Heavy Load: Marky Ramone

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Former Richard Hell & The Voidoids drummer Marc Bell (AKA Marky Ramone) joined the Ramones following the departure of Tommy Erdelyi in 1978.

After five years, during which the band recorded the End Of The Century album with legendary revolver-wielding producer Phil Spector, and founding guitarist and vocalist Johnny and Joey embarked upon a bitter feud that endured for the rest of their lives, Marky left the band temporarily to dry out. Four years later he rejoined and remained for Da Bruddas’ final 1,700 shows prior to their retirement in 1996.

What were you like at school?

Hyperactive. It was very hard for me to pay attention so I disrupted the class a lot. Not intentionally. I’d be banging on the desk, scraping the radiator with a pencil trying to come up with rhythms. The teacher thought I was doing it just to irritate her, and that’s why most of the time I was in the corner, facing the classroom wall.

What’s your biggest regret?

Giving up bass lessons. I always felt the bass guitar player and drummer were such an integral part of any group that I wanted to learn more about the bass. So about five years ago I took bass lessons for about a month, but then I just stopped.

What’s the biggest misconception people have about you?

That I was one of the Ramones’ brothers? My real name is Marc Bell. I wasn’t joined to the hip of the other Ramones, we were just bandmates, friends and, I guess you could say, closer than brothers.

How close did you come to being in the New York Dolls?

Very close. Jerry [Nolan] and I knew each other, and when Billy [Murcia] died I went down to The Loft where the Dolls were auditioning, Jerry was already there. I had all this training, I could do different time signatures, different accents, and I basically overplayed it – I put in all these drum fills that weren’t necessary. And Jerry just kept the beat straight. So Jerry got it and I didn’t.

What was the lowest point of your life?

From eighty-three to eighty-four when I had to go away for a while to stop drinking. I ended up at like an army barracks, where you had people watching over you so you’d stay there and not escape. You and other people like you would learn about AA and NA and absorb what they were trying to teach you about getting sober. I had to clean floors, clean toilets, do intense labour to keep my thoughts out of the music business, because that was the lion’s den for me. So for about a year I had to adjust myself to other ways of life. That was pretty hard. I don’t consider it a low, I consider it something that really helped me, because if it wasn’t there, who knows what would have happened.

What has been your biggest waste of money?

Buying a lot of cars and then saying: “Why do I need all these cars?” That was a waste sometimes, but it was a lot of fun and kept my mind off a lot of things.

What’s your abiding memory of being produced by Phil Spector?

He was great. I understood his attitude; he was from The Bronx, I was from Brooklyn. We got along very well and had a really nice rapport. He was the greatest American producer. But he had his way of working that was very slow, and the Ramones had their way of working which was very fast, so that would sometimes irk everybody, and led to animosity with Johnny and Dee Dee.

How bad did it get in the back of the van when Johnny and Joey were are at war?

It was pretty difficult, because you’re in an enclosed space driving for eight hours a day, and the littlest things in the world would set them off. Joey and John just didn’t like each other.

Where do you stand politically?

I’m a left-wing liberal. I despise conservative right-wing politics.

What in life are you most proud of?

That I was asked to join the Ramones twice, and that I was in a band that was entered into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame. Not necessarily because of that award, but the fact that we were representing our genre of music – punk rock that came out of CBGB – that had been overlooked for so long. Now we’re in among The Kinks, The Who, The Beatles, the Stones, The Yardbirds, all these great British-invasion groups that we grew up on and that we loved.

Who gets the royalties from all those Ramones T-shirts?

Well, it’s the American presidential seal, anyone can use it. We share the royalties on the T-shirt and on the merchandise. A lot of the kids wearing that shirt might not even have heard of the Ramones’ music. I guess if you have the shirt, your curiosity might bring you to buy the music. Whatever, it is a strange phenomenon.

When death comes, how would you like to go?

In my sleep. That’s it. Can’t think of a better way.

What will be written on your tombstone?

I want to be cremated. I’d have my ashes sprinkled over some nice water somewhere. If I did have a tombstone, I guess it’d read ‘Marky Bell Ramone’, but I don’t think I’m going to have a plot – I’m just going to have an urn.

Classic Rock 216: News & Regulars