Keeping the beat for the Ramones for 15 years could tire anyone out. Which is why it’s surprising that Marky Ramone is not only still active, but active as hell. Post-Ramones, Marky recorded and supported a number of albums of new music as Marky Ramone & the Intruders, then Speedkings, rocked out on a nearly four-year tour with the Misfits, and compiled and produced a Ramones documentary (Raw). Unstoppable and unfatigable, Marky is now busier than ever. He’s still touring with a band, covering Ramones tunes, only now he’s also the host of a weekly punk radio show on Sirius, and is finishing a comprehensive book about the Ramones and his life in the punk scene. His excellent solo collection – Start of the Century – just came out on Fuel 2000, compiling both Intruders albums and a bonus disc of live Ramones covers. And this interview took place two days before the release of yet another project – Osaka Popstar – a punk supergroup featuring Jerry Only (Misfits), Dez Cadena (Black Flag), Ivan Julian (Richard Hell & the Voidoids) and of course, Marky.
Marky Ramone is just as you’d imagine – a nice guy with a thick Brooklyn accent who speaks his mind. In a way, he exemplifies the image of the Ramones we all have. We know now that Johnny was Republican, Joey was dorky, and Dee Dee was flaky. But Marky represented the fun, the edge, the outspokenness, and the drive of the Ramones. His drumming may have been the pulse, but Marky was the heart.
We talked about some random crap.
Yes, hi, this is Adam from Readmag.com. Thank you very much for doing the interview.
Oh yeah, sure. Why not? (laughs)
Have you been doing interviews all day?
Oh yeah, yeah. Since my compilation is about to come out – the Osaka Popstar CD – I’ve been doing a lot. They want to know about that, about my book, Ramones-related, business, yeah, it never ends.
Well, don’t worry about it because I don’t want to know about any of that stuff.
Actually, I did do some research before the interview and was disappointed because everyone already asked you pretty much the same questions…
…which I hope to avoid.
Feel free to ask. It’s fine.
So my first question is – what questions do you hate being asked, so I could avoid asking them?
“Were the Ramones brothers?” “Was Johnny in the KKK?” Let’s see, what else… .Well, nothing really. That’s basically it. And the brother thing was okay, but after awhile it gets kind worn, you know what I mean?
Did people actually ask you that in all seriousness?
Yeah, a lot of people do. And you would figure at this point…
Even mainstream media?
Nah, just people out in the street, people in different countries. I mean, I think it’s funny, but after 30 years, they could easily read something and find out we weren’t.
So you’ve been really busy lately. You’ve got the book, you’re doing a Sirius radio show… What do you do in your free time? Do you have any free time?
No. (Laughs) What do I do in my free time…?
Besides wasting it with me, that is.
No, I’m not wasting it with you. I appreciate that you called. So what do I do in my free time… I try to visit friends and relatives that I haven’t seen in awhile. You know, my parents are getting older and I just feel that it’s important to visit them at this stage in life. Because you never know what could happen; you try to hang out with your family and friends that you miss.
Marky, I don’t care what they say about you, you’re a good guy.
What do they say about me?
I don’t want to repeat it.
Nah, I’m just kidding around. But you’re a good Queens boy.
You’re from Brooklyn? I thought you grew up in Queens.
No, the other Ramones did; I’m the only one who grew up in Brooklyn.
Okay, I take back everything I just said then.
(Laughs) That’s okay.
So now I have to ask the regular questions. Let me start by saying that it was a huge shock to people to find out the Ramones were so dysfunctional. There was very little coverage of the Ramones during their run…
And now we’re all over the place…
And it’s kind of weird that here’s a band that’s so beloved by so many people, and to find out after the fact that the band didn’t even talk to each other for their entire run.
Well, that was just Joey and Johnny. And that was because of a girl. And sometimes that happens. You know, a girl comes in between and it just busts up the entire thing.
Sure, sure, the Yoko Effect.
Well, the thing was this. Joey met a girl and liked her, and then one day Johnny came up to her and she decided to like him. So it kind of hurt Joey. But he held a world of resentment and a grudge for 18 years!
I mean, there’s so many other girls in the world, and I kept telling Joey, Joey get over it! You gotta move on, you’ve got to meet other people. And I think this actually contributed to him getting lymphoma, because he always had this worry and negativity in him about John that he wouldn’t let go. And I think a lot of that festered inside and result was all this crazy stuff.
Was Joey that much of a romantic? Did he have some big romantic ideals?
Well… no… but you get used to somebody, and then all of a sudden, your guitar player takes her away. It’s more of like an ego bust, yknow?
I’m sure he saw it as a really shitty thing.
Oh, it definitely was.
How long was Joey with her?
About a year and a half. So I know what was going on between the girlfriend and John. I saw it happening. That was the main reason why they weren’t talking… but, look – I was always in the middle, I tried to always make sure that they would kind of at least work professionally and put it all aside and realize the band came first. And Dee Dee luckily was in the band, he was my best friend in the group, but he left in ’89, and then I had to always come in between Johnny and Joey.
Was it draining?
I felt that it was just part of the job. Whatever you had to do to keep the ship afloat, you do it.
Do you feel it’s a shame that they never resolved their issues, even though they had so many opportunities, even until the end?
Yes. They harbored petty resentment. I’m the only Ramone that visited Joey in the hospital. I’m the only Ramone who played on his solo album. I think that if everyone got along, there would’ve been other people playing on his solo album and they would’ve visited him too. Which was unfortunate because when it comes to that, it’s a different story. You’re never going to see the guy ever again. So even though he did have his eccentricities, you just… he’s on his way. You’ve got to put it all aside, and say, “Look, Joey, I love you, I’m glad that we were friends, I’m sorry for what’s happening to you, let’s make up…” At least that, you know what I mean? And that didn’t happen.
Did you try to get involved at all? Calling people?
Yes. John and Dee Dee. And John’s answer was, “Well, I wouldn’t want anybody coming to see me in the hospital or coming to my funeral if I didn’t like them.” So Dee Dee’s answer was because John and Dee Dee both lived in LA, you know, Beverley Hills and Sherman Oaks. So you know, “I don’t have the time” or “I can’t fly in.” And I thought that was very unusual, because they grew up together… But the band came first, we made some good albums, we had a great fanbase, and that’s what matters. And maybe because of all the problems, the performances were always good. And that’s what I try to remember – the fun times we’ve had.
What were some of the fun times you’ve had? What was your favorite live experience?
Well, that’s pretty hard to say because there were over two thousand shows. Which ones did I like? Well, I’ll tell ya, I liked most of them. We were a band that was pretty consistent. I liked the Lollapalooza tour we were on , because all the bands on there were paying homage to us, like Rancid, Soundgarden, and Metallica, and we were very grateful for that. And the last show in LA was cool, in having Lemmy come up and Eddie Vedder and the guy from Rancid…And in the 70s, we were just starting to tour the other countries, and ending up in Tokyo and Greece and Italy and London. Though we were in London several times before that, but there was always some sort of charm in playing there, because the Ramones went there in ’76 and after that, the punk scene started over there.
Is it strange for you to be the spokesman for the Ramones now?
Oh yeah. The thing is, I didn’t ask for this job. But me and Joey did most of the interviews when we were together. John didn’t really like doing interviews – I don’t know why, but he didn’t. But if I had three wishes, I’d wish Johnny, Joey and Dee Dee were back so that they can do this stuff. It’s awkward.
I think it’s awkward because a lot of people feel, “Why should you be talking? You were just a drummer in the band, you weren’t an original member. What gives you the right?” But you know, like I said, I didn’t ask for this. I did experience the Ramones, being a member for 15 years, so I have a lot to say. But that’s how life is. It throws a lot of curves at you.
You spent more time in the band in that role than any other person.
Oh yeah. Basically, it was me, Johnny, Joey and Dee Dee. Tommy was only in the band for 3 + years. Granted, he helped start the band, but there was a lot more after that!
There were the two recent documentaries – End of the Century and there was Raw, which you produced. What I thought was so interesting was that the tones were so different. End of the Century seemed so bleak; it was quite startling and maybe it just focused on the negative…
…Whereas Raw was filled with all these fun excerpts.
It was a road trip. The Ramones were about fun! That’s what I wanted to project in Raw, because End of the Century was so one-sided negativity. When I walked out of there, I felt, “It couldn’t have been that bad!” But luckily Raw was out to create a contradiction, you know?
You must have a ton of extra footage.
Yeah, I have the biggest Ramones library in the world. I have over 200 high-quality 2-hour tapes. 400 hours.
You were basically just video taping everything, huh?
That must’ve been kind of weird if nobody’s talking to each other in the van for 8 hours at a stretch…
Exactly. We used to say that if anyone laughed in the van, they’d have to pay a fine. There was no laughing in the van. You know, because of all the negativity. But occasionally I’d fart and everybody would laugh. So you have to reduce yourself to the lowest common denominator and make a fart joke. It breaks the ice, everybody laughs, the tension clears in the air. So maybe for an hour, everyone’s a little loose and talking.
Did CJ help at all with the atmosphere, or was he like an outsider?
No. No. CJ was a bigot.
Yeah, CJ was a bigot. I liked the guy in the beginning, but after awhile I couldn’t take the guy anymore. His redneck influences were coming out, and I couldn’t take the guy.
Speaking of being the on the road, were there any Ramones songs that you just hated to play, that you just dreaded to play every night?
(Pause) That’s a good question. Nobody ever asked me that. That I hated to play… let me see… Well, “Today Your Love, Tomorrow the World” was kind of weird. In my opinion, it was a Nazi kind of song.
Well, if you listen to the song – Dee Dee wrote it – and it’s like “I’m a Nazi shocktrooper….”
Right, right, right.
At the time, I guess it was funny, but… I never heard of a funny Nazi. You know what I mean? Except for maybe in Hogan’s Heroes.
Do you feel that way about “The KKK Took My Baby Away?”
No, because that was a little more pop. And what it really was, was Joey’s nod to John, that that’s how John came off, you know what I mean?
I heard about that [that the song is about Johnny taking Joey’s girlfriend]. Did Johnny ever pick up on that?
Oh yeah. I’m sure he did. But he carried a KKK card just for fun. But it wasn’t real.
Do you have a favorite and least favorite Ramones album?
Favorite. With me on it, Road To Ruin. With Tommy on it, Rocket to Russia. My least favorite, that I hate, that I’m on – Subterranean Jungle. The next albums that I really like that I’m on are Mondo Bizarro and Pleasant Dreams. Another one that I thought was bad that I’m on is Animal Boy, but I like Too Tough To Die.
Too Tough To Die is probably my favorite Ramones album.
Yeah! But look – everything was fun. They were great guys. I had a great time with them as a band and as individuals. But the problem was always between Johnny and Joey. And that’s a fact. And that’s evidenced in End of the Century.
Were there any bands that you didn’t like touring with?
Or are there any bands that I don’t like?
Oh, well I don’t like NOFX. They’re too sterile, very sterile. But that’s it. I guess a lot of people kind of like them, and that’s their thing. I like Black Flag, pre-Henry Rollins. And I like everybody, but a few things irk me because the original intention of punk was to have a dirty kind of feel and an analog kind of feel, and when you hear bands like NOFX, they’re just so clean and so overlapping with the gang vocals and the harmonies, it’s ridiculous.
Do you think the term “punk” has no meaning anymore, because it’s been so bandied about and applied to so many different things?
Oh yeah, of course. But the thing is this. People don’t change, but technology does. There’s the same angst in today’s young adults than there was 25-30 years ago. But there has to be a term and something always has to be categorized. So you have the term “punk.” Green Day. Heavy metal? No. Rhythm & blues? No. Punk? Yes. There’s no other way to categorize them. So these bands that have to be categorized – do I feel they’re authentic as being a punk band? No. And NOFX is one of them. But… it’s like this. Kid goes, “I think I’m gonna play punk and be in a punk rock band.” It’s not like that. You have to grow into it. You have to feel it, live it. It’s like a heavy metal band breaking up and the members saying, let’s be a punk band. You know what I mean? You have to really come from the streets, the roots of it all, you know? That’s why I feel that Rancid has a good representation of modern-day punk, along with some other bands.
Just to shift gears for a second, I didn’t see you on tour with the Misfits. Did you put on makeup when you played with them?
Well, it wasn’t the Misfits. It was just Jerry Only, who was the only member of that band.
Oh, I thought they were touring under that name.
Yeah, under the name, but to me, it was just Jerry Only, me, and Dez Cadena. The Misfits are Glenn Danzig, lead singer, Jerry and Doyle on guitar, and ROBO on drums.
So do you consider it just a punk supergroup?
It was just the third incarnation, but I called it The Misfit, because there was only one guy. But Jerry’s a nice guy and I give him credit. And I had fun for the 3 + years. But what was happening was, when I was playing with Jerry and Dez, the audience would start going “Hey Ho! Let’s Go!” and wanted to hear Ramones songs! Jerry is nowhere near the vocalist that Joey Ramone was, but we had to start doing Ramones songs! But they were great guys, I had a great time with them, but the Misfits is Danzig, Jerry, Doyle, and ROBO. At least to me.
And to most people.
Yeah! And I really don’t agree with that buy the name, put the band out with all new members, and calling it what the name was.
I admired the fact that when you continued to record, it was Marky Ramone and the Something.
Right. And I had to change my name in ’78 when I joined, because my name was Marc Bell and it didn’t fit. So they discussed it with me and said change it. So my grandfather used to call me Marky, so I just went with that.
What do your friends and family call you?
My family calls me Marc, and my friends call me Marc, but I guess the fans like to call me Marky.
What should I call you?
Anything you want. (laughs)
How do you feel about CBGB’s imminent closure?
I think after 30 years they had a good run, and I think that bands in New York should find another club to make famous and play in like we did with CBGB’s. Hilly is obviously having problems with the landlord. In my opinion, he should’ve bought the building, but he didn’t, and the landlord doesn’t want it anymore. That’s his choice, but, y’know, Hilly did very well, and I think they’re going to move it to Vegas, or have something going on in Vegas, like a representation of the club. And I wish him luck. But sometimes good things come to an end, you know?
This might be a touchy question, but what do you think about Phil Spector’s alleged murder case?
I think it was an accident. He claims he didn’t do it, the girl put the gun in her mouth, they were both drunk and high. She was acting with fellatio in her mouth, you know, trying to impress him, and it went off.
And it went off. He’s no killer. He has a license to carry, because he got beaten up a lot as a youth, you know, he was bullied. So… that’s what happened, unfortunately. And now we’ll see what happens when his trial comes up.
If you never got into music, what do you think you’d be doing right now?
I’d probably be interested in being an honest, good-hearted politician. You know, a modern-day one. And not a lying, bullshit, corporate kiss-ass. Maybe that, but who knows if that would’ve worked. But maybe I would just be producing bands, stuff like that.
What’s something people would be surprised to know about you?
(Pause) Let’s see… I dunno. That I play other forms of music, not just punk rock. And that I could play blues, jazz, a lot of different forms. And that’s evident with the Richard Hell & The Voidoids album Blank Generation. That I don’t just listen to punk and I can play other forms of music.
Do you still speak to Richard Hell?
Yeah, we email each other, but he’s into his own thing, I’m into my own thing.
You’ve lived quite a life. What would you say is your greatest accomplishment?
I guess just being able to join a great band like the Ramones. I was 22 at the time, and I had just come off a Clash tour with Richard Hell – we opened up for them in England – and when I got back to New York, I was asked to join the Ramones. And that was a wonderful thing, because they were the big guys on the block. I was always friends with Dee Dee and I knew that one day we’d be playing together.
What comprises your ultimate burrito?
(Without pausing) Ground beef, avocado, tomatoes, onions, lettuce, a little bit of sour cream, and hot peppers.
Wow, quick response. Has anyone asked you that before?
No, but I have a voracious appetite, and right now I’d love to have one!
Tell me about the last fistfight you’ve been involved in.
Oh boy. I had a lot in school… uh… I had one at a club in New York called the Mudd Club. It was with Johnny Thunders. But we made up and stayed friends until he passed away.
You and Johnny Thunders had a fistfight?
Yeah. Because he was in the bathroom, and he had a heroin problem and he wanted to shoot up, but I wanted to take a piss because I was drinking beer and I couldn’t wait. I couldn’t hold it in any longer. And he said, you have to wait outside. And I said, no I don’t, and I walked in and he punched me. And I punched him. And a big raucous went on and the drummer from Blondie – another friend, Clem Burke – held me back, and Johnny Thunders’ friends held him back. And ten minutes later, we were all drinking back at the bar together.
That’s a great story.
All this stuff will be coming out in my book. It’ll be the ultimate Ramones book. It’s not from a road manager, it’s not from a roadie, it’s not from a relative… It’s from a Ramone who’s been in the band for 15 years. And it’s not just about the Ramones, but about my time in the punk scene, starting with my audition for the New York Dolls, and then Wayne County, Richard Hell, the Ramones, the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, the unfortunate deaths of the other Ramones and my reflections on that, punk today, punk yesterday, you know what I mean?
What’s important is that you have the institutional memory of punk rock.
And it’s not just that – I have the video! If I ever need to refresh my memory, I can always go to the camera.
Marky, you should open up a punk museum!
Well… if there’s any takers, I would. But it depends on the situation, what they would want… There’s one already in Berlin, so I guess the idea’s not too far off.
My cat’s name is Rusty Ramone. Do you have any advice for him, being that he’s an honorary Ramone?
Okay, Rusty. Well, you’re the first Ramone that walks on all fours, so congratulations.
Except for Dee Dee.
Yeah, definitely. (laughs)
Okay, last question and I’ll let you go. You’ve been playing drums for, I dunno, 60, 70, 80 years…
Since I was 8 years old, 1964, when the Beatles came out. I saw them on tv, and that’s what I wanted to do.
So you’ve been playing drums for all this time. When are you going to just let loose and record a kick-ass 15-minute drum solo? Like a prog rock, Neil Peart of Rush drum solo?
Umm… I don’t think I would do that because it’s self-indulgent. But there’s a lot of things that I do on the Osaka Popstar album that’s coming out… there’s a lot of different fills and accents and everything else. There’s a lot of stuff I recorded after the Ramones, there’s a lot of good drumming on that too, which shows I could do other things besides the eighth notes on the hi-hat and keeping a straight beat.
Did you ever want to get the 30-piece set with the woodblocks and wind chimes and cowbell tree?
No, I could not take that stuff. Now, I like a 4-piece set. I played a 7-piece set with Jerry and Dez, and I was getting out of my simplicity. I really don’t like technicians. I just like people with feel, that are creative, and have their own style.
Thank you very much for taking the time. I really appreciate it. Take care.
Run out and buy Marky Ramone’s Start of the Century and the new Osaka Popstar! Visit Ramones.com for all your Marky updates!