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  News arrow Members arrow Marky Ramone arrow 2004.04.19 — Interview with Marky Ramone (www.brella.org)
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Tower theatre, Philadelphia, USA 18.03.78

— As a drummer how did it feel to have the bass player always be the one calling out the “1,2,3,4” and leading time?
— Dee Dee started that style when the band started before me. That was the way it went and it was great because for a drummer, physically, to do that it doesn’t look as it good as a front man doing it. I’m glad he did it but in actuality we didn’t even follow his rhythm. I kept a rhythm, if he counted off at a certain speed it didn’t matter. I set the pace no matter how fast or slow he counted. As a time keeper Dee Dee Ramone was a little unreliable you know what I mean. But once he locked in with me he was perfect.

— You’re coming to Australia to do your spoken word show about the “Ramones” and New York punk in the 70s — what kind of insight can you give us that we might not have already read in books like “Please Kill Me”?
Well, “Please Kill Me” is basically a bunch of quotes from people — it’s not really a book. A lot of the quotes I read are a little exaggerated. When you’re there, you’re there and I was there. So it’s not like somebody moved to New York and all of a sudden they’re calling themselves a New York punk rocker. Cos a lot of bands did do that — move to New York, live there for a year and all of a sudden they’re from New York. I started my time there in ’73, ’74 so there’s a lot of things about the “New York Dolls”, people like that Johnny Thunders, Jerry Nolan, Dee Dee Ramone, Wayne County, Richard Hell and the other friends that I knew that have gone. So it’s a little more insight.

— Do you like to embellish a story — say like Dee Dee Ramone had a flair for doing?
Yeah, the first two books (“Lobotomy: Surviving the Ramones” and “Legend of a Rock Star”) that he wrote are 75% fact, 25% fantasy. The third one he wrote “The Horrors of the Chelsea Hotel” (a.k.a. “Chelsea Horror Hotel”) is pure fantasy. In order to write the great songs that he did you had to have some kind of child like fantasy mind which he did have. It depends on the reader — it’s entertaining but it’s not factual. The book that I’m writing is going to be bare bones, for real, I don’t live in a fantasy world — I’m not that kind of a person. I will write everything that went on and what happened and not have any sour grapes. Like the fact that Dee Dee left and then he started putting the “Ramones” down in his book. We didn’t throw him out, he left. So there were a lot of sour grapes in his book. But he was my closest friend in the band and that’s his business. If people want to believe those two books that he wrote — fine. But coming from someone who knew him as well as I did they aren’t perfectly factual.

— So you’re like the Eliot Ness of the New York punk scene — “just the facts”… what kind of myths can you dispel?
Well, the first book he wrote (“Lobotomy: Surviving the Ramones”) he left the tail end of it, the last third of the book to a groupie or hanger on named Veronica Kofman who finished the book for him. He didn’t want to write anymore so she just made up some bunch of crap that she put in there that was just ridiculous stuff. She was just like a stalker. She would stalk me then realise that I was married, she would stalk Joey and Joey didn’t want to have anything to do with her and then she started hanging on to Dee Dee. So that book is just a bunch of hearsay. Second book is a little better but he never killed a border guard which he claims he did which is unbelievable. Dee Dee, again, a very vivid imagination.

— Your cohort in “The Voidoids” — Richard Hell — does a lot of spoken word — were you influenced by him?
No. Me and Richard are two different people. Richard was into that heroin scene, I was a drinker. He’s from, I think, Kentucky and Mississippi. I was born in New York. Two different backgrounds. I’m all for Richard Hell. I mean it takes a lot for a country boy to come to New York City and do what he did. Richard is a wonderful poet, songwriter, he definitely helped create the punk scene. In fact, Malcolm McLaren wanted him to be the singer of the “Sex Pistols” and he didn’t want to. Malcolm took Richard’s fashion of ripped clothing which was born out of poverty not fashion and used it for the “Sex Pistols”. But whatever he talks about and his situation concerning his times in New York has nothing to do with what I do.

— The “Ramones” had a great image of unity — same surname, same black leather jackets, jeans and sneakers but there was a lot of tension…

Haha, yeah. I can bullshit and lie to you and say, “oh, yeah, everything was great”. No, there was a lot of tension. But you name me a band that had unity everyday and I’ll give you a million dollars you know what I mean. It’s like a family — there’s always something going on that one other person will disagree with, not like or hold a grudge against for years. That’s how the “Ramones” were but when we went on stage nobody came close to us. For what we did, we were the best.

— How did you fit into the family structure?
As a mediator most of the time. They grew up together. I came in on their scene in 1978. They were already together for three years. I would try and come in between Joey and Johnny’s arguments and Dee Dee’s problems. After a while I got very exhausted because they were all very complicated individuals. I mean Dee Dee was in his own world — a great writer, great bass player. He started that style of bass playing. He contributed greatly to the image and the songwriting but was one of the people that would cause a lot of the tensions in the band due to his drug excess.

— What about Johnny Ramone — how do you get along with him now?

Johnny lives in California. I live in New York. We talk. I just completed a three hour DVD of “Ramones” footage that I have. We have a good rapport.

— Did he really have the attitude of “who cares? It’ll sell more records” when Joey and Dee Dee died? It appears very harsh.
Johnny was very business-like and that was a remark he made. I think it was a remark he made because a lot of times it’s a fact. For instance when a blues or jazz artist dies their album sales go up. So I think he was relating to that when he made that kind of a comment.

— You’ve played with two of the guitar greats in Robert Quine (“The Voidoids”) and Johnny Ramone — but it must’ve been quite a different energy.

They were both great players. Robert just blows so many people away — the same with Johnny Ramone who also has his own creative style. Bob was very jazz influenced. It’s evident on “The Voidoids” album (“Blank Generation”) — there’s a lot of different time changes and different things they did that were against the grain of rock.

— I’m interested in Robert Quine — he’s a man that could never have been in the “Ramones” unless he had a fantastic wig.
No. And a good, powerful down stroke which Johnny Ramone has and Robert could not do. But John can not play like Robert. Bob is a moody guy. Great guitar player. Funny. Very into jazz, very into Hendrix, very into Miles Davis. Very into John Coltrane. A lot of Roland Kirk, even Louis Armstrong stuff like that. It would be great to do a live album of Richard, Ivan and Bob somewhere of just the first album or play again just for fun. At least the original members are still alive.

— How did you feel about “The Voidoids” re-union back in 2000? “Oh” was a great song.
It was great. The song was totally unusual. The meaning of the song is unusual. But it was fun playing together and the sound was still there.

— “The Voidoids” are one of the least recorded bands of all time. It’s a great shame.
I agree with you. We keep getting offers to get back together again. I’m not desperate to do it but if Richard wants to do it I would probably think about it and possibly do it with them. Obviously, being one of the “Ramones” overshadowed Richard and he would have to get over that. But the thing is he’s a wonderful talent and I would respect what he would want to do and go along with it as if it was the first time being in “The Voidoids”.

— Interesting that you’ve played in two of the greatest New York punk bands and they’re both known as punk bands yet they’re completely different. Completely different music styles — as you were saying there’s plenty of time changes in “The Voidoids” and no such thing in the “Ramones”.
(laughing) No. Not because the “Ramones” didn’t want to but because they couldn’t. You can’t go from 4/4 to 5/4 to 6/8. You had to stay at 4/4 with the abilities they had. They had completely different energies. There was a little more train of thought with “The Voidoids” and a little more on auto-pilot with the “Ramones”.

— Which did you enjoy more?
— I liked the energy of the “Ramones” more but the intricate playing style that I had to use with “The Voidoids” tested my abilities more you know.

— One of the most notorious characters you’ve come across in your time is Phil Spector who produced the “Ramones” “End of the Century” LP in 1980. How did you find him?
— Great. I had a great time with him. So did Joey. The other two didn’t. The “Ramones” were used to working very quick. Phil worked slow. Also, me and Phil would drink together when we had the time or the chance. You get loose and you start cracking up about things. He came from Brooklyn, the Bronx. That’s where I came from. He’s the greatest producer and at the time he had a drinking problem and I think it affected his ability someway but on that album (“End of the Century”) there were some great songs. Certain personalities go together better than others. Johnny couldn’t stand him. Dee Dee couldn’t stand him. Joey loved him and I liked him. As a person I thought he was a riot. I thought he was very funny. I knew it was all show off stuff. He was no murderer or gunslinger but he did have them on him. He was an insecure person. That’s why he had to have bodyguards and stuff like that. But as a producer nobody comes close. Nobody, I don’t care who they are. When he did his hits he only had three or four tracks to work with. If all the big producers of today had to do what he did on four tracks they wouldn’t have a clue. It’s all in mono. You had to know where to place the mikes, you had to know where to get the tones. George Martin was great but he was basically an arranger. Phil Spector is a producer.

— What’s the most wigged out story you can give us about Phil Spector?

— The fact that if he couldn’t get his way he’d wave his guns around and stamp his feet. Bang the studio console. But that’s as far as it went. He never pointed a gun at Dee Dee Ramone. I mean a lot of people weren’t in the studio. A lot of people would say things about him that didn’t even happen because they want their 15 minutes of fame. Phil didn’t allow anyone in the studio — not even our road manager, Monte Melnick, who he threw out. He didn’t want anybody in there bar Ed Stasium and Larry Levine who was our engineers and the band.

— What was it like being a drinker in a scene that was awash with heroin?
— It was basically Richard Hell, Johnny Thunders, Dee Dee and Jerry Nolan who would cop heroin together. I never stuck anything into my arm. I was never into hard drugs. I binged out on booze. Between me and (writer) Legs McNeil we could drink a hundred people under the table. But see Joey never did anything like that, neither did Johnny.

— What would say is your favourite “Ramones” song?
Of course I liked “Blitzkrieg Bop” and “Sheena” which Tommy played on. I liked “Sedated”, “Rock ‘n’ Roll High School”, “I Just Wanna Have Something To Do” and “The KKK Took My Baby Away”. “Poison Heart’, “Pet Semetary”. So those are the songs I like but I think the list can go on. There’s so many...

— What about your favourite “The Voidoids” song?
“Blank Generation” without a doubt. I mean that song was being played in New York more than “Blitzkrieg Bop”. That song says it all. It’s very different, it’s a like a shuffle with a jazz influenced tag that connects the chorus to the verse. A lot of bands have copied that part.

— You’ve played with many other people from blues artist Johnny Shines to Wayne County to your own bands like “The Speedkings”, “The Ramainz” and “The Intruders”. What would you say was the greatest achievement outside of the “Ramones” and “The Voidoids” that you played on?
Probably “Max’s Kansas City” by Wayne County. I like that. He was a great songwriter, wonderful singer. He had a lot of balls to do what he did in ’74, coming out of the closet like that. I respect him for that. He was from Georgia and had a great Southern drawl that he would use in his singing. He was a natural. Unfortunately, at the time, it was just too extreme. That was his thing — shock value. Back then there was nothing like that in rock so we were restricted to playing New York City — “Max’s Kansas City” and CBGB’s. It was then I realised how far we could go and that’s when I had enough and decided to form the band “The Voidoids” with Richard Hell.

— Why did you leave “The Voidoids”?
Well, we did the tour together with “The Clash” through Europe in the fall of ’77 but Richard didn’t like getting spit on, he didn’t like touring because it was hard for him to cop. He was very irritable and, I guess, he wasn’t roadworthy. He didn’t like the road, I did. So when I got back in the first week of November I wasn’t happy because we weren’t doing nothing. Sitting around writing more songs for a second album and I didn’t feel we were promoting the first one enough so why do a second? So I did all the demos, then I was asked by Dee Dee to join the “Ramones” and I said sure.

— How easy was the transition from Marc Bell into Marky Ramone?
Well, I wanted to keep my name but they said it didn’t flow. When I was a kid my grandmother used to call me Marky. There was a cereal made in America called Maypo and cartoon character that pushed the product was named “Marky Maypo”. We tried other names like Jeffrey, Timmy, we even tried Rocky because Rocky the movie was big at the time. But I thought Marky was good...

— Has it been hard to lose the name after so many years?
No. No. No. What’s in a name?

— The “Ramones” have been name checked by a lot of bands as an influence...
You could say thousands.

— Have you ever thought “I’ve got a lot to answer for?”
Along with other four “Ramones”? I hope what I have to answer is in a positive way that we influenced these bands so they were able to play their instruments and they didn’t have to be Juilliard graduates music students. They were able to pick up a guitar or drum set and not have to study for years. “Green Day”, “The Offspring”, “Rancid”, “The Clash”, “The Pistols”, “The Buzzcocks”. I mean it’s a nice thing to know you’ve inspired these kind of people...

Chris Hollow, www.brella.org

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