If you’ve ever caught an interview with Marky Ramone you know he tends to sound a little rehearsed, like he has stock answers he’d prefer to substitute for in-the-moment emotion. Punk Rock Blitzkrieg: My Life As A Ramone reads a lot like that. It’s less heated than Johnny’s Commando or any of Dee Dee’s volumes, working hard to cram in the most superfluous exposition (OMG, we know what the fucking Berlin Wall was). That said, our self-proclaimed Chicken Beak Boy manages to add a tiny bit of fresh perspective to the Ramones legend while additionally owning up to his own bonkers alcoholism.
Granted, it’s frustrating the drummer can be so candid about substance abuse while ignoring more interesting bits of his mythology, but I suppose only a fool would have expected a chapter devoted to Mark’s alleged wig wearing. There are also several points where it’s not difficult to read between the lines. Die-hards are familiar with the drama between Marky and C.J. and in this tome the former damns the latter with faint praise, mostly saluting his attitude while offering no adjective above “good” to describe the bassist’s playing. Even more telling: there’s no reference to the half decade Mark spent drumming for the Misfits.
Punk Rock Blitzkrieg covers well-worn ground in regard to the founding “bruddahs”: Johnny was fervently right wing, Joey was severely OCD, Dee Dee never met a pill he didn’t like, Tommy was sensitive. Even the author’s struggles with the bottle have been tackled to varying degrees elsewhere. If there’s any revelation in PR Blitzkrieg it’s Marky’s admission that he believes Phil Spector to be innocent of Lana Clarkson’s 2003 murder. Give him credit for sticking by his pal.
The most fascinating stuff in the book comes before Mark’s time in the Ramones, when he bounced from power trio Dust to country rockers Estus (major label ding dongs who owned a swank mansion in upstate New York) before landing in Richard Hell’s Voidoids. The Voidoids were mastering their debut album the night of the 1977 New York City blackout. On his way home, Mark decided it was time to get his; he picked up a trash can and attempted to hurl it through a bank window. The can bounced off the plexiglass like a Nerf football. Inside, a security guard smiled and waved.
Other interesting snippets: Steven Tyler was nice to the Ramones back in the day, Sting wasn’t, Dee Dee’s rap career was just as much about annoying the other Ramones as it was about a love for hip hop, Marky has a twin brother named Fred, Marky likes the Circle Jerks.
Punk Rock Blitzkrieg summed up in one line: probably the one on the last page where Marky expresses satisfaction with his career because both the Pope and Obama are Ramones fans. I’ve never seen Barack in a Mondo Bizarro t-shirt but I’m happy to take the Chicken Beak’s word.
Johnny may have been the General, the guy who made the trains run on time, but in a pinch he always deferred to Tommy. That’s because Tommy was smart as hell and could visualize this thing called the Ramones before it even existed. Necessity planted him behind the drums (no one else really grok’d this sound), and how lucky for us. Tommy worked like a dog behind the scenes but that percussive attack was so even and strong that some fans insist the Ramones stopped being the Ramones once he quit.
And only in a band like the Ramones could other members actually harass Tommy for being relatively normal. Witness: the interview snippet in End Of The Century where Dee Dee admits he gave Tommy so much shit back in the day because he was jealous the guy knew how to cook. Regardless of interpersonal dynamics, to fans Tom was Teflon Ramone, the Ramone you just couldn’t dislike for any reason. He drummed on the three best albums (Ramones, Leave Home, Rocket To Russia), produced the best two he didn’t play on (Road To Ruin, Too Tough To Die), wrote the lion’s share of their undying anthem “Blitzkrieg Bop,” and remained pleasantly normal as the years rolled on.
Once the Ramones were done, Tommy seemed like the peacekeeper. He wasn’t arguing with Joey on “Howard Stern.” He wasn’t writing books full of dubious claims against his Bruddahs. Tommy just wanted to preserve the legacy and love his fellow Ramone—or at least dispel the myth that they all openly prayed for each other’s death. “Believe it or not, we really loved each other,” he told the Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame during the Ramones’ induction. “Even when we weren’t acting civil…we were truly brothers.”
Tommy spoke those words with conviction, clarity, and palpable emotion. Unfortunately, that portion of the ceremony was quickly eclipsed by Johnny announcing “God bless President Bush” as he cradled his statue and Dee Dee thanking himself for being so wonderful (a cute moment, admittedly). In that sense, the induction was typical Ramones: a fat chunk of heart smothered in patriotism and self-reference.
Despite what you may have heard or read (even by my own hand), the Ramones are my favorite musicians in the history of recorded sound. Nothing else fills me with the same joy and excitement, and I mourn the loss of the last surviving original architect.
Thanks for everything, Tommy.
Bass player C.J. and late guitarist Johnny from the Ramones both celebrate a birthday today, so here’s a clip of the duo (plus drummer Marky) warming up/goofing off backstage circa 1991. Not sure what language Da Bruddahs are singing in here (guessing one they fabricated themselves) but Johnny is absolutely wearing a Chef Boyardee parody shirt featuring convicted serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer. Would you expect anything less from the guy who co-wrote “Psycho Therapy?”
A: There ain’t much to say. A legal dance was inevitable the minute these dueling reunion factions rose up. I’m sure Greg Ginn truly believes he owns the exclusive rights to the word “flag.” I’m sure Keith Morris et al purposely named their reunion thing FLAG just to drive needles into Greg Ginn. I’m sure everyone involved realizes the Black Flag of 1981 would settle all this with a fistfight in a 7-11 parking lot. I’m sure the Ramones should have taught a correspondence course before they died called “How To Be In A Band With People You Hate And Make Money And Also Hang On To That Money Because This Shit Called Illegal Downloading Is Coming And VH-1 Is Eventually Gonna Run Out Of Specials To Put You On.”
Was gonna put a BF logo parody here, but this image is more apropos.