MARKY RAMONE is a lot like your dad–you know, if your dad wasn't planning on voting for McCain, was a Rock And Roll Hall-of-Famer and once made an appearance on The Simpsons. The 51-year-old Marky (known proper as Mark Bell) spent 1978-1983 and 1987-1996 with the Ramones, and has previously done time for hard rock act Dust and another classic punk act, Richard Hell & The Voidoids. Currently, Ramone has a custom sex kit out courtesy of STD-awareness raisers Readytwogo, though he's involved in plenty of other projects that result in making beautiful music a little more literally. Ramone recently conversed with our correspondent Brian Shultz on such topics.
You have a lot of things you're involved with currently, which I was honestly surprised about.
I always wanted to do this since I was a kid in school. I wasn't a really good student, and I enjoyed music more than anything, so I guess that's just an extension of what I always wanted to do. I had to go to summer school three years in a row; I had to go to night school three years in a row, and I didn't really have a life except for playing.
We'll start with the Teenage Head record you drummed on. I would imagine you and Teenage Head go back to your days in the Ramones.
Oh, no, no, no. What happened was, I was in Canada with Daniel Rey and he produced two Ramones albums and Joey [Ramone]'s solo album that I recorded with. Teenage Head knew that I was in Canada and asked me to do an album with them. I heard the tapes–the CD, whatever they gave me, and I liked what I heard. I said, “I could do this within two days if Daniel is gonna produce.” So we did it, and that was the result. The first mix I didn't like; [I] told them to remix it, and then the second mix came out really good. So finally the album came out, [and] I was very happy with it.
Would you consider recording with the band again?
Once is enough. I was happy to do that, [but] there's just other things that I want to do. I really don't wanna commit to any bands.
So you're not looking to do any touring with Teenage Head in support of the record?
Oh, that was just a one-off thing, like I did on Joey's solo album and the Misfits album. But it was fun, and they're great guys–really, really good guys.
You've got some European tour dates coming up after having done some spoken-word tours in the past. Is this a spoken-word tour, or do you plan on playing songs?
Since I'm the only member left of the Ramones playing Ramones songs, I usually do a 30-song set of Ramones songs with my band. So far it's been in Japan, Europe, South America and Mexico, and they want me to come back there to do it since there's so many kids now that didn't see the Ramones live either because we retired in 1996 or because the other three aren't with us anymore. I think if we would've had a three-year or four-year rest-over, we would've reunited, but I feel the songs are too good not to be played. I enjoy playing them, and that's what drives me to do it, and that's what I'll be doing, basically, this summer and a few other things.
So the response has been overwhelmingly positive to that?
I see everything on YouTube, and I see how they react, and I have the videos and yeah, I'm very happy that I'm able to do this to present this to old Ramones fans and new Ramones fans who still like hearing these songs. It's a good feeling.
You mention going on YouTube; have you ever looked at old live videos of yourself playing with the band and kinda been tripped out by it?
There's so many things that eventually I'm gonna have to put up some stuff on my own that is of a better quality, audio-wise and visually. I have so much Ramones stuff and new stuff that I've been doing that I have at my disposal. I wanna put that stuff eventually on MarkyRamone.com or Marky Ramone MySpace, because of the visual and audio control, the quality of it.
At your Hall of Fame induction, you cited Tommy as a huge influence to your drumming. What other drummers have you looked up to through the years?
Well, he wasn't a huge influence on my drumming. Tommy was there in the studio when me, Johnny, Joey and Dee Dee were rehearsing, so there were songs that he knew already obviously because he recorded them and I didn't. [He gave] me a few hints and pointers that he did, that by that point when I finished my auditioning the band, I was onto the tapes of Road To Ruin, the album that I was gonna record. Tommy [did] what was helpful at that stage of the game. But other drummers that I was influenced by-I loved Buddy Rich. I love Hal Blaine of Phil Spector's session [ensemble], the Wrecking Crew. I like Keith Moon a lot…Ringo Starr obviously, because when I was 8 years old, the Beatles were on TV and–[Laughs.]–that's when I wanted to play, when I saw him. That was a big joy to me, to see them. In reality, that was basically it.
I don't have satellite radio and it seems playlists are hard to find, so I was just curious as to what you play on your radio show on Sirius Satellite Radio.
I just play punk. New, old…I play punk from the ’70s, ’80s, ’90s and now. I feel that a lot of bands when they started out had great songs, but they weren't played because what punk was up against was disco and stadium rock and a lot of the DJs at the time were really still in the ’60s. [I was] friends of those bands and [the DJs] didn't want to play punk. [It] was a threat to that genre of music and they just didn't want to play it. Obviously, just having one radio show isn't gonna bring everything back the way I felt it should've been, but I play two hours on Tuesday night and the rerun on Saturday. It's called The Punk Rock Blitzkrieg on channel 29. I just hope to get to people who never heard this stuff before on a larger scale from East to West coast. Luckily, we have a satellite now that is able to do that, which is really cool.
Your band Osaka Popstar has a new live album coming out soon…
My band… I was asked to play drums for it because they're friends of mine and it was really the brainchild of a guy named John Cafiero and he manages the Ramones' production. He's the singer/songwriter, and I loved the songs and we gave it a Ramones feel to them and it's one of the best albums that I ever played on. I really love that album a lot.
Are you looking to write any new material with the band yourself?
Maybe that'll happen in the future. I haven't seen anything yet; if I hear what I like, I'll do another album.
Let's talk about your sponsorship and custom tin for Readytwogo a little bit.
What persuaded you to get involved with this?
There's so much Ramones merchandise–which is fine, but I was approached by a company to do this and I knew one guy, a very close friend of mine who died of AIDS and since we are…since the government is spending so much money in the war on Iraq and everything else they're not really devoting time to teach safe sex. I think, unfortunately, a lot of schools are squeamish to teach it. Churches won't teach it. This is a killer. So are a lot of other venereal diseases, so when I was asked to do it and part of the [it] was going to a charitable organization I said, “Of course.” I feel that more people should get involved with it because it's not only the young people [who] get AIDS, it's older people in nursing homes. They're having sex, too, and they're getting venereal diseases. So it's not just the youth. It's all ages. I would say maybe just until five, six years ago it was kind of ignored. It was just dropped, because mainly, probably the right-wing conservative coalition and all that stuff…fundamentalists…they turn away from teaching sex education.
Look, I'm into believing in God. I think it's a godly thing to do to help stop the spread of diseases and death.
So you could say that you're proud to have a piece of Ramones merchandise out that has a socially conscious slant to it.
Well, I didn't think that at first. The first thing I thought of [was], “Hey, you could help save some lives.” If that's the case, and it sounds good what you just said, [then] of course. I feel that more people should be getting involved with this. There's a lot of fans of other bands and individuals. That doesn't necessarily mean they're gonna listen, but at least you're giving them the choice.
Even though I know you didn't play on the song, I find the connection between this and the song “53rd And 3rd” interesting, because the song describes a spot in New York City that was kind of a center for male prostitution, even though it doesn't directly address AIDS or HIV.
Oh yeah, that was a story about Dee Dee Ramone, at the time when he was in New York City. And it's a fact; I think it's in his book that he was a chicken hawk, meaning that people would take him as a young guy and he would make money turning tricks. He never really wanted to discuss that, he mentioned in his book. He was a very close friend of mine, and he didn't mind telling people about this stuff. But the thing is, that was 35 years ago. AIDS wasn't even around then.
Moving on, are you familiar with a specific style of pop-punk referred to as “Ramonescore”?
I heard everything. Can you give me an example?
I'm sure you're familiar with bands like Screeching Weasel or the Groovie Ghoulies.
Yeah, they're great. Groovie Ghoulies are great; Screeching Weasel do good. I think they all did Ramones albums over. The Vandals, Boris The Sprinkler…let me see who else…Mr. T Experience… Is that who you're referring to?
Right, though what I wanted to ask you about was, even though obviously the Ramones have influenced so many bands through the last 30 years or so, there's actually a specific group of pop-punk bands today who tour around the country in small clubs, basements and living rooms that carry on that really obviously Ramones-influenced tradition of three-chord pop-punk. I wanted to ask if you've heard of any of those bands, or enjoy any specific ones.
Yeah, I play all these groups on my radio show, because I like them. I get to choose who I play. I always play one or two Ramones songs that these bands have done because they spent their time rehearsing; they spent the money recording the songs and I think they all do good jobs.
Who are some newer punk bands you really enjoy?
I like Gallows from England–they're England's premiere new punk band. I think the Riverboat Gamblers are good. I like MxPx. Against Me! I like. There's a lot of good stuff, a lot of good new stuff.
So, I'm not familiar with your personal politics, but did you ever find yourself at odds with Johnny on those grounds?
I'm a liberal democrat. He was a conservative republican. That we didn't agree upon. The things we did agree upon were what movie posters we wanted to get, certain musical stuff that we liked…but when it came to the politics, it was mainly me and Joey who were more on the liberal democratic side and Dee Dee and John were Reagan/Bush guys.
For instance, I would do benefits for AIDS, and Johnny and Dee Dee really didn't want to do that. I would do a benefit with Joey for women's rights, and a lot of times the Ramones didn't want to get involved with that, but that was something me and Joey were into. That's what made the band interesting. We were different people and it just created more of a situation to get the music on the stage.
Did you ever find yourself getting into heated arguments with Dee Dee or Johnny?
Well, the thing is this: I always told them that Reagan and Bush really, I feel, destroyed a lot of things that were built up by democrats. And now, if you look back, I'm right [about] what's happened. To them, they didn't understand my philosophy. Now this guy, Scott McClellan [former White House Press Secretary under President George W. Bush] just wrote a book about his experiences in the White House, which was cool that he let out. I was right all along, and no one listened and my whole argument was you deserve what you vote for. Now we see it. The gas prices, homes–the foreclosure situation, people out of work… There's no troops here, they're all over there [in Iraq]. If we get invaded today, who's gonna be here to protect our country? They're over there supporting somebody's personal interest.
To have this kind of argument with John or DeeDee, they would disagree. But Joey would always agree because that's just where he came from. alt