PUNK ROCK BLITZKRIEG
MY LIFE AS A RAMONE
A Book by Marky Ramone
Reviewed by Marla Santos
Photo by Mumu Silva
“Hey ho! Let’s go! Hey ho! Let’s go!” The vocal chant at the beginning of “Blitzkrieg Bop”, probably the Ramones’ most famous song, is heard not only at the Yankees games, but at many sports events today, even 40 years after their song first became popular. The fast-paced punk rock group believed that rock ‘n roll was no longer fresh and raw in the early 1970’s, so they developed their own unique musical style and became the forefathers of punk rock.
In his newly released book, Punk Rock Blitzkrieg: My Life As A Ramone, Marky Ramone tells his side of the story—and it is a story worth reading. As Marky explained to me when he autographed his book for me: “It’s a real rollercoaster ride!”
Joey, Johnny, Dee Dee and Tommy were friends going to high school in Queens, New York. These four faux “brothers” gave themselves pseudonyms for first names, and then they all adopted the surname of “Ramone”, even though they weren’t related.
At the same time, Marc Bell had been drumming with heavy metal rock band, Dust, one of only five metal bands in America at that time. “I was only 15 when I joined the group with Richie Wise, who went on to play bass for everyone, and Kenny Aaronson, who later produced the first KISS album. Dust songs were written before we had ever heard of “Black Sabbath.” When Dust disbanded, Bell officially became a Ramone, and was named “Marky Ramone” by Johnny, Joey and Dee Dee. Marky, who dressed punk before punk became cool, was a natural fit for the Ramones with his “blitzkrieg” style of drumming. The Ramones were raw and edgy with their black leather jackets, their skinny ripped jeans, and tough personas. In a few weeks after Marky joined, he was in the studio recording his first album with the Ramones titled, “Road to Ruin”, which included the hit, “I Wanna Be Sedated”. Marky spent 15 years drumming with the band and played 1,700 shows.
“When the Ramones took the stage, there was no bullshit. The musical barrage began with Dee Dee screaming into the microphone, ‘one, two, three, four’ before each song. It was four seemingly street kids in jeans and T-shirts. Their hair was long, but not like a hippies’. Their songs lasted two minutes—maybe two and a half. The lyrics told simple stories of beating up a neighborhood brat, sniffing glue, being afraid to go down in the basement. A whole show was fifteen maybe twenty minutes, and if that was too short? Fuck you!”
Joey was born Jeffrey Hyman on May 19, 1951. At the age of 13 he started playing drums. In 1974 he co-founded the Ramones with friends Johnny and Dee Dee. Originally the drummer for the Ramones, he switched to become the vocalist when Dee Dee’s vocal cords were unable to meet the demands of consistent live performances. Joey had no vocal training and his unorthodox voice with cracks, snarls, and crooning made him and the Ramones’ sound very recognizable. With long black hair that almost covered his face and his towering height of 6’6”, he presented a very distinctive figure. Joey struggled with alcoholism and obsessive-compulsive-disorder (OCD), an anxiety disorder that causes the brain to get stuck on a particular thought or urge that you act out again and again. Joey was also born sterile, so he never married or fathered any children. Friends and family say he was extremely friendly, jovial, and a caring person. Johnny and Joey’s personalities clashed over many things, but being opposites, politically, certainly fueled the tension. Johnny was a true conservative, while Joey was a liberal. Johnny spent two years in military school and learned self-discipline, while Joey had his OCD to deal with. To top things off, Johnny stole Joey’s girlfriend, Linda Daniele, and married her. Despite performing together, for years afterward the two band members stopped talking to each other. When the rooms were booked at the hotels, they would put Joey on another floor than the rest of the band. This was to assure the other three members would be able to get some sleep.
“Joey would get a room on a different floor. When I checked out his room on the 4th floor, Joey was opening and closing the door again and again. Just like home. The band preferred getting some sleep, to hearing their lead singer come and go nowhere all night. Joey not only had trouble getting out of his room; he had trouble getting out of the shower. It wasn’t easy for him to get in, in the first place. At six-foot-six, the shower nozzles were too low for him, so he had to squeeze underneath to wash his hair, taking care not to smash his head against the plumbing. Getting out of the shower wasn’t much easier. And then the excruciating repetition began: getting in and out a dozen more times.”
Johnny Ramone was born John William Cummings on October 8, 1948. Johnny’s father was very strict. Johnny is quoted as saying: “My father would say how he never missed a day’s work. I broke my big toe the day I had to go pitch a Little League game and my father was going—‘What are you—a baby? What did I do, raise a baby? You go play.’ And I had to go pitch the game with my broken toe.” Then at 14 he went to military school and there was no calling in sick. Johnny was a lifelong New York Yankees fan and particularly fond of Mickey Mantle. When Johnny was a teenager he was known as a greaser who played in a band called the Tangerine Puppets with Erdélyi Tamás (Tommy Ramone). Johnny was known for his fast, high-energy guitar playing. He created the buzz saw-like sound by playing rapid down strokes. This playing style gave the Ramones their unique sound and influenced many other punk rock guitarists. Johnny never had a child, because the Ramones were his baby that he was obsessed with. Johnny said: “I mostly went to our shows alone. I’d go out to CBGB and I’d think, ‘I’m surrounded by a bunch of assholes.’ People thought I was unfriendly, but I wasn’t. I just didn’t like the people I was around. I didn’t have anything in common with them. Rock and roll is an unhealthy lifestyle. You have too much freedom, and there is a lot of pressure to produce. People who don’t know how to handle the situation take drugs. I didn’t. I went back to my room with milk and cookies.”
“John was the bully of the group. His bark was usually worse than his bite, but still John laid down rules of the road. One of them was no smoking cigarettes in the van, which was a problem for Tommy, who smoked. On a trip to Chicago, John took a plane out early. Tommy was relieved to be able to smoke, but what he didn’t count on was Dee Dee and Joey taking mushrooms as they pulled out of New York. The two of them were hallucinating heavily for a few hundred miles on Route 80. While Dee Dee was counting pink elephants, Joey was counting clouds shaped like Superman.”
Dee Dee was born on September 18, 1951 to a German father and American mother. Dee Dee’s life was a living disaster. He started getting high on morphine (they didn’t have pot or heroin in Germany at the time) at the young age of 12. He continued to struggle with drug addiction for the rest of his life. He was a male prostitute, a would-be mugger, an accomplice to armed robbery, a heroin user and dealer, but he liked rock ‘n’ roll, and this allowed his poetic genius to come out. Best known as a founding member of the Ramones, he was a prolific lyricist and songwriter, as well as the bass player for the group. It was Dee Dee who would shout off the tempo of each song with “1-2-3-4!”
“Dee Dee had no problem getting in and out of the shower or the tub. He would take four or five baths or showers a day. It was not easy to cram in all that bathing activity, but he managed. Then there was the bedtime bubble bath. All the way across the Keystone state, Dee Dee talked about the luxurious bubble bath he was going to prepare that night. Dee Dee was not only super clean, he was super shaved. He liked to shave the hair thoroughly off his chest and arms. Dee Dee was revolted by the smell of Joey. Dee Dee would freak out sometimes when he got a whiff. He would complain that Joey should wash his clothes and get some cologne. If only Dee Dee could have taken a shower for Joey, they could have solved The Ramones entire hygiene problems.”
“Dee Dee was a nut and known to exaggerate. It takes a nut to be involved with two psychotic women at once. About a year before, he was living in an apartment with Connie, a violent stalker, prostitute, and drug addict. Dee Dee was also having a fling with Nancy Spungen, the schizophrenic girlfriend of Sex Pistols bassist, Sid Vicious. When Connie came home to find Dee Dee in bed with Nancy, she grabbed an empty beer bottle, smashed it, and stabbed Dee Dee in the ass with the jagged edge.”
Marky was born Marc Steven Bell on July 15, 1956. The epic wear and tear of a dysfunctional group endlessly crisscrossing the country and the planet in an Econoline—practically a psychiatric ward on wheels—drove Marky from partying to alcoholism. When his life started to look more out of control than Dee Dee’s, he knew he had a problem. One weekday afternoon in 1983, Marky was asked to leave the band due to his alcoholism. In his book, he opens up honestly about the rehabs, the D.T.’s and the craziness that drinking too much can do to you. He openly shares about his recovery, becoming a regular at Alcoholics Anonymous and about staying sober while living with the dysfunctions and chemical appetites of the band members when he rejoined the Ramones four years later in 1987.
“Joey broke the news and I was disappointed; I was angry. John couldn’t stand Joey. Joey couldn’t stand John. Joey couldn’t stand Dee Dee. Dee Dee couldn’t stand John. John could just about put up with Dee. And their solution was to throw me out. Me!”
“There was something large and fuzzy moving slowly through the backyard. There were scales, a large tail, and three long pointy horns. It was a dinosaur—specifically a triceratops. A fucking triceratops! He was thirty feet long and fifteen feet tall. He had one eye right on me through the kitchen window. I bolted out the front door without closing it behind me and ran through the streets of Brooklyn as if the triceratops were right behind me. I didn’t want to look. I made it home, ran upstairs, closed the door behind me in the bedroom, pulled down the shades, turned off the lights, and got under the covers.”
Marky vividly describes the D.T.’s and his time spent in rehab. The first one was nice, too nice to really help. Then he went into a hard core drug rehab, where there were security guards at every door, no TV’s to watch, no tapes to listen to and no phone calls to make. He shared an open room with about 40 cots for the other male patients. After the longest month of his life, Marky left and vowed never to take a drink again.
“When I left the rehab, they told me I needed to do physical labor. I decided to be a bicycle messenger for a while and then I moved on to demolition work. I put up wrought iron gates to stop the crack houses that were around Brooklyn at the time.
Then four years later, Marky got a call saying the group needed him back. Johnny and Marky met at a rehearsal studio and Johnny plugged in his guitar and we launched into “Commando”. I felt a smile come across my face and it was like coming home. After the songs, I saw a side of John I didn’t often see—a side hardly anyone ever saw, and he said: “Marc, it’s like you never left.”
“In 1987, I already had four years of sobriety. I would go to AA, a lot of the times in the morning, afternoon and night. I really put some time into that, and at that moment, I needed it. When it was time to play with them, I was on good ground.”
After filming the cult classic film, Rock ‘n’ Roll High School, Phil Spector became interested in the band and recorded End Of The Century with them. The legendary producer was known for his “Wall of Sound”. Having many guitars, basses, horns and strings all play at the same time created the base, and then he’d overdub again and again, add reverb, and this became the big “Wall of Sound” Spector was looking for.
“There were turrets on either side of Phil Spector’s Beverly Hills mansion. It was less of a house than a compound. There were a lot of warning signs. Do not enter. Do not touch gate. Beware of attack dogs. Once inside, I saw a gigantic kitchen with a massive Saint Bernard chained up in the corner. He looked big enough to drag the mahogany cabinets and marble counters with him if he really wanted to. If a visitor for some reason tried something unwise and somehow got past Phil’s guns, and Phil’s karate, the dog would maul whoever it was. Phil had a concept in mind for the opening chord of “Rock ‘n’ Roll High School”. He liked the opening chord to the Beatles’ “A Hard Day’s Night” and wanted Johnny to let his opening chord ring. Johnny wanted to wring Phil’s neck. Johnny would stroke down on the G and stand there while it rang, looking down at his Keds sneakers. Meanwhile Phil shook his head and pounded the console. We lost count of how many times Phil had him play it. Phil reached for his gun. Dee Dee sat up straight. Joey put down his Coke. Phil had pulled a gun on Leonard Cohen in this same room. Phil had fired a shot off in the studio during the recording of John Lennon’s album of classic cover songs. Now he would have Johnny Ramone make history, even if he had to kill him. Relief came as it often does: in the form of two L.A. prostitutes. They walked in one after the other. One hooker was a bleached blonde wearing red spandex and a tight, low-cut silk blouse. The other had dark hair and an olive complexion with a body wrapped in denim so tight that if you opened a button, she might pop like a balloon. Both hookers wore fur coats. It was eighty-two degrees on this May afternoon in Southern California. Our producer Phil followed L.A.’s finest out the control room door. Phil’s drill was to disappear into a side office and return ten or fifteen minutes later, as if he had been to the men’s room. We didn’t know exactly what to call this kind of break, so we called it lunch. The control room door flew open. It was Johnny. “You all saw that. He was going to fucking shoot me.” Phil was in a good mood when he walked back into the control room. The L.A. hookers were worth their weight in gold. Maybe platinum. There was “happy Phil,” and there was “down Phil.” There was “understanding Phil,” and there was “maniac Phil.” We needed “producer Phil.”
Dee Dee disliked Phil Spector immensely, telling writer Legs McNeil: “The recording was a nightmare—it couldn’t have been worse. One time he made Johnny play the guitar chord to the beginning of “Rock ‘n’ Roll High School” over and over again for about six or eight hours. Phil just sat there listening to it in a daze, and finally Johnny said, “Look, I can’t do this anymore, I’m going back to New York!” Phil said, “No, just give it a chance, there’s something I’m trying to hear.” And he’d sit there dazed—it sounded the same every time Johnny played it—I don’t know what he was listening for.”
Johnny’s version of the sessions went like this: Stomping his feet and screaming, “Shit, piss, fuck! Shit, piss, fuck!” I couldn’t take it anymore. So I just said, “I’m leaving,” and Phil said, ‘You’re not going anywhere.’ I said, “What are you gonna do, Phil, shoot me?” Here’s this little guy with lifts in his shoes, a wig on his head, two bodyguards, and four guns—two in his boots and one on each side of his chest. After he shot that girl, I thought, “I’m surprised that he didn’t shoot someone every year.”
~During the sessions, John’s father died of a heart attack. When we saw John, he was pale, numb, and shell-shocked. One bookend to his life was John Wayne, and the other was his father. He idolized his dad. He was always trying to please him, to prove himself. Cover photo by Mumu Silva – Flicker.com/photos/mumusilva