“Punk Rock Blitzkrieg: My Life as a Ramone” by Marky Ramone with Rich Herschlag. Touchstone, 2015. $28.
The Ramones are one of my favorite bands of all time, but I knew very little about Marky Ramone before reading this book. Marky Ramone might be the least well-known Ramone, but he certainly has a fascinating story to tell.
This memoir is really a social history of the New York City punk scene from the mid-70s to the early 21st century, told by someone who was there. His detailed descriptions of the times and places allow you to form a mental image of the dangerous New York streets during that time — the drugs, the people, and the punk rock scene.
Marky Ramone (Marc Steven Bell) joined the band in 1978 at the age of 22, replacing original drummer Tommy Ramone. He was asked to leave the band because of his drinking in 1982 but returned, sober, in 1987 and played with the band up until their retirement in 1996. He is the last remaining Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inducted-Ramone, and if you are a true Ramones fan, this book is for you.
The book provides ample detail about Marky’s pre-Ramones life growing up in Brooklyn. He sweetly describes his relationship with his family with touching examples of his father defending him to schoolteachers and his principal, who singled him out because of the way he looked; and how his parents supported him and his twin brother Fred wanting to be musicians by purchasing them a drum set and electric guitar/amplifier and by letting his fledgling band, the Uncles, practice in their bedroom.
From these beginnings he recounts his time in the bands he played in prior to the Ramones, most notably Dust and Richard Hell & the Voidoids, on up to his audition for the Ramones, where Tommy Ramone gives him his blessing to replace him. However, for the most part, the focus of this memoir is his time with the Ramones, his relationships with the members of the band, the “Ramone women,” and all of their relationships with each other. He doesn’t mince words when discussing the dysfunctions of the individual band members, their health problems, substance abuse, infidelity, their dislike for each other, and ultimately, the tragic and early deaths of Joey, Dee Dee and Johnny — but he does it in a humorous, non-malicious way.
One interesting component of the book is that he goes into detail about the evolution of his drum sets and how his technique changed over the years. He also details the music itself, like song structures and beat and how he felt about each album that the band made that he played on, how the records were made and the overall feelings members had about the final product.