Born Marc Bell in ‘56 in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, NY, the drummer that’s best known as Marky Ramone certainly paid his dues before becoming a Ramone in ‘78. His very honest and thorough new autobiography tells his story all the way through. We learn that as a member of one of America’s earliest bands to define the heavy metal genre, Dust, Marc tasted a bit of real success with them, as they had a record deal with the Karma Sutra/Buddha label and some good opening tour slots. Marc also played with Wayne County, who would go on to be Jayne County, America’s first transsexual act. There was also time and a record with Richard Hell and the Voidoids. Hell was the first to wear torn clothing with safety pins, and influenced the whole punk scene in England, especially the Sex Pistols.
Marc found his biggest success with The Ramones, though. At the ripe age of 22, he replaced the departed Tommy Ramone. Marc was rechristened Marky, and was expected to learn about 40 three minute songs in a very short time for a big tour. Marky would soon discover how dysfunctional the band was. Lead singer Joey’s girlfriend left him for guitarist Johnny, and they barely ever spoke thereafter because of it. Marky would also quickly realize that Joey had an extreme obsessive compulsive disorder and was often dirty with body odor. And he drank to a degree. Dee Dee, the band’s bassist, was a heroin user, serious drinker and was bi polar. None of the band members had much in common other than the music and band. They were constantly being driven on tours, etc., by their driver/tour manager/everything man Monte Melnick. Like John, Joey and Dee Dee, he hailed from Forest Hills, Queens.
Shortly after the joining the band, they began filming the film Rock ‘n Roll High School in Los Angeles. Produced by Roger Corman and directed by Allan Arkush and Joe Dante, it was quite an experience that Marky details vividly. To go from being a struggling musician in Brooklyn to being in a Hollywood movie was quite a culture shock, and it’s in keeping with all the high flying trials and tribulations that Marky, a very down-to-earth, no nonsense kind of guy, lays out in this book.
Marky was often at odds with Johnny, as the guitarist was a very frugal task master, and was quite bossy. For example, he ordered everyone’s seating placement in their van, with John always placing himself in the front and Joey all the way in the back. The constant dysfunctional nature of the band’s dynamics, along with a grueling tour and recording schedule took its toll on Marky, and his already casual drinking steadily escalated. It led to him being dismissed from the band in early ‘83. It also put his marriage to his wife Marion, whom he had known since high school, in jeopardy. She actually kicked him out a couple of times. A hard road to sobriety followed, and all this is openly discussed in the book.
A great story is a life changing experience that occurred in ‘80. Seymour Stein, the head of their record company, Sire, hired legendary but very volatile and erratic Phil Spector, (for a huge sum) to produce the band’s record End Of The Century. The craziness of Spector’s behavior and the lifestyle he led in his Beverly Hills mansion makes for a heck of a story. For example, Spector made John strum an opening chord for one of the songs over fifty times to get it just right, driving John nuts. I was laughing aloud while reading what went on.
After straightening himself out, Marky was asked to rejoin the band in ‘87. This was after his replacement Richie quit abruptly after feeling too much like a hired hand, mainly with John. The final straw was John refusing to give him an equal share of merchandise sales. It was right before a major tour and the band was desperate to fix the problem. Marky was their strongest drummer and fit in the best (when sober), and they missed and needed that. He stayed until the very end, which was ‘96. Marky had played over 1,700 shows with the band by then. So many tales throughout Marky’s life are here up through that last show, in Los Angeles, (it should have been their hometown of NYC) and they continue to the present. It’s a hard book to put down. Highly recommended reading.
Marky Ramone with Rich Herschlag Online