BOOK: Marky Ramone’s “Punk Rock Blitzkrieg: My Life as a Ramone”
Review and photograph by Thomas Dimopoulos
“For Christmas 1961, my parents bought me my first transistor radio… a whole new world opened up.”
During the past 45 years, beat-keeper Marky Ramone has had a seat in the downtown Manhattan birthing room of some of the world’s greatest rock and roll happenings. His newly published autobiography, “Punk Rock Blitzkrieg: My Life as A Ramone,” follows a linear path through the life of the Brooklyn-born drummer from his youngest years to the present day, and as the title suggests, pays considerable homage to his 15 years as a member of the Ramones.
Born Marc Bell, he grew up playing stickball, climbing fire escapes and getting into fights with the neighborhood kids. His grandfather had worked as the chef at the Copacabana and 21 Club for a quarter-century during the heyday of movie stars and mobsters. Young Marc grew up watching “The Twilight Zone” and the Beatles perform on TV. As a young man in the 1960s, he was attracted to the drum beat of Cream’s Ginger Baker and Mitch Mitchell of the Jimi Hendrix Experience, and while in high school became a member of Dust – one of America’s earliest metal bands, and whose members Richie Wise and Kenny Aaronson would later be affiliated with some of mega-mainstream rockers of the late 20th century.
Drawing back the heavy metal curtain, Marky auditioned to fill a vacancy in the New York Dolls (Jerry Nolan got the gig), and in turn became a member of Wayne County’s Backstreet Boys, and Richard Hell’s Voidoids – with whom he toured the UK in support of the Clash in 1977 – and lived in a daily hand-to-mouth existence on the Lower East Side.
“Gangs roamed outside. There were enough cracks and holes in the plaster walls to make you think someone had started to demolish them but then for some reason stopped,” he writes. “For good measure, Beat poet Allen Ginsberg lived downstairs, maybe close enough to hear the thump of Richard (Hell’s) bass.”
Marky joined the Ramones in 1978 during the Road To Ruin recordings and played wit the band, on and off, through their farewell gig in the summer of 1996. “Punk Rock Blitzkrieg” is filled with remembrances and revelations of the group – Joey’s OCD, Johnny’s racism, Dee Dee’s drug habits, as well as Marky’s own battles with alcoholism – and collaborations with colorful characters, Phil Spector and Stephen King among them. The band that was born on the Bowery rode the new wave through the MTV generation and eventually gained acceptance on a world-wide stage, where they were greeted by fans with Beatle-esque devotion. “It was the closest a kid from Brooklyn or Queens could ever come to feeling like the Pontiff,” he writes.
To the popping up of pseudo-punk bands in the Ramones’ wake, Marky slings his drum stick like a verbal whack-a-mole: “It was called ‘new’ music, but very little of it was really new to us. In almost all of it, we could find bits and pieces and sometimes whole chunks of the things the Ramones and our fellow punk bands were doing fifteen years earlier.”
By 2004, Joey, Johnny and Dee Dee were all dead. Last summer the band’s original drummer, Tommy, passed away. Given his longevity in the band, you could say Marky is the last man standing. “I see countless people around the globe wearing Ramones T-shirts. If I had more time, I’d be happy to tell them who these guys really were,” he writes. Now, he has.