This Is Why Marky Ramone Picked Andrew W.K. to Sing for His Ramones-Centric Band
Marky Ramone, Andrew W.K.
Photo by Bob Gruen
In one corner of a voluminous Brooklyn rehearsal room, party hard–meister (and Voice advice columnist) Andrew W.K. — wearing his trademark all-white outfit from shirt to sneakers — noodles at a grand piano. Next to him, relaxing on an orange sofa, sits Marky Ramone, drummer and icon of one of the world's most recognizable and beloved bands — clad in black, head to toe.
In his fifteen years with the Ramones, Marky weathered his share of punk rock tours, but now it's his first time doing a punk book tour — along with full-band performances with W.K. on vocals — to promote the new Punk Rock Blitzkrieg: My Life as a Ramone (Touchstone; $28).
Ramone first toured with his band Blitzkrieg in 2010; W.K. came on board as singer in 2013 (he was preceded by Michale Graves, most famous for succeeding Glenn Danzig in the Misfits in the Nineties), making his debut with the band at Santos Party House, the New York club he co-owns. W.K. and Ramone's Blitzkrieg then went on several European tours.
While the other Blitzkrieg members — guitarist Mark Neuman and bassist Graham Vanderveen — tune up across the room for their January 17 show at the Gramercy Theatre, Ramone and W.K. share tales that would enthrall any rock 'n' roll high schooler.
Marky Ramone: We met through a friend of ours, Steve Lewis.
Andrew W.K.: The king of the nighttime world.
Ramone: Yes, he is. He's known for building clubs in NYC. I've known him since 1979–80. Steve brought Andrew over to [Bowery restaurant] DBGB and we ate. We had a rehearsal and everything worked out fine. Andrew brought his own way of doing things to the songs and it worked out great. Great performer. It just went well.
W.K.: Thank you. I was very happy to even be asked, to be considered via Steve, but of course, it was up to Marky, and that dinner alone...I went into it not really expecting that I would get the position. Marky was looking for a singer to do some shows, and to continue on the legacy of these [Ramones] songs being played live, which I really understood and believed in, but I was also very intimidated. Not just by the music itself and the legacy, and wanting to do a good job, but it was also a huge quantity of material to learn and do well, and there was a lot involved when you care about it, and I was taking it very seriously. It was very challenging. But Marky was very patient and gave me many chances to rehearse and improve. I can say going into it, I never expected 1) to be able to pull it off, but I never expected it would make me a better singer, a better performer, and all around a better person...being better able to contribute to whatever I'm doing in life. There are a lot of added bonuses and unexpected life improvements that came from this adventure. I'm very humbled by it and very thankful.
Ramone: And Andrew does it his way. Not to take away from Joey, obviously, but it's 2015. Andrew, he definitely does wonderful justice to the songs.
W.K.: I appreciate that. The songs stand on their own, and for me at least, it's impossible to sing [like Joey], and I would imagine for anybody, you can't...live up to Joey. It's a futile attempt.
Ramone: Or any other singer. Everybody has their own style.
W.K.: But he especially was extraordinarily unique and it's an embarrassment to even attempt to try to replicate the magic of that. You don't even touch it. Out of respect.
Ramone: Definitely. He had a style. And Andrew has a style. They both work.
W.K.: That's the brilliance of the songs; the songs are so magically powerful, in a very elusive, mysterious way. Many people think, "Oh, it's so easy to replicate this style." You cannot do it. It emerged out of a vortex that is not easily accessed by anybody. Even, I'd say, with all due respect, when the songs are being created, it's not clear sometimes how these things happen. It's so delicate, and the level of achievement, that any of this happened at all, let alone that I'm a fringe participant — that's the thing: I think about these songs — not even getting to play them, just thinking about the music — it makes me feel better about being alive. How does that happen? All the parts are so unlikely that something like that winds up. And I just get to be near that phenomenon, and it rubs off on you and improves your life.
Ramone: And also, there were three chords. They were very memorable with really wonderful hooks, the choruses you could sing, they were two minutes long. And there were, I think, seventeen studio albums, so there's a lot to choose from.
W.K.: As a singer, as long as you sing the song, it brings it out of you. It's like playing with great athletes, I think. You may not be the best tennis player, but you play with Andre Agassi, and you're going to play better. The song makes you better at music. That's how powerful they are.
Ramone: When the Ramones asked me to join, 1978, for the first album I was going to record with them [Road to Ruin], you're so immersed in it because of the joy and the pleasure of hearing them that you start playing them really well. I feel the songs are too good not to be played. There is a whole new generation after we retired in 1996, so a lot of those people weren't even born then. That's why it's good to tour the world and keep [the songs] alive.
W.K.: I never got to see the Ramones live. They played in Ann Arbor, where I grew up. You played the Blind Pig — it's on YouTube, which is amazing — but that club was eighteen and over; I couldn't even get in.
Ramone: We always tried to stay away from that eighteen-and-over. We wanted everyone to come.
W.K.: Of course. I didn't have a fake ID: I never would have had the balls to try to break the law at that time.
Ramone: I had a fake ID when I was a kid.
W.K.: Even at that time, the Ramones, for me, it really was like the Beatles or the Rolling Stones.
Ramone: Oh, thank you.
W.K.: Not that [the] band...would be around forever, but it was hard to imagine a time when [the Ramones] wouldn't exist. I was born into it. It permeated so many levels of culture. [It was] an ideology, a way of how you could do things in life.
Ramone: The set we play now is cream of the crop. I look back at old videos all the time — I own the largest Ramones video library — so I can see the reaction of the audience, the cheers, so then I'd gather the set list. Of course, we'd play new songs every time an album came out, then integrate them with everything else. I have 400 High-8 tapes of the band from around the world.
W.K.: There are some cover songs that have a lot of words. Convoluted lyrics, like "I Don't Wanna Grow Up," the Tom Waits cover...
Ramone: Yeah, that's true...
W.K.: It involves almost stream-of-consciousness words like a child might say. But I like those challenges. Then there are songs I feel like I've known my whole life, even if I didn't, they're so inherent, and those are usually the Ramones songs. Like "I'm Affected," which is one I had to learn new. Without even trying to memorize it, I realized I had memorized it. I can't think of any other lyrics to sing. That's the only thing your body feels like singing.
Ramone: Like "I Don't Care": "I don't care I don't care I don't care I don't care." I'm sure it's fully ingrained, you know what I mean?
W.K.: It's very satisfying to be completely within the music.Ramone:
I think the simplicity helps.
W.K.: But they're deceptively simple. It's satisfying to me, in a slightly malevolent way, personally...looking around at artists older than me, bigger bands, who maybe have sold 100 million albums, but they'll never be as cool as the Ramones, and there's nothing they can ever do to achieve that. And they know it, deep down inside. They may have money and acclaim, but all they really wish is they were as cool as the Ramones. Marky wouldn't have to say that, but I can say it, because I'm not in the band. You realize at the end of the day that certain things matter more than success, and again, there's a certain kind of success that's very elusive. The cream rises to the top. It's very encouraging. Things have a way of working out as long as you stay true to that vision.
Ramone: Yeah, you know, when New Wave came, that was just an attempt by a lot of record companies to water down punk so it could become radio-friendly. But we never changed our style. A lot of punk bands did, just to satisfy the record companies. It's like what Andrew said: We just kept going, persevered, and that's the result. Twenty-two years. It's good-time music: fun, humorous. When we picked our covers, we made sure we were able to do them properly — "California Sun," "Do You Want to Dance" — that we'd fit with other people's songs. We had a saying among ourselves: "Let's Ramones it up." So that's what we'd do. Starting from the British Invasion, the Phil Spector sound, you throw that up in the air and it comes down into a Ramones omelette. Along with my pasta sauce.
W.K.: It's really good. You can eat it out of the jar with a spoon like a gazpacho, it's that good. Tiny Tim would have eaten it right out of the jar, I bet.
Village Voice: So, Marky, congrats on Punk Rock Blitzkrieg: My Life as a Ramone.
W.K.: The best compliment I can give is that [Marky's book is] like music, like a song you really love and you want to keep listening to. I can relate to a lot of it. I was inspired by his honest...willingness to share adventures in a humble, matter-of-fact, but very detailed and open way. If you're into behind-the-scenes secrets, there's some stuff that I don't think I've read about any human before that's included in this book. Even grotesque details.
Ramone: Thanks for confirming my belief that I'm human. Sometimes I think I'm from another planet.
W.K.: Marky, how did you wrestle with not only revealing your stories, but how open you wanted to be about your own life?
Ramone: When you're in a band for fifteen years — and we were a weird people — the 1,700 shows I did with them, you obviously know everything about the whole thing, and that's what I wanted to describe as my friends, bandmates, brothers, and that's what I did. But if you're gonna do that, you have to tell it like it is about yourself. Like what I went through with my rehabs, and stopping my drinking, the insanity that came with that. I had to be honest. I didn't want to whitewash. It was four years of working very hard to stop the urges. When I was asked to leave the group [in 1983], that was the best thing that ever happened to me, because I would have been dead or I would have killed somebody. That phone call from Joey, I always remembered, they asked me back a second time in the band, but along the way, the adventure of becoming sober, a lot of things did happen. Good things. When your mind gets clearer, you realize who you really are. I went to a lot of meetings. You realize you're not the only one. You're among other people who went through the same thing. So I was asked back to the band after four years, and it was the same, as if I never left.
Village Voice: Andrew, you're a proponent of partying hard, but that doesn't mean drinking or drugs.
W.K.: "Party Hard" was always very open, a mindset that encouraged celebration. And Marky has pointed out, life itself is the greatest thing that ever happens — as far as we know. And really seizing upon that, and really keeping that in the front of your mind as something very precious and important, and something worth being excited about — I never try to tell anyone how to party, but just to facilitate that excitement and energy.
Ramone: We were four different personalities. They say opposites attract, and because of that, I think that's why the music is what it was. We had different political views, and that's in the book, and we didn't agree upon everything, and sometimes there would be verbal confrontations, and there was never any physical violence upon each other. Just once — between Joey and Dee Dee outside a Holiday Inn or pancake house. Somebody said something about a girlfriend and the other guy punched him in the mouth. And that was it. We were polar opposites. Johnny and my political beliefs were different. It doesn't mean I didn't respect his politics, I just didn't agree. I have a lot of friends who are conservatives, but I like them as people, just not their political views. A lot of it can be overblown, like I hate all conservatives, but I don't. Joey and I were liberal Democrats. I still am. So opposing views in a van — I don't know the square feet of a van, but that's when the arguments would start. Throw that all together and that's what helped make us who we were. That sound. If we were all the same, who knows what would have happened? It could have been adverse.
W.K.: I've worked with all different kinds of people, and one thing I always notice and learned from Marky as a role model is that levity, kindness, professionalism — keeping things light, a little laugh — can help take that edge off, and remind everyone that we're here to do a job. We don't want to let these personal things distract us from putting on a good show. The whole day leads to the show, that time, those people counting on you. You don't want to let those other things detract from that. Can I ask something? When I think back to high school, it doesn't seem that long ago. Then I started doing this — it feels like this unbroken thing. Does 1996 feel like a long time ago? Or close still?
Ramone: It feels close. It just went by so quick. I don't know why. I understand what you mean. We were in a hotel room, me, Johnny, and Joey, in 1994, and we decided to stop the band in 1996. And we had all these last shows we had to do through the world. You have to go to every country and make it that last show. I think everything is relative to time. Every time music comes on, in my memory, I remember that time period because of that song, and what I was doing, what year it was, what girlfriend I was going out with, who were my teachers. It really helps the memory. It was my calendar.
W.K.: I more or less feel like I did when I moved [to New York City]. It feels like one experience, this thing that I'm doing. Sometimes I'll think back to last year and it'll seem like twenty years ago. Then I'll think to twenty years ago and it'll feel very recent. I like that.
Ramone: I never grew up. Mentally. Maybe one day. Is that bad? No. I think it keeps you creative. It opens your mind to new things. A person who thinks he knows everything ends up knowing nothing. You absorb. Graduating summer school seems like yesterday. I had to go to summer school and night school because I was playing drums. I went to school from nine to one, then did work for the night classes — that was July to August. I got that general diploma on the wall; my parents could frame and put it there. I just wanted to make my parents happy. They deserved it. They supported me. Did I learn anything in school that helps me today? No. But I think education now is more important.
W.K.: You already knew what you wanted to do.
Ramone: I was always told, "You'll never make it, you'll never achieve." And that's bad for a teacher to tell a child at an impressionable age. I think these days a teacher might see a talent and develop it, nurture that student. That's what I didn't have.
Village Voice: There are quite a few Ramones books out there. Was yours easier or harder to write now that, sadly, all the original Ramones are gone?
Ramone: Unless you're in the band and in the inner circle, your facts can be a little exaggerated. With a lot of the other books, there was a lot of exaggeration. This was five years in the making. I didn't write the book just because they were gone, I wrote the book because I really wanted to set a lot of the stuff straight. I respect everyone else's effort and time in writing their books. It's what I observed and who I am, and of course the punk scene even before joining the Ramones.
W.K.: [Marky's first band] Dust was always a record cover I'd seen around, and it was intense and kind of disturbing. Sometimes I wonder if those things are like hints of what's to come? If someone had told me, "You're going to be involved with this fellow at some point," my parents probably would have been a little disturbed! I didn't even realize he was with Richard Hell until later, and how much he was on the scene.
Ramone: I was the house drummer of CBGB! Wayne County, Ramones, Richard Hell, auditioning for the Dolls. For Dust we were still in high school, a little naive. Here we are, our last year in high school, touring with Alice Cooper. We were one of the first heavy metal bands in America. We wrote the first album before Black Sabbath had their album out. Our first album was written in late '69, early '70 by Richie [Wise] and Kenny Kerner. All originals. I didn't want to [cover] any more Top 10 hits. I think Lester Bangs, in 1971, he did an interview with us, and in that interview was the term "heavy metal." Definitely Black Sabbath, but were Zeppelin, Deep Purple heavy metal bands? Not really, no, but they had heavy metal elements.
When I was learning the drums on my own, I just didn't listen to rock drummers, I listened to jazz. My father's friend was a big fan of Buddy Rich and Gene Krupa, and "Take Five" by Dave Brubeck. My parents would listen to that, and I'd put it on my little record player, the arm comes down, the album falls. Anyway, I'd play along to the records. Then the British scene — Mitch Mitchell, Ginger Baker. They were jazz drummers. Like Charlie Watts, when I met him, he's a jazz lover. Jazz and blues. I was always open to new things. I liked when people said, "Listen to this." I gave it all a chance.
Village Voice:There's the old joke about LSD: Lead Singer Disease. What do you think Joey, Richard Hell, and Andrew have in common, good or bad?
Ramone: There are jokes for everything. My father passed away, but I still say, "Where there's a will there's a relative!" A singer has to have a lot of confidence, and he has to shine on this stage and know his territory and work it, and they all do. Joey, onstage, he definitely had confidence. Offstage he was very introverted, very shy, a lot of times he put up walls and a bubble. Because of how he was raised, the neighborhood he was raised. Unfortunately in society, a lot of people judge by the way you look, and children can be cruel and he was subjected to that a lot. That's why he wrote songs like "Beat on the Brat With a Baseball Bat." He was the perfect histrionic singer. And when he went up on stage, he owned it. That was his calling. And he did it perfectly.
Village Voice:Andrew, you seem the same on- and offstage.
Ramone: That's a nice compliment.
W.K.: I'm just trying to have some fun. I just feel blessed, lucky, fortunate, that I've gotten a chance to be around Marky and this music and to serve him and these songs. It's one of the greatest things I've ever gotten to do, not just in my career, but in life.
Ramone: And from behind the drums, watching Andrew, I know it's a great show.
Marky Ramone's Blitzkrieg with Andrew W.K. on vocals, January 17, Gramercy Theatre. 7 p.m., 16 +, $34.50.
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