Last Ramones Standing

Marky and Tommy discuss Joey, Johnny, Dee Dee, the documentary, the stage musical, the DVD, and drumming

Just before Johnny Ramone died of prostate cancer, the End of the Centurydocumentary was released. Marky Ramone and director John Cafiero have released Ramones Raw, a DVD compilation of TV, concert, and road footage. Tommy Ramone is involved in a stage musical, Gabba Gabba Hey! The two drummers had never given an interview together before I sat down with them, at El Quijote next to the Chelsea Hotel. I asked Marky about his Hall of Fame acceptance speech thanking Tommy for creating the Ramones drum sound.


Marky RamoneWell, the eighth-note high hat playing and the cymbal and floor tom playing created a wall of sound, and it was a challenge. When I joined the band he was at rehearsal behind me. I got a tape of Road to Ruin and the live show, which I went home and put on a boombox with headphones and a drum pad and that's how I learned.

Tommy RamoneI kind of played backwards, the cymbal hits come where they normally wouldn't. It makes all the difference.

MRWhen I heard Ramones it reminded me of everything that I liked—it was the Kinks, it was the Who, it was Phil Spector, it was the Beach Boys, everything rolled into one 4/4 straight-ahead music. At that time things were getting very bloated, there were albums with two songs.

TRWhen Mark came aboard it was a great opportunity to expand the Ramones' palette. His experience, his knowledge of drum technique combined with the Ramones' feel really broadened our capabilities.


Joey Ramone had been the first drummer, and I asked how Tommy had transformed the rhythm.

TRWith Joey it was a very choppy sound, sort of like a jagged rockabilly, like the White Stripes, and the major change was smoothing it out, giving it a flowing feel, more of a propulsive kind of straight-ahead feel. John's guitar playing and the drumming I was doing really did click. So within a month we were playing CBGB's and the sound developed from there.


It's clear that Tommy's influence was critical in the formation of the band's musical identity. But in the movie End of the Century the other Ramones disagreed.

TRThe problem was they were always afraid that if I got any credit I would get all the credit, which is ridiculous. We all contributed our thing and all of our contributions were equally important, including mine.

MRMaybe because Dee Dee wrote a lot of the songs he felt that way. Dee Dee was a very strange guy, very bipolar; he could have turned around the next day and said that Tommy was great. That's how he was with me too. We'd be hanging out and the next thing you know he'd be kicking my jukebox in.

TRIn certain ways these were dangerous people, who came up with brilliant creative ideas. I tried to harness as much of that brilliance, but a lot of times I got burnt. I had to eventually leave because I would have been consumed. Most of the time I was trying to keep the peace.


I wondered why Johnny was more involved with End of the Century.

TRJohnny got involved and he sort of took over the movie because he liked it and realized it was a pretty accurate portrayal of him. Johnny was a very intelligent person, very sharp, witty, troubled, but deep and multidimensional. He could be nice at times; he could be really vicious at other times. It seems somewhat negative of him but it's not really because his idols were people like Ty Cobb. When Joey passed away there was a lot of media coverage of Joey, as if Joey was the whole band. This infuriated Johnny. Joey had a lot of friends in the media. Joey was always out mingling, making connections, schmoozing. So Johnny started doing that, in the last years of his life. It gave him a chance to get his story across. In this movie, I guess it's as if it was his band. John was always the disciplinarian. He was always the one to threaten to punch you out if you got out of line, but everybody had their say.


How much of the sound and concept of the band came from Johnny?

TRThe speed is pure Johnny. Johnny was a fastball pitcher. And the speed was his virtuosity. We were looking for short songs because we wanted to bring back the original feel of rock and roll. And of course short songs played fast become very short. We saw that the speed worked.


I asked about Johnny and Joey's prolonged feud.

TRJohn didn't hang out with people he didn't like. Of course, Johnny would say he never liked him, but he agreed to have Joey in the band, so he liked Joey. I know Joey liked John. The rift between them happened after I left. I wasn't around to play them off each other anymore and Johnny had to deal with Joey, playing the role of lead singer, given confidence from Phil Spector.

MRYou'd sit in the van for six hours driving and not a word was said. When Dee Dee left the band, they separated even more. If I didn't talk to Joey one day he'd go, "Go talk to your best friend John." If I didn't talk to John one day he'd go, "Oh, you're talking to Joey today." Was it like children in the sandbox? I guess so, but it went deeper than that.

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