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Johnny Ramone & Arturo Vega

The “Ramones” are the cornerstone of Punk Rock music period. At the height of the Disco craze, this bunch of ragged New Yorkers introduced tracks such as “I Wanna Be Sedated”, “Blitzkrieg Bop”, “Gimme Gimme Shock Treatment” and “Psycho Therapy.” They were everything that commercially popular music was not: no makeup, no elaborate stage shows, no nonsense. Marginal talent, but attitude to spare, was the “Ramones” stock in trade.

In their attempt to rescue a music scene that had become stale and predictable, the “Sex Pistols”, “The Clash” and all others followed the “Ramones” lead.

The “Ramones” sold millions of records, and played before many more millions of fans, but never won the same status in their homeland as they did in many foreign lands. In Europe, members of this leather-jacket-clad, longhaired quartet were treated as near God-like figures. To this day, many fans still make the pilgrimage to New York City to stalk the group’s haunts — and, occasionally, the “Ramones” themselves. Walk across any metropolitan campus in Egypt and you will spot more than a few students proudly wearing the classic “Ramones” logo — this despite the fact that not a note of “Ramones” music has ever been played on local radio and the group never performed within a thousand miles of Cairo.

But a desperate problem has arisen for fans in recent years. After a string of tragic deaths, only one Ramone is left to carry on the Punk Rock traditions birthed by the band: Marky Ramone.

Fortunately, that last Ramone has made it his mission to ensure the group’s music will continue to be available. With a flurry of DVD and CD releases featuring the “Ramones” and their classic songs, a new double disc of solo material and a tour to commemorate the group’s 30th Anniversary, Marky Ramone is an extremely busy man — but not so busy that he couldn’t set aside some time for an exclusive interview with “Egypt Today”. Excerpts:

— I know you’re having a cup of coffee in the early New York morning. Is caffeine your drug of choice these days?
— Yeah. I just got the kettle on with some coffee and I’m getting ready to drink some caffeine. Actually, I would like to stop it because I have been drinking two cups a day and it gets you a little edgy. I would rather not drink it, but at least I don’t smoke cigarettes.

— Were you ever a smoker?
— No. I tried it for about a week, then said, “Hey, I am coughing here!” (laughs) It just didn’t seem like a fun thing to do, so I stopped. I was about 18 at the time so I don’t think that counts really. Everyone else was doing it and, you know, you are hanging around all of these other people smoking and they are a little older than you and are like, “Hey, you want a cigarette?” And you say, “OK,” and you try it. But it wasn’t for me.

— Is it usual for you to be up this early in the morning with all of the shows you are playing?
— Yeah, I try to hit the hay around 1:30 in the morning, around there, and then get up at around 8:30 or 9:00. It is only like 65 or 70 shows a year now. I couldn’t do many more. With the “Ramones”, it was like 110 shows a year.

— Do you spread the performances throughout the year or do you have a high season?

— There are a lot of things that I do besides playing, so I have got to juggle the acts. I have a radio show on “Sirius Satellite Radio”, and it is just a matter of you getting your list of songs together. I don’t have anyone giving me a list of stuff to play, which is good. You just have to be sure that you are not repeating the songs too much and be sure to keep it flowing. So when something is enjoyable to do, it is not really time-consuming. The time just goes by kind of quick.

— What are you playing on the radio show?
— Punk Rock, bands that I felt should have been played when they came out and weren’t. For me, it is just like I am giving them a second shot on the radio because there are a lot of good songs and I feel that genre — due mostly to the fact that “Fleetwood Mac”, “Journey”, “Foreigner” and Disco music was the big deal — a lot of these bands were overlooked. There were a lot of good punk bands that had a lot of good songs, and I am going to play them.

— Punk certainly transcends cultures. For example, here in Egypt it would be impossible to walk across a high school campus and not see a few kids wearing a “Ramones” t-shirt.
— Yeah, you’re right. It’s a whole new generation of kids who are into the “Ramones”, “The Clash” and bands like that. I guess that the “Ramones” had a certain kind of magnetism and knew how to relate to youth. The lyrical content of the song was very youthful, and the look and the speed at which the band played is what seems to attract them. Even the new kids who are playing today, they want to go back and see where it all started. I still listen to Jerry Lee Lewis, Little Richard and Chuck Berry, and I know that those guys started Rock and Roll on a larger level and that is what bands like the “Ramones” did along with others like “The Heartbreakers”, Richard Hell and “Blondie”.

— Thirty years later, the “Sex Pistols” and “The Clash” are in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Is this kind of acceptance a good thing for the image of outsider music like the “Ramones”?
— It is a good thing because it shows that at this point, this genre of music is finally accepted and appreciated. The “Ramones” were the first punk band to be put into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. It shows that it is legitimate. After all of the years of trying to show the world how good this music really is, it does really mean something. Plus you are in there with all of the other bands that represent their genres of music who we liked growing up. It is a pretty cool thing.

— Who do you think should be in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame that likely won’t get in?
— Well, you got to understand the reasons that bands get in. It is not their album sales — it is what they did, their influence. Things like that go deeper than just sales, really. Who do I feel should go in that isn’t in yet? That is a great question because there are not that many bands around of that caliber. I was surprised about the “Sex Pistols” getting in because they only had one album. It is a tricky thing because there are so many bands. Why aren’t “Kiss” in? Why isn’t Alice Cooper in? I mean, “Kiss” and Alice Cooper influenced all of the makeup bands and there are so many like that.

— It seems there’s a disconnect between the Punk and Heavy Metal crowds. Was it that way for the bands themselves?
— I don’t think that there was much of a heavy metal scene — not in New York, anyway. It was really just the Punk scene of “Max’s Kansas City” and CBGB’s in New York. Heavy Metal was more on the West Coast and in Europe and Middle America. It’s funny because there are a lot of Heavy Metal bands who like Punk, but most Punk bands don’t like Heavy Metal. They are a very fussy, kind of loyal bunch.

— There were very few crossovers who had any success — “Danzig”, maybe?
— Well, “Danzig” didn’t really attain the level of a “Kiss” or a “Motley Crue” either, though. What I would say is that bands like “Guns ‘n’ Roses” and “Motley Crue” liked the “Ramones”, but punk bands wouldn’t touch a “Kiss” album or an Alice Cooper album for an influence. That was a weird thing. Kiss, the “Red Hot Chili Peppers”, “Skid Row”, Rob Zombie and Marilyn Manson all did covers of “Ramones” songs. “Rancid” and “Green Day” did songs on albums, U2 and “Pearl Jam” did as well.

When Joey passed away, “Green Day” offered to play three “Ramones” songs when the “Ramones” were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. “Pearl Jam” and I jammed together on a “Ramones” song, “I Believe in Miracles”, just three months ago in front of 20,000 people. So there are a lot of musicians in a lot of genres that liked the “Ramones”, and I am pretty grateful for that.

— Many times, an artist will get tired of his/her own catalog, but you still seem to love the “Ramones” material?
— Yeah, I still do. The songs are too good not to be played. That’s the whole thing of it. I have been getting emails and phone calls from my booking agents to come out and play “Ramones” songs for the 30th Anniversary of the band, and there are a lot of younger “Ramones” fans out there, so I guess it is good to go out there and do it once in a while.

— And there is no one really left who could do that other than you, is there?
— Well, there are bands that play “Ramones” songs, but they are obviously not one of the “Ramones”. A lot of them are paying homage to a band that they love, and it is really cool.

— How did you enjoy your time in the “Misfits”?
— Well, it was just one guy from the “Misfits”, Jerry Only. It wasn’t Danzig or Doyle and the rest of the band. It was like a third incarnation of the band. I felt bad for Jerry because his band left him, and we were friends and he wanted me to come out and play with him. I like sci-fi and horror movies, but after three and a half years of doing it, I had to leave. It was enough. You know, a lot of “Ramones” fans started to come to the shows and it started to overlap the “Misfits” fans and they were yelling, “Hey Ho, Let’s Go” and we had to start doing “Ramones” songs. I felt that was just a little too weird.

— Were you doing “Black Flag” songs as well?
— Yeah, because one of the guys was in “Black Flag” as well. It was good, you know, but ultimately I felt that it should have been done under a different name, because the kids aren’t stupid. They didn’t see Danzig up there and they didn’t see Doyle up there and that was really the “Misfits”. It is very easy to form a band and call it a name with just one original member, but you are not getting all of the original people that were in the band.

— Your latest release is actually a double CD set: one with live “Ramones” material and one that combines the two records that you did with “The Intruders”.
— Yeah. You know that the first time that those records came out, I was very impulsive and I wanted to get them out to the public quickly. It turned out that the record companies were not the right ones because they hadn’t dealt with Punk Rock before. They sold out what they made and wouldn’t make any more. They met their quota. Now I own the rights to the music again, and I reissued them.

The live thing was in Mexico and that was unbelievable. A lot of the Mexican people don’t understand English, but they are big “Ramones” fans, so whenever you open up your mouth it doesn’t matter what you say — they just applaud! (laughs) It sounds funny, but it was a great show.

What happened was that they would lower a microphone over the audience and the mic was dangling and that is how they do things there. It was very hard to separate the audience from the actual show because a lot of it bled into the microphones. Then there were at least 50 to 60 kids three to four feet away from the stage and there were mics on the stage and it all just leaked in, but it was a very exciting show, very passionate. It is always exciting to play in Latin America and Spanish-speaking countries.

— Are you doing these tunes when you go out and play?

— Just the “Ramones” stuff for this year, because it is a special year, the 30th Anniversary. Maybe next year, I’ll do “The Intruders” stuff, but I don’t want to do anything that I don’t want to do, you know? I toured with “The Intruders” for three years and it was fun, but a lot of the younger kids out there have never heard the “Ramones” or anyone from the “Ramones” live, so I feel that is the priority.

— There is a gigantic catalog of “Ramones” songs to pick from. How was it that you whittled it down to these 18?
— Well, over the years of playing with the “Ramones”, I would notice what people would react to the most, and I remembered that and sat down and wrote a list out and said, “This is what we are going to do”. I always try to throw in things from each album as well, because that is important.

— Have you had much of a chance to go to where the “Ramones” haven’t been before, such as behind what was the Iron Curtain?
— I would love to. I always like to see new things and to go new places and that is why I like to tour. There are a lot of places that I haven’t been to that I would like to go. Even doing this radio show is a new thing — I am on my thirty-fifth radio show now and I like to be confronted with new things all of the time.

— When you look back, do things still surprise and excite you?
— Yeah. I never thought that I would be DJing a huge radio station. I never thought that I would be writing my book about my times in the “Ramones” and the whole punk scene in general. Yeah, I have to admit that every day there is something weird or something “Ramones”-related or something that will remind me of Johnny, Joey and Dee Dee, who are not with us any more. Like I said, I am going to continue and play the songs for as long as I can and for as long as it is fun for the kids — and for me.

David Lee Wilson, www.egypttoday.com

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