny Aaronson and I were in the band.  Kenny went on to play bass for everyone and Richie produced the first Kiss album.  He was nineteen-years-old.  When I joined the band I was 15, but when we did the first album I was sixteen and a half and then, on the second album, I was 17.  Hey, what else are you going to do when you’re in Brooklyn, New York and you’ve got to go to high school?  You know what I mean?

Jeb: I wanted to bring that era up.  I was worried you would just gloss over the Dust era.  I am glad you didn’t. 

Marky: No way.  We were one of only five heavy metal bands in America at the time.  England was about a year ahead of us.  Dust songs were written before we had ever heard of Black Sabbath.  Sabbath came here in 1970.  I joined Dust in 1969 and the songs were written.  We got our record deal in 1970 and the album came out in ’71.

Jeb: We did a great interview with Dust---all of you last year when Sony re-released the albums. 

Marky: I remember you.  That was great.  You talked to [Dust manager Kenny] Kerner and Richie and Kenny and me…you got all of us. 

Jeb: Of course, the book talks about more than just Dust.  You talk about the Ramones and you talk about your alcoholism, but you also talk about a lot about music.  It comes across loud and clear what a music lover you are. 

Marky: Thank you!  Let me know what you think when you finish the book.  I know we got it to you right before this interview.  Call me up when you can really read it and let me know what you think.

Jeb:  I was rushing through it and because I know your story that helped.  So far, I have to admit I am digging it.  I am very impressed with how open you are about your recovery from alcoholism.  I am a recovering alcoholic, sober 27 years.  You have 30 years and you really speak openly. 

Marky: I had to because my father passed away six months ago and he obviously didn’t get to read the book .  He said to me, “I hope you’re honest with the book because you have to live with it.”  He was right.  If I can help anyone by writing this book, then that’s great.  If I can sober up and forget about the things that are ruining my life then maybe they can as well.  It takes a lot of will power, but once you admit to your problem, then you’re over that hump and you’re over that hill.  I felt I had to put it in there, and I know a lot of people wouldn’t have done that… I felt I had nothing to lose.  I had been to the mountain, and if I can help a teenager, or even an older adult, then I am happy for it. 

Jeb: You were honest, where a lot of people are not.  You not only talk about the drinking and drugs, you talk about the recovery.  You talk about leaving the Ramones and getting sober and taking a job as a delivery guy who rode a bicycle. 

Marky: When I left the rehab, they told me I had to do a different kind of work.  My sponsor said I needed to do physical labor so I could get back into shape.  They told me to meet different walks of life, which I did.  I met secretaries, bosses of companies and all of that.  I enjoyed riding a bike, so I decided I could be a messenger.  Later, I started doing demolition work.  I put up wrought iron gates to stop the crack houses that were around Brooklyn at the time.  This was all physical.  It was meant to help me, because the drinking didn’t help me physically.  I wasn’t playing the drums at that time, so I figured I would do some real physical labor and it got me back into the shape I wanted to be in.  I was advised to do that and I did it. 

Jeb: I think this part of your story is genuine because you have your shit together.  Too many celebrities get a DUI and then preach to others too soon in their recovery. 

Marky: It’s thirty years of sobriety, but yeah I know what you’re saying. 

Jeb: You went back to music, to the Ramones, and stayed sober.  How did you stay sober in that sort of scene?

Marky: In 1987, when they wanted me back in the group again, I already had four years of sobriety.  I would go to AA, a lot of the times in the morning, afternoon and night.  I really put some time into that, and at that moment I needed it.  When it was time to play with them I was on good ground.  Of course there were temptations, as Dee Dee was still in the group.  You have to ignore it and you have to just say, “Been there…done it…did it all, and now I am here to play the drums, the best I can, up on that stage.”  You kind of have conversations with yourself.  “Do you want to go back to where you were?  No.  Do you want to continue on this path of recovery?  Yes.”  That would help me not think about that stuff. 

Jeb: You are reflecting on the past in this book.  Did a lot of ghosts of the past visit you during the writing process?

Marky: The skeletons definitely came out.  I had to tell it like it was.  There were the rehabs and the D.T’s and the craziness that drinking a little too much can do to you.  Like going to the furniture store in my car and driving through the store.  That was a blackout.  We are talking mid-afternoon and I drove right through the window.  I was mugged and I was fingerprinted… who wants to go through that again? If I had kept on doing that I could have killed someone or myself.  It was just the right time to stop. 

Jeb: You revisited the early days of the Ramones.  It had to be interesting to look at your life under such a microscope. 

Marky: There was a lot of stuff that went down.  In high school, I had problems with the teachers and the deans.  I was always in fights.  I had fights not just with the fellow students, but I had physical fights with the gym teacher.  He would say, “Marc, get a haircut.  Your tie is loose.”  Back then you had to wear a tie, a shirt and a jacket to school.  I always had run-ins with the gym teacher, and I punched him in the stomach.  The other teacher I had to fight with threw me in the chemistry room.

The book goes through the whole gamut of my life.  I talk about auditioning for The New York Dolls and then hanging out in the New York scene.  I talk about making Rock and Roll High School and working with Phil Spector and what went down at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the Grammy Awards behind the scenes.  It is not just about the Ramones.  I talk about being with Richard Hell and the Voidoids and when we toured with The Clash in ’77.  I got the firsthand look at how the punk scene was evolving there for four and a half weeks on that tour.  This book is very comprehensive. 

Jeb: Dust showed your skills as a drummer.  The Ramones was very different.  Did you have to dumb your playing down to be in the Ramones?

Marky: Well, technically, yes, but to keep the eighth-notes going on the high-hat, ride cymbal and floor tom, as Johnny and Dee Dee did the down strokes for an hour and twenty minutes… I would give any kind of worth of value to somebody who can do that the way we did it.  I am talking a technical pro being able to do what we did.  I highly doubt they would be able to do that. 

They couldn’t play like Eddie Van Halen, but that was the charm of the Ramones… it was a workout.  We didn’t have any stops between each song.  We just counted them off and there was no time to even drink a glass of water.  A lot of bands have water bottles up there and towels and stuff… you know what I mean?  We were not into that.  We thought that looked like a band was getting tired.  When they started talking to the audience, then they were taking that moment of rest.  We didn’t want to have that kind of thought in anyone’s head that they are tired, and that’s why they are talking, and that’s why they are drinking water.  We didn’t want that.

Jeb: Have you ever wondered why so many people around the world love the music of the Ramones?  It didn’t start out that way at first. 

Marky: No, it didn’t, but over the last decade and a half it got that way.  I honestly think that the Ramones appeal to youth.  It is the energy that we projected on record and when we played live.  There is a whole new generation out there that wants to hear and wants to see a band that is real, with no samples, no tapes and nothing computerized.  That is what the Ramones were all about. 

When I tour with my group around the world, I see these teenagers and they know that what they see is what they get.  In my band there is no guy with a keyboard doing samples, or enhancing the vocals, or adding the added percussion from tapes—they’ve all got their tricks.  When I tour, there are no tricks.  When the Ramones toured there was no tricks. 

Jeb:  How long had you wanted to write a book?

Marky: What happened is that I read all of the other books and I thought it was time to tell it like it was.  I wanted to tell it like it was and not how other people who wrote books about the band thought it was.  A lot of people who wrote the other books were much exaggerated.  They were not written by a Ramone.  Anyone relative can write a book, but they were hardly around.  I decided to write a book because of my fifteen year tenure in the band.  I played 1,700 shows with that band.  I think between my book and the first one, by Jim Bessman, The Ramones: An American Band, are the most comprehensive. 

Jeb: You told the truth without throwing people under the bus. 

Marky: I am not going to do that.  It is such an easy thing to do to create sensationalism.  I am not going to do that.  It is a book that tells it like it was.  I am not going to fault people for who they are and what they are.  I did describe what I observed of each individual, including myself.  I put myself under the bus! 

I could have went down that path, but I chose the high road.  I just wanted to write a book and avoid the petty animosities and all of that stuff. The vendettas are all child stuff.  It is stuff that happens with any band or any business.  It is office politics, and why put that in a book that is going to be around a long time?  Why saturate the pages with that nonsense? 

Jeb: If you are really telling the truth, it was more than just that…

Marky: Exactly.  We were a band of brothers, and brothers fight.  At the end you make up and you get on the stage, and you realize the most important thing is to cut the crap and give a good show.  When you come off the stage the fighting continues. 

Jeb: Did the fighting lessen as you grew older?

Marky: No, between Johnny and Joey it just was the worst.  Some people just don’t get along and that is life.  They never did.  I tried every attempt to get them together, but that’s life.  Some people just don’t get along. 

Jeb: It is very emotional when you talk about Joey in a hospital dying and Johnny would not come and see him. 

Marky: Unfortunately, I was the only one that visited him in the hospital.  I couldn’t get over that.  I would call John, and I would call Dee Dee and I would call Tommy.  The thing is that Johnny was in LA and Dee Dee was there too.  I was like, at least make a phone call, but they didn’t even call him.  What can I do?  Can I force someone to do it?  No.  I just gave them a suggestion.  I said, “Give the guy a call.  It will probably make him feel better.”  They never did, and I could never understand that.  

Jeb: My first Ramones album was Road to Ruin

Marky: Good album. 

Jeb: It is my favorite album by the band, and it was your first album with them.  Is it fair to say you brought rock to the Ramones?

Marky: I had to.  Why?  Because they already did their three-chord wonder albums, the first one, Leave Home and Rocket to Russia.  They needed to advance a little more.  They needed to sound heavier, not just punk heavy, but rock heavy.  In the end that’s what it’s all about. 

You have to understand at that time there was a lot of competition.  Van Halen was out, and while it was a different kind of music, the drumming was heavy.  There was The Clash from England and that drumming was heavy.  I felt I had to tighten the drums a little more than Tommy—especially the snare drum.  I wanted to make it tighter and more kick ass.  I did five albums before I joined the Ramones so I had an idea of what would work well with that album.  I told Tommy what I thought we should do, and he listened.  He was the producer and the result was the album. 

Jeb: “I Wanna Be Sedated” builds and gains energy.  The guitar doesn’t change, but what drives that fucking song is the rhythm section. 

Marky: Thank you.  I do that little drum roll with one hand during that song.  I didn’t want to saturate the song with a bunch of drum fills that didn’t fit.  I wanted to wait for the particular moment where that guitar break on that one note continues and then goes into that verse I put in that little drum fill.  I felt it was necessary.  

Jeb: Did you ever think the Ramones would end up being a life time career for you?

Marky: I never thought we would last 22 years.  I never thought I would do 1,700 shows.  That is a lot.  We did nine studio albums.  No, I was a regular guy coming from Brooklyn, New York, and I went through high school, and I was living in basement apartments.  I never thought this would happen.  It was a dream come true.  The Ramones, now, in the information age, we see how much they influenced music and culture. 

Jeb: You had West Coast bands like The Dead Kennedys and you had the English bands like The Clash, so a lot of people, even punks, didn’t like you at first.  The Ramones were the red-headed step-child of punk.  You had to earn your respect. 

Marky: A lot of them thought we were just like a pop/punk rock band.  When you listen to that first album then that says it all.  The Clash, The Sex Pistols, The Buzzcocks, Joan Jett, Green Day, The Offspring…even Motorhead says that is the first punk album.  The Pistols told their producer they wanted to sound like the first Ramones album.  The Clash would count 1/2/3/4 between songs. 

Look, the English got great bands, there is no denying that, but they definitely copied us.  For instance, you had Little Richard, Chuck Berry, Elvis and all of these greats.  Who copied them?  The Beatles.  Here you had the punk scene at CBGB’s when it started in ’74.  There was no punk scene in ’74.  What they were doing was observing what we were doing.  A year, to a year and a half down the road, they all formed their own bands. 

Jeb: You’re a sensible guy and you’re grounded but does it ever trip-you-out that there are still kids today who seek out your band? 

Marky: It amazes me, and I am honored and grateful that anyone would wear a t-shirt of a band that I was in.  They have a lot of choices.  It could have been Fleetwood Mac!  I am not knocking anyone’s preferences, but I am honored when I see a kid wearing a Ramones t-shirt, no matter what it says on it.  It can say “Hey Ho Lets Go Johnny, Joey, Dee Dee Tommy” or it can say “Johnny, Joey, Dee Dee Marky.”  That just doesn’t matter; I am just honored. 

Jeb: You came up with a rock scene and played in a proto-metal band, and then became a punk rocker.  You were really able to adapt to different styles of music. 

Marky: It wasn’t a challenge for me. It was a mindset where I had to stop doing triplets, quadruples, 5/4 time signatures, nine-stroke rolls and double-stroke rolls to just simply playing eighth notes with the band and put in a drum fill where needed.  It was basically me toning my technical prowess down.

Jeb: A lot of musicians have too much ego to do that. 

Marky: I know, but you have to play for the song.  You can’t play for yourself.  There are certain points where those things won’t fit and you have to let the song breathe.  Then, maybe throw in a nice tasteful thing.  It is better to throw in one tasteful thing in a song than twenty because that one thing will be remembered more than the twenty. 

Jeb: Are you going to do any type of Storyteller shows with the book release?

Marky: I am going to do a book tour to promote the book.  I am doing a show in New York City at the Gramercy Theater on January 17th where we will do 36 Ramones songs and that will coincide with the release of the book at the same place, and I will be signing the books.  I will continue to tour with my group with Andrew W.K. in the States probably this spring.  I am going to continue all over the world.  I had never gone to Beijing, or Hong Kong before, but I did three times already with my band.  I have been to Russia four times already.  Who knew?  I have even been to Dubai. 

These places love our Western ways and our Western culture.  When you see it first hand, you know, the minute you land as there is a Burger King there.  They do admire our Western culture.  There is still no place like home, but it is interesting to see them embrace our culture. 

Jeb: Any new albums on the way?

Marky: I just got back the rights to my two Marky Ramone and the Intruders albums, which I wrote thirty songs on.  That came out in 1999 and 2000.  They were on small labels and they only made a certain amount and they sold out their initial amount, but they didn’t want to make any more for some reason.  Now that I have them, I may reissue those at some point. 

Maybe I will write some new stuff with Andrew W.K. or whoever.  There is some great stuff on those Intruders albums; me and Joan Jett did a song together and Lars Frederiksen from Rancid produced the second one.  I feel there is a lot of good stuff on those albums that I feel the world didn’t get a chance to listen to because of the limitations of the record company. 

Jeb: Does knowing that you’re the last man standing make you feel funny?  Everyone else has passed.

Marky: They are all gone.  When you have to do something it is never as good as when you want to do something.  Wanting to do this book, I felt I had to straighten out all of the wrong things from the other books, which were written by people who wanted to change history.  I had to do that because it was the right thing to do.  I wanted to do it because it made me feel better. 

Jeb: Was it emotional?

Marky: Always… every day.  It is not just one, it’s four. 

Jeb: Did it get to you that you could not get Dee Dee to change?

Marky: Yeah, I always told him to call me before he had any temptations.  He was clean for seven years off of the dope.  He basically took meds for his Bi-Polar situation.  One day, he was in his apartment and he put it in his veins and he shot up and he died.  Either his body was too clean, or the stuff, seven years later, was better than what he was used too.  He never called.  I found out the next day, and that was it. 

Jeb: You talk like you write.  You are very matter of fact. 

Marky: I try. 

Jeb: There are times while reading your book that it seems I am more emotional reading it than you appear to be while writing it.  Talking to you, I sense it is your personality coming through in the written word. 

Marky: You’ve got to live with it.  You can’t be ashamed to go back to the book and read it again after you write it the first time.  It is real.  It is what happened, and I am going to read it again, you know.  And that’s it! 

Jeb: What was your highlight from the Ramones era, and what was the low-light?

Marky: Being asked to join the band was the highlight.  Tommy suggested to Dee Dee to ask me to join the band.  Being inducted to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame was great because we were amongst our peers, the guys we looked up to like The Kinks, The Beatles, The Yardbirds, Chuck Berry, Jerry Lee Lewis, Elvis, Jan and Dean, The Beach Boys…all of that great music, and these wonderful people.  We were honored for that.  We will never forget that.  Of course, all of the great shows that we did and receiving all of the great feedback from our fans was all a highlight. 

The low point, for me, was when I was hitting it too heavy and I was asked to leave the group and get help, which I did.  That was the best advice I ever got and I want to thank Joey for that.