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Marky Ramone on Life as a Ramone in NYC's East Village

Frank Mastropolo

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Sire Records

No band is more identified with the East Village than the Ramones. The band’s performances at Hilly Kristal’s CBGB and other neighborhood venues defined punk rock forever. In 2003, the corner of the Bowery and Second Street near CBGB was officially named Joey Ramone Place. Over time, members of the group lived, performed and hung out in the East Village.

Joey, Johnny, Dee Dee and Tommy Ramone have died, leaving drummer Marky Ramone as the only surviving member of the band to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. The band’s wild days on and off stage are told in Marky's Punk Rock Blitzkrieg: My Life as a Ramone, published in 2015. The memoir pulls no punches about the often-rocky lives of Marky or his bandmates.

Marky, born Marc Steven Bell, joined the Ramones after stints with Wayne County and the Backstreet Boys and Richard Hell and the Voidoids. Marky replaced Tommy Ramone on drums in 1978. In this 2014 interview, Marky talked about the East Village clubs where he honed his craft and the Ramones’ favorite neighborhood hangs.

Marky Ramone: The first show I did in New York was with my first band, the Uncles, which was named after the TV series, The Man From U.N.C.L.E. This was ’67 and we played the Electric Circus, which was probably the first psychedelic, crazy, drug-induced place to hang out. The neon lights, everything was Day-Glo. They had different things to appeal to people: jugglers and acrobats… it was just something to freak your mind out. It was the start of the psychedelics, LSD and all that stuff, so I guess that’s why they did it.

My friend Charlie Alvarado was an usher at the Fillmore East in ’68. I was a kid. I was starting to play the drums pretty well. And he would let us in backstage after the soundcheck was over, when everyone would go out and get high. Any chance we had, we wanted to play in an auditorium to see what it was like. So he’d let us in through the side door and we’d end up playing on the Grateful Dead’s equipment, the Jeff Beck Group’s and Ten Years After’s stuff.

At the Fillmore they were smoking pot, people were doing LSD, people had Nehru jackets on, tie-dyed shirts, paisley shirts, bell bottoms. Here I am with my leather jacket and jeans and sneakers. I didn’t look like a biker, I just looked like a greaser with long hair. But everybody was psychedelized.

The Palladium was beautiful inside, it was a real theater. It was cavernous. We did a New Year’s Eve show there in ‘79, which was great. You don’t see these places anymore. You’ll see Barclays Center, Madison Square Garden, the Beacon, but you don’t see those great old theaters anymore that had great acoustics.

The Club 82 was an after hours place. I would drink my martinis and watch the premier punk bands of the time play there. I played there in 1974 with Wayne County and the Backstreet Boys before he became Jayne County.

Girls, miniskirts, big red lipstick, white painted faces. The girls were gorgeous. The guys, they all bought their clothes from Jumpin’ Jack Flash and Granny Takes a Trip. I knew all that one day was gonna end. The glam scene.

One time my friend, Bob Gruen, a photographer, was coming down the stairs with this drunk guy. He had on a long blue overcoat, a hat and sunglasses. Gruen was holding up John Lennon, coming down the stairs drunk out of his mind.

I said, “Hey Bob, how you doin’?” He said, “My hands are full, as you can see.” I go, “Hey John.” He said, “Hi mate.” I had to leave because I was drunk too. It was strange seeing one of my guys that I looked up to as a kid that drunk. But we’re all human. This is John Lennon, some guy from Liverpool. Now I understand it.

Next thing you know, this place called CBGB’s opened up. And there were strange sounds coming from that place. One sound was a band with no lead guitar, playing extremely fast but tight, stripped, bare-knuckled. I never heard anything like it. They were sloppy but getting it together. They were in their infancy and it was the Ramones. They would argue on stage. They only played for about fifteen, twenty minutes. Then they got better and better and better. And that’s what started the whole punk scene.

Their influences were the girl groups of the ‘60s, Phil Spector’s sound. It was the Beach Boys, Jan and Dean, the Kinks, the early Who. It was the Trashmen, the Kingsmen, it was any one-hit wonder that had a great song, like the Music Machine, "Talk Talk." Arthur Lee and Love, "7 & 7 Is." All those great songs. They’d throw that up in the air and you’d have a Ramones omelet.

The Ramones were like a ‘60s doo wop rock band with Marshalls behind them. There was that street thing that was around from ’60 to ’63, right before the Beatles came out. There were great songs: Bobby “Boris” Pickett, "Monster Mash"; "Locomotion" by Little Eva; "Be My Baby" by the Ronettes, all these great songs. "Louie Louie" by the Kingsmen. You had Lesley Gore doing "It’s My Party." Jan and Dean, "Dead Man’s Curve"; the Beach Boys "I Get Around." And of course we loved the Beatles. All those influences together is the Ramones.

I have nothing against Juilliard graduates, they’re the best at what they do, but we weren’t into that. We just wanted to play simple, short, two-minute songs because at the time a lot of bands were getting too self-indulgent with their playing. Five-minute guitar solos, eight-minute drum solos. It was called stadium rock. You look at an album, there were only six, seven songs on it. And you knew it was just the one or two hits and then all of it was filler.

CBGB’s sound system was great, the dressing room sucked, the bathroom sucked, there were no doors on the toilets. The stage was cramped. And the crowds were growing. A lot of them were curiosity seekers, they wanted to know, what’s this place CBGB’s? Why is everyone going here, what’s the big deal?

When you walked in, on the right was the bar and to the left, you could sit up high and watch the band. And as you walked in further, it was where the seats were to watch the groups. And people were becoming loyal fans of the movement, which attracted writers, more musicians, photographers, managers, producers. So it was the right place to be at the right time for that kind of music.

One night when I was with Wayne County we sold the place out. It was packed, we were on stage performing. And the stage was low to the ground, it was probably six or seven inches off the ground. And Richard Manitoba of the Dictators was for some reason heckling Wayne. Back then he was like 250 pounds and was Mr. Macho Man. Or thinking he was.

So his excuse was, he wanted to just get over to the stage and go to the bathroom. But I was there, right there, and I saw what he was doing with his facial expressions. And then Wayne had enough. So when he came on the stage he just batted him with the mic stand, knocked him to the ground. They fought, blood everywhere, and Wayne put him in the hospital, this big, so-called macho fat guy. The Macho Man didn’t make it this time.

That’s what it was like: drink all night, have a great time, meet your friends from the other bands that were striving for the same things you were. Afterwards everybody would hang out in front, kibitz and then go to the Club 82 or the Mudd Club.

Ratner’s was great. You were a little tipsy, you wanted to have something in your stomach, you go there. Katz’s – great. I still can’t get my whole mouth over a sandwich. I still gotta take some of the corned beef and pastrami off. I think we learned things in moderation are good but if I had a choice, I’d eat it every day.

We liked Indian restaurants on Sixth Street off of First and Second and there was another restaurant on Second Avenue and 10th Street that we would go to. We liked eating the chicken vindaloo, the hot stuff, because after we ate it, we would all be sweating because it was so heavily dosed with peppers and spices. That’s why there’s one line in a song that says, “Hanging out on Second Avenue eating chicken vindaloo.”

We would talk about music, where we were headed. We’d wonder what this country’s gonna be like or what this state’s gonna be like, how many people do you think will be there. A lot of times we would talk about what cover song we might do for the next album.

And then of course times change. The evidence: CBGB’s goes down because Hilly didn’t want to pay the rent anymore and he had cancer. He had enough. He wanted to live out the rest of his life in peace. And that was it, the end of an era. To me, CBGB’s ended in ’82, ’83. After that every Tom, Dick and Harry wanted to play there and when they got there, it was just this little hole in the wall, that’s all it was.

This story appeared in Bedford+Bowery Dec. 4, 2014.

Mastropolo is the author of the What's Your Rock IQ? Trivia Quiz Book series and Fillmore East: The Venue That Changed Rock Music Forever.

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Frank Mastropolo is the author of Fillmore East: The Venue That Changed Rock Music Forever, one of Best Classic Bands' Best Music Books of 2021; New York Groove: An Inside Look at the Stars, Shows, and Songs That Make NYC Rock; the What's Your Rock IQ? Trivia Quiz Book series; Ghost Signs: Clues to Downtown New York's Past, winner of the 2021 Independent Publishers Book Award; and Ghost Signs 2: Clues to Uptown New York's Past. Mastropolo is a journalist, photographer, and former ABC News 20/20 producer, winner of the Alfred I. DuPont–Columbia University silver baton. His photography is featured in the Bill Graham Rock & Roll Revolution exhibition.

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