Marky Ramone speaks at UMass

By Kate Leddy

Famed rocker Marky Ramone came to speak on the UMass campus on Monday. (Christina Yacono/Daily Collegian)
Famed rocker Marky Ramone came to speak on the UMass campus on Monday. (Cade Belisle/Daily Collegian)

Johnny Cash, Led Zeppelin, The Clash: these are a few of the names that Marky Ramone, finds himself and his fellow band members among in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

On Monday night, Marky, the last living member of the 1980s punk rock band The Ramones, spoke at the University of Massachusetts to discuss the behind-the-scenes experiences, hardships and achievements that he and the band had throughout their years in the music industry and beyond.

Though there were some changes made throughout the years, the original group consisted of Marky on drums, bassist Dee Dee, guitarist Johnny and lead singer Joey. Each band member took a pseudonym ending with the surname “Ramone,” though none of the band members are actually related.

“My real name is Mark Bell,” Marky said.

Bell, who was born in Brooklyn in the 1950s, recalls his interest in the music industry beginning when he saw The Beatles performing on TV at the age of eight.

“It really made a lasting impression on me,” said Bell. “I just looked at it and said ‘wow, this looks like something I’d like to do.’”

Bell’s dream started to become a reality when he and two friends from high school formed a band when they were 16. Though he said the band had limited success, Bell acknowledged that this early experience taught him about getting into the music industry.

It also let him to discovering CBGB, a club in New York City that allowed new punk rock bands to perform.

“At the time [in the 1970s], disco and stadium rock was big and nobody wanted punk bands in their clubs,” said Bell. “This hole-in–the-wall club became a place where you could show off what you could do and engage people in your music.”

It was there that Bell was approached by Dee Dee Ramone and complimented on his performances at CBGB. Dee Dee then asked Bell if he would be interested in joining The Ramones, as they were in need of a drummer.

“They handed me a tape with 26 live songs and I had to learn them all in two weeks and be ready to be in the first Ramones album I was in, ‘Road to Ruin,’” said Bell. “It took a lot of hard work, a lot of effort and a lot of believing I could do it and knowing I had to do it because I had made a promise to the band.”

In 1978, at the age of 22, Bell called it an absolute dream come true to be touring with The Ramones in places such as London, Denmark, Spain and Greece.

As the Ramones gained popularity, they caught the eye of the movie industry and were asked to be a part of a movie called “Rock and Roll High School.”

“I sat back and thought ‘okay, I just did an album, a tour and now I’m a movie all in one year,’” said Bell.

Soon after the movie the band worked with producer Phil Spector to produce their fifth and most successful album, End of the Century. Bell described that process as tedious and detailed.

“Phil wanted things done slowly and properly and we were a bit of a hyper band,” said Bell, adding that each member was able to work hard in the end, though there were tough days.
“When you’re in a band for many years, they really do become your brothers,” said Bell. “It’s a business and there was verbal assault and times we didn’t get along but it worked out in the end.”

The especially difficult moments that Bell was referring to were the band’s struggle with drug abuse, a problem that primarily affected Marky and Dee Dee.

“Dee Dee was into drugs. I could tell when he had come from the hospital because he would come to the studio with the bracelet on,” said Bell. “I was never into hard drugs, but I liked to drink wine and beer a lot.”

Marky’s alcohol addiction ultimately got him kicked out of the band in 1983, and his continuing abuse led him to check himself into rehab.

“I understood why they kicked me out and it was a good thing,” said Bell. “I could have hurt somebody and I could have hurt myself.”

Marky returned to the band a year and a half later when he received a call that The Ramones was in need of a drummer once again.

Over his years with The Ramones, Bell said he had played a total of about 1,700 live shows and was on nine studio albums. He retired from The Ramones in 1996.

Bell continues to perform today with other current punk bands, such as Green Day, and his group Marky Ramone’s Blitzkrieg, named after the popular Ramone’s song “Blitzkrieg Bop.”

Bell said he has enjoyed speaking with fans and other bands and continuing endorsements with other companies, which he had agreed to on the grounds that he could design the products and the profits would go to a charity of his choice. These products include his own homemade pasta sauce.

Joey Ramone died in 2001, followed by Dee Dee in 2002 and Johnny in 2004. Since then, The Ramones have received numerous awards such as the Lifetime Achievement Award at the Grammys in 2011.

“I am proud of these awards because it’s achieving something after a lot of work and a lot of disappointment, but we got our hour due,” said Bell “If they [the other band members] could see this, I’m sure they’d be very impressed.”

Kate Leddy can be reached at [email protected]