WASHINGTON — Rock bands don’t come any more influential than The Ramones, the edgy punk rockers from Queens, N.Y., who launched a blitzkrieg on the music industry from 1974 to 1996.
Now you can revel in behind-the-scenes stories in the new book “Punk Rock Blitzkrieg: My Life as a Ramone,” written by drummer Marky Ramone, the last surviving longtime member of the group.
“I was with the band 15 years and did 1,700 shows,” Marky tells WTOP. “There’s so much in there that it’s extremely comprehensive and I’m very proud of it.”
Clocking in at 388 pages, the book took Marky five years to write. It starts with his Brooklyn roots as Marc Bell, grandson of a Dutch immigrant who arrived in 1920 to become a chef at the Copacabana and 21 Club, hanging with everyone from Humphrey Bogart to Jackie Gleason to Judy Garland.
As for young Marc Bell, he didn’t teach himself to cook. He taught himself to drum.
“I used to play to the hits at the moment on my little mono record player,” Marky says. “I eventually got into the band Dust with two other friends and we did two albums, but we had to graduate high school! My father definitely wanted that diploma on the wall, or else the belt came out, you know what I mean? So I did that. I went to night school and summer school to deal with that.”
While most high-schoolers try to decide what they want to do in life, Marky had already found his career path, forming one of the first heavy metal bands in America.
“England was a year ahead of us, but our album was already written before Black Sabbath hit the shores in America,” he explains.
After two albums with Dust, Marky started hanging out in the New York scene. He routinely took the subway from Brooklyn to Greenwich Village and met the likes of Jimi Hendrix, Buddy Miles and Jim Morrison. He cut an album with Andrew Oldham, producer for The Rolling Stones, and a blues album with Johnny Shines, before turning punk with Wayne County & The Backstreet Boys and Richard Hell & The Voidoids. He was a regular at the club CBGB at Bowery and Bleecker Street in the East Village. He even auditioned for the New York Dolls when their drummer passed away.
Then, in 1978, he met Tommy Ramone, who convinced him to join The Ramones and change his name to Marky Ramone. The rest, as they say, is history.
The book tracks the band’s heyday, from touring the country, to working with producer Phil Spector to meeting author Stephen King, who recruited The Ramones for the title track of his horror flick “Pet Sematary” (1989) and hails them as “one of the three or four most influential American rock bands.”
The book also provides other nuggets about the band’s day-to-day struggles, including Joey Ramone’s Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. Often, the band waited in the van as Joey went back and forth, touching the curb and touching his doorknob, before finally climbing inside the van.
“We didn’t know what it was then,” Marky says of Joey’s OCD. “A lot of times, Johnny and Dee Dee thought he was pulling their legs, that he was just trying to rile them up. … Later on, we found out what it was and we understood it, but back then we didn’t.”
While there was a Ramones song called “We’re a Happy Family,” many of the stories reveal conflict within the band’s ranks, as you can expect from many rock groups.
“Traveling in a van for four or five hours a day to get to each city can be a little grating, when you have four different individual personalities,” Marky says. “There were verbal abuses at times, but nothing ever really came to blows. That’s how it is — you’re a family. You’re brothers. You’re a business. Brothers fight. Brothers make up. But unfortunately, Johnny and Joey didn’t.”
It was Marky who attempted to play peacemaker between Johnny and Joey, telling Johnny to call an ailing Joey before his death. Johnny’s response: “I don’t like him. Why should I call him?”
Joey died of lymphoma in April 2001. Dee Dee died of an overdose in June 2002. Johnny died of prostate cancer in September 2004. Marky’s predecessor, Tommy, died of cancer in July 2014.
“Cancer is an insidious disease,” Marky tells WTOP. “I feel the music is too good not to be played, and I will continue as long as it’s fun. … There’s an old saying, you’re as young as you think … I still do what I used to do 30 years ago, and when that stops, I’ll stop.”
For now, Marky is still going strong. In 2011, The Ramones received the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award — the first Grammy ever given to the band, showing the unreliability of award shows. Marky is also now in his 10th year as a DJ on Sirius XM, playing punk music for three hours twice a week. It’s here that he keeps tabs on all the new music the industry has to offer.
Indeed, today’s artists owe a great debt to The Ramones, who influenced everyone from The Sex Pistols in the 1970s to Green Day and The Offspring in the 1990s. But when asked whether any of today’s bands remind him of The Ramones, Marky was candid in his response.