For more than two decades, New York rockers The Ramones were at the forefront of a musical revolution, leading the charge with the attitude and sound of the punk movement, and inspiring and empowering multiple generations of fans.
Rightly considered one of the greatest and most beloved rock n’ roll bands of all time, The Ramones blazed a path through the music world with their two minute, buzzsaw anthems that combined an independent spirit and raw approach coupled with sincere songwriting and a strict work ethic.
For 15 of those years, drummer Marky Ramone kept the beat going steady and strong behind the group, playing 1,700 shows, recording classic songs like “I Wanna Be Sedated” and appearing in the iconic movie Rock N’ Roll High School.
Now, nearly 20 years after The Ramones called it a day, and the original lineup have all passed away, Ramone —born Marc Bell — is sharing his side of the story, the way he saw it, from behind the kit every night and in the van every day.
In his new autobiography, Punk Rock Blitzkrieg: My Life As A Ramone (Touchstone), he goes in depth into his life growing up, his start in the music world — he played with Wayne County and Richard Hell in the early days — and eventually his stint in the Ramones — the longest-serving drummer the band had. He'll read from the book, and speak with SF Chronicle pop music critic Aidin Vaziri tomorrow, Saturday, Jan. 25, at the Jewish Community of San Francisco. Ramone details both the good and the bad times in the band throughout the tome's nearly 400 pages, from when he joined up after the departure of original drummer Tommy Ramone in 1978, through the trials and tribulations of his comrades, to his own battle with alcoholism and eventual return to the stage.
“There’s a lot of Ramones books out there, and I was in the band for 15 years and did 1,700 shows, so I felt that it was valid and that it was time to tell what it was really like in the inner circle,” says Ramone over the phone.
“People would always come up to me and ask, ‘What were they like?’ Well, now they’ve got it!”
Fans will love the behind the scenes stories, laughing at certain ones, such as where Dee Dee Ramone is bored waiting for his luggage at the airport and simply starts going through other passengers’ suitcases, while they will also see the toll that the day-to-day life as a touring band can take on its members.
“We had a 15-passenger Ford Econoline. Being in a van touring for 15 years like that, there’s no escape. You’re in there and you notice idiosyncrasies, you really see the core of the person,” says Ramone.
“We weren’t blood brothers, but we were closer than family in a lot of ways. We were brothers, we were bandmates — brothers argue. Bandmates argue, bandmates make up. Sometimes there are members that don’t get along, sometimes they become best of friends.”
One of the things in particular that created a division between band members was politics — with liberals Marky and Joey facing off against noted conservative Johnny.
“I’m friends with conservatives, I just don’t agree with their politics, that’s all. But to hear it every time in the van, every day, it got a little grating on me and Joey, because time has proven that Ronald Reagan wasn’t the greatest president, that Richard Nixon resigned because of Watergate.”
Another subject that was the source of strife in the van was religion: Marky says that Johnny would make some very anti-Semitic remarks to Joey over time.
“Some people were raised differently than others, but when you start making fun of people’s religion, it can become dangerous. That’s how stuff got started in a lot of cases in history.”
“Deep down inside, John was a good guy, I just thought that the bigoted stuff was a little too much after a while. I really think he did it just to annoy Joey. Joey was a liberal Democrat, and [Johnny] was a right-wing conservative.”
One of the sad details revealed in the book is that when Joey was in the hospital fighting the cancer that would eventually take his life in 2001, Marky says that none of his other bandmates came to visit him.
“That I could never understand — even if you do have animosities towards the person, you’ve got to drop them at certain times and just let them go. At least make a phone call.”
Despite touching on the friction and hurt feelings that took place from being so close to each other for such a long time, the book is a treasure trove for Ramones fans, chronicling the band’s rich history in all of its glory, warts and all.
“What I wrote in the book is what I observed. This might sound cliché, but my father taught me that if you’re going to talk about other people’s personalities, you better make sure that you talk about yours the same way, which I did. I didn’t have to put in my whole stint in rehab, and what I went through with that, but I did because if somebody is reading the book, and they have a problem, maybe that can give them the inspiration to get help.”
Ramone has been touring the country in support of his book over the past couple of weeks, and while doing so he says he has been getting to meet fans and hear their stories about what the band has meant to them in their lives, and the groups’ lasting legacy.
“We worked very hard, 22 years altogether, doing at least 115 to 125 shows a year. In the end, 90 percent of it was fun. I’m very grateful for that.”