Marky Ramone Talks Phil Spector and His First Book: "He Never Pointed a Gun at Us"
Marky, the Ramones' last surviving Rock and Roll Hall of Famer.
Photo by Martin Bonetto
Marky Ramone (born Marc Steven Bell) is best-known as the second drummer for the seminal punk rock band the Ramones. Before he was a Ramone, he drummed for several other groups, including hard rockers Dust and protopunks Wayne County and the Backstreet Boys.
During the 15 years Bell spent with the Ramones, he played thousands of shows and recorded one of the foursome's most widely played songs, “I Wanna Be Sedated." One year after joining Joey, Dee Dee, and Johnny, he took part in the recording of their experimental album End of the Century with legendary producer Phil Spector. The year was 1979.
At one point during the studio sessions, bassist Dee Dee Ramone alleged that Spector held the Ramones at gunpoint as he ordered the band to continue recording. Bell disputes Dee Dee's account in his new book, Punk Rock Blitzkrieg: My Life as a Ramone.
Released in January, Bell writes in an unabashed way about his tenure with one of rock ’n' roll's most influential bands and how it came to be. Here’s what Marky Ramone has to say about why high school sucked, the infamous Phil Spector gun incident, and his new book.
New Times: The book starts off unassumingly, with your life and your progress into the rock 'n' roll lifestyle. Then things start to pick up and get crazy.
Bell: That was the whole intent, yeah.
Is this your fist book?
Yeah, that’s the first book. After 15 years in the Ramones and 1,700 shows, I figured, have a Ramone write a book. And it’s a long time to be involved with them, and that was the result.
You write about a former teacher who asked you to do a benefit concert after you became famous with Dust. But you refuse his offer rather swiftly. If he asked that question today, would you reconsider?
You know, at that age, in high school, you’re a pretty impressionable teenager in life, and when teachers start smacking you and slapping and kicking you around, and being condescending towards you — I remember that. And it really affected me. So yeah, I definitely wouldn’t go back on my word, because you can’t just say you’re sorry and think everything’s going to work out, you know? But nah, I wouldn’t do it today, because of the abuse. But teachers are different today; they’re much better, and they’re more concerned with each individual. And they bring out their own individual skills more than they did back then. And things are a lot more relaxed now, because of certain codes. Kids can wear what they want. They didn’t have to look like miniatures of their parents. So back then it was different, you know?
Do you have bad feelings against your teachers in high school?
The way they treated me, I don’t think about it, but I wrote about it in the book. I didn’t like the fact that I was manhandled and slapped and pushed around. I think you don’t do that to a 15-year-old kid, you know? There’s other ways of getting the message across besides being physical.
Was that a common thing back then?
Yeah, that’s how it was. When I went to high school, I probably wasn’t the only one. There are probably other students that were abused too. Did I make a big deal about it? I only talked to my father. But these days, if that happened, that would totally be a different story.
Do you think you would have pursued a different path in high school?
I didn’t even go. I only went to summer school because I got so upset at being singled out and abused. So I graduated high school in six months.
What was it like working for Phil Spector?
Oh, he never pointed a gun at us in the studio. I wanted to quell those rumors in the other books I read. There was only the four Ramones, Phil, and his engineer. He had a license to carry, and so did his bodyguard, but he never pointed a gun at anyone in his studio. I guess when he took the guns off and put them on the side of the console, it might have intimidated the other two Ramones. But me and Joey, we got along very well with him.
The guns didn’t scare you at all?
Nah, nah, nah, I saw a lot of that in Brooklyn where I grew up. So I knew he wasn’t going to point the gun at anybody.
Did he turn out to be as crazy as some people think?
Well, not at that point. Later on in life, probably. I knew him until he went to jail. We remained friends. But as time went on, he did get a little more maniacal. But in the studio, he just did his job. It was an honor to work with a guy like that who had such a great reputation as a producer. Sure, he had different situations with different artists. He did pull out guns on different people, but not at us. We were all different personalities; we were all crazy in a sense. So it really was like a loony bin, but we did our job, we did it well, and that was the result: End of the Century.
Were you pleased with how the album came out?
Well, yeah. It was a Phil Spector production, and it was a little unusual when we first heard it, because of all the strings and brass and pianos and organs and percussion. But that's what you have to expect from the Phil Spector-produced album. A lot of punk purists at the time, they didn't like it. But when I see the same friends and fans when I tour the world, they like it now more than ever, because they understand it more.
Do you think the production, in a way, elevated the band's fame or boosted record sales?
It was the largest-selling album at the time. We already did the three-chord album and then he did the change, which was done on Road to Ruin with "I Wanna Be Sedated" on it. But End of Century was really like an experiment.