MARKY MAN: Marky Ramone 'Blitzkriegs' the fairgrounds Saturday.
Last Punk Standing
Marky Ramone brings his former band's musical legacy to San Jose
By Steve Palopoli
MARKY RAMONE is certain about one thing: if they were together today, the Ramones would be the biggest band in the world.
Of course, he's right. It's not just that the music and style of the Ramones launched the entire punk movement and have left their mark on probably every rock musician who has plugged in an electric guitar since the band made their debut at CBGB's in 1974. It's that the Ramones' presence—just the idea of the band—has arguably surpassed even the Beatles and the Rolling Stones for sheer critical mass in modern pop culture. The Ramones' music has been reworked for children and turned into lullabies for babies. Their logo covers the surfaces of T-shirts, posters, bracelets, wallets, plates, skateboards and tongue rings all across America, and the world.
"There's Ramones blankets for dogs and cats," says Ramone. "It's amazing."
Currently bringing his 32-song set of Ramones classics to the El Mexicano Rock Fest at the Santa Clara Fairgrounds on Saturday, Oct. 24, Ramone remembers how unlikely their world domination seemed in the early years.
"I joined the band in '78," he says, "and the first song I did was 'I Wanna Be Sedated.' They still weren't making any leeway then. We didn't have anything. What we did have, we put into the band."
The tragic part is that the Ramones never will be back together to bask in the glory. Joey died of lymphoma in 2001, Dee Dee died of a heroin overdose in 2002 and Johnny died of prostate cancer in 2004. When he took over from original drummer Tommy Ramone, Brooklyn-born Marky had already played with two important figures on the New York rock scene, Wayne County (more famous as his later transsexual identity, Jayne County) and Richard Hell, whose song "Blank Generation" was a defining CBGB's anthem. Marky played with the Ramones for 15 years in total, and became sort of an honorary original member. Now, he's pretty much the last Ramone standing.
"Tommy plays folk music now, and more power to him," he says. "I'm the only Ramone to keep the legacy alive. Do I want this on my shoulders? I don't mind. But if I had three wishes, I wish Johnny, Joey and Dee Dee were alive."
Indeed, though he thought he was retiring his Ramoneship (he was born Marc Bell) when the band called it quits in 1996, it turns out it was only resting. With his two solo bands Marky Ramone and the Intruders and Marky Ramone and the Speedkings, as well as with pals in groups like the Misfits and Teenage Head, he continued to pound out both new songs and Ramones favorites. But since his friends' deaths, he seems to be truly on a mission, with his "Blitzkrieg" Ramones sets.
"I play them as if they're up there with me," he says. "I'm committed to doing this. I don't care where it is." That helps explain what he's doing headlining what is otherwise basically a festival of Rock en Espanol bands, including El Tri and La Cuca.
Maybe it's not such a crazy idea. When he first brought the Blitzkrieg to Mexico City, the stampede of fans was so out of control the show had to be canceled. He returned in June to play Ramones songs for 20,000 fans at Vive Latino Festival 2009.
"I'll play anywhere," boasts Ramone.
It's a work ethic he honed in the well-documented pressure cooker that was often the Ramones. After five years in the band initially, he started drinking heavily and left.
"It was being involved with a bunch of—I won't say crazy people, but a bunch of people who had maniacal idiosyncrasies. I was getting upset and depressed."
After 3 1/2 years out of the band, he was asked to join again, and the feuding dynamics between Joey and Johnny hadn't changed. But Marky believes the hardest parts of being a Ramone were overplayed in the documentary End of the Century (he produced his own first-person-perspective documentary about his experience, called Raw).
"We weren't masochists. If we hated each other that much, we would have left," he says.
In fact, he was extremely close to Dee Dee, with whom he formed the Remainz after the Ramones broke up. And he joined Joey on the Ramones lead singer's solo album, and says he was the only member of the band to visit him in the hospital. In 2002, he joined Johnny, Dee Dee and Tommy for the band's induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. "We were closer than family," he says. "You never get over the losses, but you remember the good times."
MARKY RAMONE performs Saturday, Oct. 24, at the El Mexicano Rock Fest, which begins at 8pm at the Santa Clara Fairgrounds, 344 Tully Road, San Jose. Tickets are $40; go to ElMexicanoPresenta.com.
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