Interview: Marky Ramone on Life as a Ramone, Writer and Entrepreneur

Marky Ramone
Marky Ramone
By A.D. AMOROSI

When it comes to interviewing Marky Ramone, there are many topics to touch on. He was a heavy metal drummer (Dust) who made his bones with transvestite rocker Wayne County and punk avatar Richard Hell. He was the first, non-original Ramones member and has carried on that band’s legend with his act, Marky Ramone’s Blitzkrieg. He’s a satellite radio host for SiriusXM, a noted culinary entrepreneur selling his own ice cream, marinara sauce, cookies and beer, and now, an author with the release of his autobiographical Punk Rock Blitzkrieg: My Life as a Ramone. Marky Ramone will appear at Philadelphia’s Free Library’s main branch on January 29 at 7 PM as part of his ongoing book tour.

A.D. Amorosi: Between the food and the book, you’re selling everything you got. Were you an enterprising kid?
Marky Ramone:
Well, I sold lemonade. Yeah, you could say there was something in me that wanted to find different ways of making a living. A little boy playing marbles and betting, throwing stones at six story windows to see who could break them: I was competitive, yes.

A.D.: Did you have a real sense during the earliest parts of your drumming career that you’d be a culinary entrepreneur?
Marky: No, I was just trying to hook up with the right band and hone my skills. Really I think I wanted to give to charity and was looking for ways to do it. That’s what I do with the food. The pasta sauce, some of its proceeds go to Autism Speaks, the beer goes to Musicians without Borders, and the ice cream helps homeless children.

A.D. Dust is genius heavy metal. The reissues from last year were a real catch. Do you miss playing so heavy and fast?
Marky: I did that stuff mostly when I was 16 to 18 years old. After that, I wanted to play more to the song, not just show off what I could do, or how fast I could go. As a drummer I want to know what the song needs, where to put the fill or the chorus or verse. Mainly, you just want to be part of the band. That said, Dust was tight. After that I had my fill of heavy metal.

A.D. You worked with Wayne County. You worked with Richard Hell. Good guys or bad guys?
Marky: Wayne I loved. He was a transvestite with a lot of nerve. You have to remember, back then – the early 70s – there weren’t a lot of people coming out of the closet. He was bold, a real original. Plus he had a wonderful sense of humor. Richard? We were two different people. He was from Mississippi and into drugs. I was from New York and into beer, drinking. We were polar opposites, but I loved his songwriting. If the drugs didn’t hamper him, he could have been the punk Bob Dylan. I loved that Malcolm McLaren came to New York, saw Hell’s image, brought it back to England, and invented the Sex Pistols. Richard was integral to that whole scene.

A.D.: That’s always been true of New York though.
Marky: When the Ramones played in London in 1976, 99% of the biggest punk bands weren’t even together yet. The English are very good at copying, but with their own cool twist. The Clash always cited the Ramones as its influence.

A.D. Contrary to what people might guess, Tommy Ramone handpicked you to be the next Ramones drummer, yes? He sought you out as he wanted to get off the road to produce and manage.
Marky: After four years drumming for the Ramones, he wanted to stop touring. He asked me to join, and Dee Dee the bassist did likewise at the bar at CBGBs. Then the other two asked me. They all had to ask me. I got together with them at a rehearsal studio, I started with “I Wanna Be Sedated,” and that was it.

A.D.: Tommy must have thought very highly of you. How far from his tribal thumping did you hope to move with your own drumming for the Ramones?
Marky: I made it a little heavier. I tightened my snare drum. I hit the skins a lot harder, which is why Road to Ruin is a heavier album than the previous three albums of theirs. It was three chord stuff, but really good three chord stuff.

A.D.: Did you ever feel as if you were dumbing down your sound for the Ramones?
Marky: You play along with the song, fill stuff in. What I liked about the Ramones was the 4/4 playing, the cymbals on the eighth notes. I liked the challenge of going from heavy metal to the Ramones. I wouldn’t call it dumbing down. I’d call it a sprint, a hard fast exercise.

A.D. It’s legend that the Ramones were not close as people. On a personal level, was it a challenge of being in the band? You were in the band when you were drinking – they threw you out for that – and you were in the band when you were sober. Were they easier to deal with when you were drunk?
Marky: Nothing really changed when I came back. Everyone was still the same. I was different: a straight, more aware Marky. Plus, I never drank before I played a gig. Just after. I was a periodic drinker. I didn’t drink every day. When you’re clean and sober, you’re more aware, hyper. I just had to make certain everyone was following my beat.

A.D.: Was it hard to write about the drinking?
Marky: Not at all. I wrote about the other Ramones, which meant I had to write about myself. It’s the truth, and if I can help anyone who thinks they’re hitting it too hard, perhaps they can get off the booze reading my story.

A.D.: You tell a heartbreaking tale of how the Ramones ended, in particular, you being the only member of the band to visit Joey Ramone in the hospital when he was dying. That’s got to be hard to live with.
Marky: Yeah, it was. That was unfortunate. People are different. All I can remember is a nurse picking him up – he was so light because he lost all that weight due to cancer – and putting him in a wheelchair. He waved goodbye, I went home. Next thing you know, he’s dead. To avoid being depressed, I try to focus on our good times together.

A.D.: I’ve heard you do Blitzkrieg with Andrew W.K. singing. What does it mean to carry on the Ramones' sonic legacy in this way?
Marky: They died too young, all of them. Someone should carry on the fruits of their labor. Their songs are too good not to be played. Plus, there’s a whole new generation that wants to hear this stuff. So I continue where we left off. But I didn’t want any Ramones clones in the group, so I have Andrew. He’s no Joey. He does those songs his way, we do 36 songs a night rather than the Ramones’ usual 31, 32. It’s engaging for any audience.

A.D.: You’re part of moving this whole thing forward. What do you think of Scorsese’s Ramones film and the talk of a Broadway musical based on their lives?
Marky: We’ll see what happens. Nothing is signed, people talk. Unless it’s in writing, I can’t comment.

A.D.: What made you want to do this book now?
Marky: Being in the band for 15 years, and 1,700 shows makes it as much about the whole punk rock scene rather than just the Ramones, life in Brooklyn, the Rock n’ Roll Hall of fame, the Lifetime Achievement Grammy… it had to be told.

A.D.: You’re the last Ramone standing at 62 [Joey died of lymphoma in 2001, Dee Dee died of a drug overdose in 2002, guitarist Johnny died of cancer in 2004, original drummer Tommy died of cancer in 2014]. What does that mean?
Marky: I’m the remaining link to the other four, the originals. I don’t know what the other Ramones are doing – they are out there. I’m just that missing link.

On Thursday, January 29 at 7 PM, Marky Ramone will do a reading from Punk Rock Blitzkrieg: My Life as a Ramone at The Free Library of Philadelphia main branch, 1901 Vine Street. The event will be hosted by music critic Dan Deluca from The Philadelphia Inquirer. For more info about the reading call 215.686.5322 or visit www.freelibrary.org. For info about Marky Ramone's tour schedule, book and food stop by MarkyRamone.com.

Photo by Martin Bonetto

Posted on Thursday, January 29, 2015