INTERVIEW: Marky Ramone of The Ramones

Sitting in the lobby of the Lan Kwai Fong Hotel in SoHo, Hong Kong, it’s hard to believe I was going to have a face-to-face interview with the punk pioneer Mark Ramone, who has been the drum master behind the Ramones and Richard Hell & the Voidoids. Unlike the common perception of the mass media towards punkers – rude, outrage, nonsense and any other negative words you can think of – Marky Ramone spoke very polite, and always, with a sense of pride. You can tell he loves what he has been doing in the last 30 years – PUNK.

“You have a strong handshake.” Marky said to me, in strong Brooklyn accent. “So do you!” I replied, laughing. That is how I began the chat with the gentleman in front of me, drinking English tea, down the memory lane to the 70’s.

What do you think about Hong Kong?
I love the city. It’s amazing. It goes with the old and new… Buildings are big. The food is great. It’s like landing on a different planet.

If you could choose to live in any period of time, when would that be? Would it still be the 70’s?
Most people want to go back to their youth, but I want to see what the future is, like the spaceship, how the technology is going to change. I live in the 70’s; I grew up in the 70’s. So now I wanna see what will happen in 2020.

Would you consider trying another kind of music other than punk rock? Many musicians seem to be moving towards blues/country/jazz as they “grow up”.
I love what I play. I have a style. I like keeping it that way. I enjoy this music more than anything else. That doesn’t mean I don’t listen to other kind of music.

I remember you mentioned in an interview that you respect bands like Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin, but you never really like their music. Do you still feel the same way?
No. I respect them because they’re technically good. But when I heard them, their songs were too long… too slow. Again, I respect them as musicians, but I’m not a guy who likes technicians. I prefer styles instead of technicians.

Can you name any contemporary bands that you appreciate?
I have a radio in America (which plays punk music) and I get to hear new bands. I like the Riverboat Gamblers, the Loved Ones, Anti-Flag and the Gallows from London.

In one of the Ramone’s video biography, Tommy Ramone said Johnny’s downstroke style was inspired by the intro of Led Zeppelin’s “Communication Breakdown”. Is that true?
Yeah, he loves Jimmy Page. He always like David Bowie’s “Suffragette City”’s de-de-de-dedee-dedee… (trying to play the riff with his air guitar). And he also likes “Communication Breakdown”. Even though he’s not the lead guitar player, those are rhythm songs that’s why he likes that stuff. He idolizes Johnny Thunders from the New York Dolls and the guy from the Stooges.

Ron Asheton?
Yes! So if you bring that up together, you have Johnny Ramone.

What are your inspirations then?
When I first saw The Beatles on the Ed Sullivan Show on the television, I was eight-years old. My mother told me to come to the living room, and there was Ringo (Starr). And the next thing I wanted was to play the drums because I loved him. The Beatles looked good as a group. And as I grew up at my early teens, I loved Mitch Mitchell from Jimi Hendrix, Buddy Rich the jazz drummer, Ginger Baker from Cream, and also Keith Moon from the Who. So if you throw that up together, those are my influences.

You also mentioned the Brooklyn in the 70’s was one of the toughest place in the world. What do you think about Brooklyn having become one of the hippest places now?
Brooklyn is great. I am from Brooklyn, so it’s good to see that Brooklyn has a really cool music scene now. I just did a show there a month ago and it was great, being back in my hometown. It’s a sense of pride that you come from there, and you do a show, and “IT’S BROOKLYN!”

Do you think the tough situation back in the days inspired your music and stimulated your creativity?
It definitely inspired us, the Ramones. The way we grow is basically the same. New York is a tough place in 70’s. It was economically depressed; the garbage strikes were everywhere; a lot of gun murders and gangs’ beats. Luckily, we had CBGB to lean on and had a place to play.

What do you think about the punk ethics “live fast die young”?
We never thought that way. I mean, the Ramones started punk rock, so whoever came up with that expression believed in their way. I want to live for a long time, but the way to live is… to be healthy. I mean, it’s just a saying. Let me explain: if somebody came up to you and said “you live fast so you’re going to die young. Now you’re going to die,” I bet you are going to say, “No, please don’t kill me.” (Laughs.) It’s not how human beings are (to die young), unless you do a lot of drugs or drinking. It sounds punk, but in reality, I don’t think people think that way. I don’t. I mean, Lemmy (Motörhead) tried to do it a few years ago, and he’s still alive.

It’s good for him.
M: He’s great. I love him. He lives a long life so far and still going.

I always like the heavy leading drum lines on “Anxiety”. Is the drum more prominent because you co-wrote the song?
Thanks! It was a good song. Well, the prominent (drum sounds) of that album, “Mondo Bizarro”… every arm is different and every producer is different. I’m not going tell the producer what to do. It they want to put the drums at the background, it’s their business; if they want to bring that up, fine.

Do you have any plans to write new materials for this band?
We have already put two singles out. Michale Graves, the band, and I are going to do an album in November. And I almost finish my autobiography. It will cover everything. Everything! It’s not written by a family member or roadie. It’s written by one of the Ramones, so that’s important. It’s the truth. There are too much exaggerations in Ramones’s books. Mine is… (thumb up) The book will be out on Simon & Schuster in 2013.

What’s the difference between playing the Ramones’ songs with Johnny, Joey, and Dee Dee, and with Michale and other musicians?
Same thing. I play the same thing, same way. But I do a few more rules, which I like to do. I feel that many of the Ramones’ songs need a little bit more drum fills. It’s good to play the songs straight, but I feel that some parts would be more interesting to throw some fills in it.

Do you see the Marky Ramone’s Blitzkrieg as a tribute to Joey, Johnny, and Dee Dee?
The songs are too good not to be. I tried doing a solo project with my band, with the originals, but the kids and the older fans want to hear the Ramones’ songs. I said okay, I’m going to do that. I understand it’s a whole new generation, and I’m the only one who’s out there touring. It’s to the whole new generation who wasn’t around Ramones’ time. Michale Graves (frontman of Marky Ramone’s Blitzkrieg) wrote the most popular Misfits’ albums and he sings with me. It’s great. He sings in his way.

I can hear that. He’s not trying to copy.
Yeah. No trying.

Interview by Sylva Lam
Photo by May Lam
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