All The Angles Are True
An interview with Tommy and Marky Ramone
by John Piccarella
When news first surfaced that Johnny Ramone had advanced prostate cancer, Robert Christgau asked me if I would take some notes for an obituary. When Johnny died, I was out of town, and could not write the piece. Editors at the Village Voice had the idea that it would be smart to interview the surviving Ramones' drummers. They had never before been interviewed together. I met them at El Quijote, next door to the Chelsea Hotel, with John Cafiero (director of the Ramones RAW DVD). My agenda was to gain insight into the history of the band and their music; they wanted to talk about current projects. We were all aware of the Village Voice agenda, which was to hear stories about Joey, Johnny and Dee Dee. A much abbreviated version of this interview ran in the Village Voiceon October 20th, 2004.
PSF: Marky, I'd like to start with your Rock + Roll Hall of Fame acceptance speech, when you thanked Tommy for creating the Ramones' drum sound, and mentioned that you worked hard to duplicate it – what was it like coming into the band, taking over from Tommy?
MR: Well, the eighth-note high hat playing and the cymbal and floor tom playing created a wall of sound, and I was very impressed by that. It was a challenge, because I was very technical, playing with Richard Hell and other bands that I was in...because it was so simplified I thought it was easy, but I was wrong. I realized when I started playing it, that it really wasn't from the arms, it was more from the wrists and the fingers. So when I joined the band he was at rehearsal behind me you know watching over a few times. I got a tape of Road to Ruin and the live show, which I went home and put on a boombox with headphones on and a little drum pad and that's how I learned.
I played about five or six hours a day until I learned the whole live set and Road to Ruin, which was about 45 songs. After a while I realized how to not overextend my energy, because to play at that tempo for an hour and fifteen minutes you could lose a lot. So I could see it was easier playing from the wrists and the fingers instead of the arms. After a while it became simpler and simpler and easier to do, knowing what you had to do to play that way. There was no need for triplets, there was no need for 5/4 time signatures, 6/8, or anything like that.
PSF: Coming from a band like the Voidoids, where the rhythms were a little bit...
MR: ...off rhythms
PSF: Yeah. In the movie End of the Century, you made a comment that when you heard the Ramones, you said that's the band you wanted to be in; why would a technical drummer who's interested in those kind of things hear this sound and say, "That's what I want to do"? How does that focused, simple, straight-ahead thing attract you as a drummer?
MR: Because when I was growing up as a kid, that's the kind of music that I liked...it didn't exist then, but the 4/4 time, the 2 1/2 minute song, I always liked that and I liked the simplicity of drummers from the British Invasion, like Ringo Starr, Dave Clark, and at that time things were getting very bloated. There were albums with two songs. So when I heard that album (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. That's when I tried my hardest to be able to fit in and do this.
PSF: Tommy, you weren't the first drummer in the band, right? Joey was?
TR: Joey was the first drummer.
PSF: What did the band sound like when Joey was the drummer, and what did you do to change the direction of the band, rhythmically, when you started drumming?
TR: With Joey it was a very choppy sound, sort of like a jagged rockabilly feel, kind of a little bit like the White Stripes, with lots of cymbals – smashing cymbals, very choppy, jagged – and the major change was smoothing it out, giving it a flowing feel, more of a propulsive kind of straight-ahead feel, rather than the stop-and-go chop-chop-chop thing. That's what I was looking for when we were trying out drummers, and unfortunately they weren't able to do it, because when we were trying out drummers, what they were playing was basically a heavy metal kind of Carmine Appice, John Bonham style, which every rock drummer was doing at the time and it just didn't fit the music.
So eventually the guys teased me into playing the drums. Basically, I had to create a drum sound that I heard in my head to fit the music, but actually, as soon as I started playing drums, it really clicked. The combination of John's guitar playing and the drumming I was doing really did kind of click right away. Within a month we were playing CBGB, and the sound developed from there.
MR: It's a funny story: when I auditioned for the Dolls I just got out of a band called Dust, we were very young at the time and I was doing all these insane metal fills, and Jerry Nolan and I – it was me and Jerry at the audition – I was friends with them and they asked me down and I started playing, showing off, doing all these ridiculous...well they weren't ridiculous, but they didn't fit in to what they were doing. Jerry just kept the beat – this was after Billy Murcia died – and I realized the mistake I made, that I wasn't keeping the groove, doing what I wanted to do to impress them that I was the greatest, and I could do this and I could do that, but that wasn't how it is if you wanted to keep a tight beat, and Jerry got the job. But that's what I liked about the Ramones. You didn't have to be John Bonham or Ginger Baker to enjoy yourself.
PSF: I know you guys were big Dolls fans. Was Jerry Nolan, or that kind of a drummer, a model for what you were looking for?
TR: No, no.
MR: DeeDee liked that, right?
PSF: Did you have role models?
TR: Yeah, yeah. Al Jackson, Charlie Watts were the models for me, sort of. But the thing is, when Mark came aboard it was a great opportunity to expand the Ramones' palette, and that's exactly what we did. We collaborated really well, and one of the reasons that Road to Ruin sounds so good is because of that collaboration. Because his experience, his knowledge of drum technique, combined with the Ramones feel, really broadened our capabilities, and you can hear it on Road to Ruin. It was a lot of fun making that record.
PSF: A lot of us who were on the scene at the time, writers and musicians, thought of you, Tommy, as the "artistic director" of the band...other Ramones talked about you being an advisor when the band was getting started. In End of the Century I was astonished to hear the other Ramones say that they thought you had nothing to do with the sound of the band. It struck me as a really odd thing to come out of that movie, and I was wondering what you thought of that, how you felt about it and where you think that came from?
TR: The problem was they were always afraid that if I got any credit I would get all the credit, which is ridiculous because all four of us contributed equally. They had no need to fear that I would get all the credit. I think that's what they were afraid of, and it's absurd. We all contributed our thing, and all of our contributions were equally important, including mine.
I think it was insecurity. I think that what happened was that Everett True's book had just come out, where he gives me a lot of credit. I think Dee Dee must have read that and gotten all upset, and he was asked that question, and he was always uptight about that kind of stuff anyway. That's my best explanation.
PSF: Mark, what did you think about that?
MR: I didn't like that, because I can see in early tapes that he had a lot to do with it – and maybe because Dee Dee wrote a lot of the songs he felt that way – but you know everybody contributed. You just don't say that that person wasn't important enough to consider an equal. Dee Dee was a very strange guy, very bipolar; he could have turned around the next day and said that Tommy was great in the band and contributed a hell of a lot.
TR: Five minutes later he would have said that.
MR: That was maybe a chemical imbalance that he had, but 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. They were all important and it's the chemistry. Without that there's no band.
PSF: I think it was Seymour Stein who said something in the movie like DeeDee was the biggest monster, then Joey and then Johnny – not mentioning you guys – what does that mean to you?
MR: Ask him. He knew them in the beginning.
PSF: What was it like being with the three of them, with their various personality differences, especially the Joey and Johnny feud?
TR: The best way I can put it is sometimes you have to deal with danger to get results. And in certain ways these were dangerous people, who came up with brilliant creative ideas. In my dealings with them, I tried to harness as much of that brilliance, but a lot of times I got burnt. It's very easy to get burnt in there.
PSF: That's why you left the band?
TR: I had to eventually leave the band because I would have been consumed by the fire. But it was definitely worth it, and I knew it was worth it. When I got involved with it, I knew what I was getting into. I knew what I was dealing with. I saw what it was and I dealt with it as long as I could, and it was certainly worth it but these were like very complex, very troubled – but brilliant and talented – people, very creative and that's what the Ramones were.
PSF: In what ways was Joey dangerous?
TR: Talent often comes with ego and a competitive spirit and there was a lot of that; constantly, constantly a battle for turf. I tend to be a very peaceful person, by nature. Most of the time I was trying to keep the peace, but a lot of times they would gang up on me...most of the time. Johnny was very good, basically, at divide-and-conquer tactics. And when I was in the band he was able to do that. I think [it goes] on in all bands – this isn't unique to the Ramones – but that was the general atmosphere. I just loved it and enjoyed the creative aspect of it, writing the songs, making the records, and performing. The actual touring, and dressing rooms and everything, was very hectic.
PSF: Mark, what was it like for you, walking into this war zone?
MR: Well immediately I got attached to Dee Dee. I had my own eccentricities, Dee Dee had his, and I guess we liked each other for those reasons. John and Joey, you could see there was friction; one day they wouldn't talk to each other and the next day they would, then weeks would go by and they wouldn't talk to each other. Dee Dee had a lot of different addictions, I was starting to drink, so a lot of things stemmed from that too.
John [was] trying to keep the band together as a unit, and all this crazy stuff [was] going on, and then something happened in the early '80s with a girl and that separated them for eighteen years. Business had to be done, but Joey was really, I guess, hurt because he was really in love with this woman who went with another band-mate. That was a big reason. Who knows how in love he was with her. But like Tommy said, they were all different people. I had my problems, they had their problems. I was happy to be in the band, playing on the albums. I liked the touring, I liked traveling, I liked warming up in the dressing room with them, I liked going out at night...
TR: That's why I love Mark.
MR: I liked going to CBGBs with Dee Dee. I liked hanging out with Joey when he would do his special projects, and I ended up doing the solo album with him. Like any band, they argued. Like any family, they argued. In any business – office politics – people argue. It's when you go up on that stage, what you do – whether it was petty or not – is you leave that aside, all your differences, and try to play the best you can. That's how I felt.
PSF: The movie End of the Century, which was pretty grim in some ways...was Johnny more involved in that movie than others of you?
PSF: You had the DVD, you had the stage show, he had the movie?
MR: No, no, no, there were no choices. Tommy was involved with his thing because they asked him to do it. John had nothing to do with it. John was in the movie maybe because he wanted to be more involved in the movie. They just came to me with questions.
TR: What happened was this: End of the Century has been in the can for at least six years. In the beginning, I was heavily involved in it. A lot of the early footage – which has been taken out because you can only put so much in a movie – dealt with the early Ramones, Dolls, things like that, and later on Johnny got involved, and he sort of took over the movie, because he liked it and realized it was a pretty accurate portrayal of him.
And even though it seems somewhat negative of him, it's not really, because his idols were people like Ty Cobb, people like that. So he understands that you can be famous and be a person like 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. He liked the film. When he got involved, the film became more well-rounded, in terms of the history of the band. It became more symmetrical.
PSF: The movie gives the impression that it was Johnny's band...kind of in control. Did that come from his involvement?
MR: My opinion is that it geared toward him, and that's why he liked it a lot, because he could of – I'm not sure – but maybe manipulate it that way...you can see it.
TR: When Joey passed away there was a lot of media coverage of Joey, as if Joey was the whole band. This infuriated Johnny, naturally, because nobody was the whole band, but this infuriated him. So he wanted to make sure that he saw how Joey did it. Joey had a lot of friends in the media, Joey was always out mingling, making connections, schmoozing, whatever. So Johnny started doing that, in the last years of his life. He started hanging out, he made friends; he got friendly with the media. This way it gave him a chance also to get his story across. So what happened is, yes, in this movie, I guess it's Johnny's...I guess it's as if it was his band.
PSF: ...he kept it together, he was in charge...
TR: Yeah, all that. Certainly when I was with the band, it was pretty much a democracy. 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. He was an intelligent person; he took advice well, and understood what worked and what didn't.
MR: I saw the beginnings of the movie. I saw the first few cuts, and as I watched the final cut I realized that John had a lot to do with wanting people to see him like that, as he's portrayed in the movie. And he was proud of that, he was proud of the way he came off.
TR: His heroes were Ted Williams, John Wayne, Ty Cobb.
PSF: Ronald Reagan
MR: Sgt. Barry Sadler...Staff Sgt. Barry Sadler.
TR: He loves John Ford movies, and the John Ford Irish myth of America. I think sometimes Johnny confused Americanism with Irishness, which doesn't make sense, especially historically, but to him it's one and the same. His vision of America was very John Wayne, John Ford.
MR: ...like Donovan's Reef.
PSF: Back to the beginning of the band for a second. The speed of the songs, the brevity of the songs, the fact that the songs came one after another, the twenty minute sets, no guitar solos: was that a function of the way Johnny conceived it musically, was that a group thing, or did that have something to do with the way that you organized the rhythm? How does the whole package of the Ramones come together?
TR: The speed is pure Johnny. Johnny was a fastball pitcher. He associated everything with sports. And the speed was his virtuosity. He could play very fast on a guitar. So the actual speed of the songs came from Johnny. The brevity of songs – we were looking for short songs, because we wanted to bring back the original feel of rock 'n' roll, which by the '70s had disappeared. You know, the ten minutes songs and everything. We wanted to bring back that "whomp bop-a-lu a"...And of course short songs played fast become very short.
PSF: What about the stage set, with the songs coming one after another?
TR: Johnny was very impatient, right from the beginning, and we saw it worked; we all had a sense of humor – certainly me and Johnny – so we saw that the speed worked.
PSF: What about the image?
TR: The imagery developed over about a six month period. We decided to wear the stuff we used to wear through the years growing up, stuff that fit the music and was comfortable, and that we were comfortable in. We used to wear those sneakers when we were teenagers and we used to wear jeans and then we started wearing motorcycle jackets later on, so we combined all of that in a way that fit the music.
PSF: What was it like having to hold onto that image for such a long time Mark?
MR: I came from Brooklyn, I wore the same thing: jeans, leather jacket, US Keds – they weren't called Pro Keds – Levis and a leather jacket. I went to Erasmus, Flatbush Avenue, some things you don't do there, that you didn't wear when you went to High School, or else you'd get your ass kicked, or someone would. It was a rough neighborhood, and the greasers were still there; they didn't want to change. They hated the hippie era, and they still were wearing the slicked-back hair. If you were in any way different at all, they would find a reason to have a fight with you.
TR: Mark comes from a much rougher background, I guess, than Forest Hills. He's the real deal.
MR: I had to do what I had to do. I never wore a suit or a tie. I'd always get kicked out of school. I had to go to summer school three years in a row. In the band before, when I was still a junior in high school in 1971, I'm wearing my leather jacket...I'm wearing my jeans.
TR: I guess the difference is that's what we wore all the time. I think that's what made the difference.
MR: It wasn't off the rack.
PSF: Did you spend a lot of time with Joey and Johnny when they were ill?
TR: Oh, wow, that's a good question.
MR: I saw Joey in the hospital once. I recorded his album with him while he was ill. He was still in good spirits. We had a little argument about something really stupid for two years, but luckily we made amends. He asked me to play on his album, but he was still in the hospital. He would come out of the hospital occasionally and do certain things, then he'd have to go back. I saw him, and I saw John in Los Angeles in March, when he did the commentary on the DVD Ramones RAW and I spoke to him when I was in Los Angeles, over the phone. 'Cos he moved to the West Coast, and I don't fly out there every day. Joey was in and out of the hospital so I was able to see him before he passed on, and I was very grateful.
PSF: A lot's been made, obviously, about the fact that Johnny and Joey didn't reconcile. Johnny had made the statement that he didn't think Joey would want to hear from him. Do you think that was true?
MR: Well, it's in the movie. John, in the movie, said, "If I didn't feel strongly about somebody or somebody didn't feel strong about me, I wouldn't want them to feel any different."
TR: If I can give you an opinion about their relationship, I think that in the beginning they liked each other. That's my feeling. In the beginning of the band...of course John would say he never liked him – I think they did like each other. John didn't hang out with people he didn't like. He agreed to have Joey in the band, so he liked Joey. He hung out with Joey before the band, he must have liked Joey, and I know Joey liked John, because all of us liked John. I think the rift between them happened after I left the band. Joey took it as an opportunity to seize power. And I wasn't around to play them off each other anymore, and Johnny had to deal with Joey. Joey playing the role of lead singer, given confidence from Phil Spector, so Joey became a different person. John had to deal with that and John didn't like anybody to be...
MR: ...in power. It was a power struggle.
TR: He had to be the king. As far as Johnny's concerned, there's only one top man. So I think that's where the conflict between them started, and escalated through the years.
MR: Then there was the thing with the girl...and Phil loved dealing with Joey, but John couldn't deal with working with Phil because of the time he had to take to work – John worked quick, Phil worked slow, and that brought a lot of animosity too. Phil gravitated towards Joey more, which might have gotten John all upset.
TR: That's an understatement.
MR: But that's what happened.
PSF: But that was twenty years ago; you made so many albums and did so many tours after that.
MR: Twenty-five years ago.
TR: That album took about a hundred times longer to make than any of the other albums.
PSF: Were you involved in that album?
TR: No, I wasn't. I think Phil thought of it to a certain extent as a Joey solo album. Maybe that isn't a nice thing to say, because Phil loved the Ramones, but he loved Joey. He just loved Joey. He loved tall people in general for some reason. Whether it was a basketball player – he had a fetish for tall people – and he just took to Joey. And Joey just loved Phil Spector.
MR: You'd sit in the van for six hours driving and not a word was said...a lot of the times...the radio would be on a sports station. Joey didn't like that, he didn't like hearing sports; he liked music. So there's always this, "I'm gonna do this, but I wanna do this, blah, blah, blah." You would try to break the tension in the air by saying some stupid joke or making a stupid sound so everybody would laugh. Then you'd break the ice a little. But when Dee Deed left the band – who I guess I was closer to at the time – they separated even more...unfortunately.
Then there was management change, and the power struggle ended up being different too. So it was a continuous being in the middle. If I didn't talk to Joey one day, he'd say, "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, how come you didn't talk to me." I'm serious, that's how it was. Was it like children in the sandbox? I guess so, but it went deeper than that. I didn't grow up with them. I joined the band in '78. So who knows what happened that developed later on in life.
PSF: Let's talk about the DVD. They're obviously your home movies. It's your project.
MR: 200 High-8 tapes. Two hours each. 400 hours. I took the camera around, originally just to focus in on the sights – France, Eiffel Tower; London, Big Ben – and I would show relatives, no matter how distant they were. But I realized that there were no cameras around us. And at the time cameras – they got smaller – they used to be huge. I guess a lot of people didn't carry them around. We didn't allow people in the dressing rooms with videos. They were basically shy. They were shy people. But the thing which was great was that we could have the camera there, and you're in the inner circle, and eventually you would get them not acting. That's themselves, what you see in that DVD.
So I was able to do this, and I kept filming them, filming them, just to have one day, just to give them a copy, but then I see all these other bands putting out these DVDs, so I said, "Let's do something with this stuff, there's a lot of interesting things on here." So that's how it developed. But I'll tell you one thing it was a big pain in the ass carrying that big thing around, because you had to go through customs with it, you had to make sure the X-ray machines didn't erase the film. You had to go outside the X-ray machine, then they had to check you out. They wanted you to open up the case first, in case it was something else. But it worked, I was able to do that; I took it everywhere with me with my other luggage, and there was some pretty impressive scenes on there.
PSF: Question for both of you...I watched the DVD (Ramones RAW), and the quality of it reminded me of A Hard Day's Night or The Monkees; it's very teenage – fooling around, very lighthearted, very fun. But when I hear about the Joey and Johnny feud, I think about Let it Be rather than Hard Day's Night, and there's none of that in this film. Was that a matter of what you left out, or was that what you filmed, or did you make a conscious decision about it, to have that quality? The contrast between that and End of the Century is stark, because that's an adult, gloomy, intense film and this is so light and buoyant. Was that a decision you made going through the material or is that just what the material was?
John Cafiero (director): It really is just what the material was. Everything you just described is everything I hoped to bring to the project. Because to me that's what the Ramones were. They were really hard, they were really aggressive, but they were really a lot of fun, all in one package.
And I've been a huge fan. The band has been my favorite band since I'm ten years old. So the majority of my life has been listening to the Ramones. And when I was about 35% into my first rough cut, I called Marky and I said this is gonna be like the Ramones' Hard Day's Night. So it makes me proud to hear you say that.
I watched every stack of footage that Marky'd shot. As he mentioned to you, he shot over 200 High-8 tapes. I watched over 400 hours of footage, and sure, I'm very aware that the Ramones had their ups and downs, but in that footage there really wasn't anything that was so negative. There wasn't anything that was so dark. I mean, more or less, the darkest stuff in there was Johnny and Marky arguing about, "You threw grapes at me." That's really more or less what it was, there wasn't really anything that I left out.
MR: There was no intention to soft-soap anything. What you see is what you get. If there was an argument, I would have filmed it. Maybe somebody would have said shut the camera off, but I would have diligently kept it on.
JC: It's not contrived in any way.
PSF: You're almost telling me that it was pretty much fun all the time, and that's in contrast to what you said about what was going on.
MR: This is the story. You achieve something in life. The band did a lot of good things, and you have to let people know that it wasn't bad all the time, and those are the moments that I captured. Obviously, the band stayed together for twenty-two years; in spite of the personnel changes and the rifts with the girl and whatever, it was a lot of fun too.
JC: And that's something that heavily came across in the footage. The Ramones had a great sense of humor. And there was just a lot of that that I wanted to make sure that people had the opportunity to see. So any piece of footage that I thought was worthy from the fans' perspective, I really tried to make work coherently throughout the show.
And the intention was never to be like a straight-ahead documentary. Of course, it could be categorized as a documentary because it's real-life events taking place, but more than anything I really wanted it to be like the experience of being with the Ramones, and I feel like I accomplished that, the way that it was put together.
So hopefully that's more or less the way people will perceive it, a video scrapbook, and the experience of being the Ramones rather than watching the Ramones reflect on what happened when. Because, to me, although I don't discount other things, I don't discount End of the Century – there's a lot of insight that comes from that – but as you guys have discussed earlier, which is an extremely true point, if you shoot a bunch of interviews with people after the fact, especially when you're dealing with such eccentric personalities, their mood is gonna affect what their answer is.
If they're in a bad mood that day they might tell you something that isn't really a true perception of what went on. I mean, as you brought up, there were comments about, Tommy didn't affect the sound. Obviously there's no denying that Tommy had a big impact on the sound. He himself said all four people made their contributions which made it what it was. So, to me, I don't discount the work that Michael (Gramaglia) and Jim (Fields) did; I know they worked on it really hard. But, I'd much rather watch history take place than watch someone talk about that history, and not really know for certain if we're getting the full picture.
PSF: The other thing that struck me about your film (Ramones RAW) is that it's very young in a way; you have a lot of young fans that keep running after you, a lot of teenage sort of antics. Where End of the Century is such an adult film. It's almost like two different bands, but it's the same people.
MR: Eventually that's what came around. The younger generation picked up on the band and that's what you see there, luckily. I'm very grateful for that. There were times when I wish I could have used two hands to hold on to things, especially with the van incident. When they were running after us, shaking the van, five or six hundred kids standing outside the hotel room, being pursued, and the van stops and they're all over us. That was very risky. And they were kids. Great, you know.
TR: There's a lot of depth, a lot of dimension to the Ramones. Certainly one or two films will not capture all of it. And all the angles are true. There's some that probably haven't been seen yet. Certainly to a large percentage of the fans, Mark and John's film (Ramones RAW) is what they want to see. Because, you know, the happy times, the good times, which are genuine, the Hard Day's Night side of the Ramones, it's there.
PSF: Tell me about the show you're involved in (Gabba Gabba Hey). What's that like? What's the focus of that?
TR: This novelist from Perth, Australia sent me the script for this musical. It's basically about a boy, who runs away from an abusive home, and he runs away to the Lower East Side and he gets into more trouble. He's a Ramones fan, a Ramones fanatic. And basically the show follows his adventures on the Lower East Side of New York. It's got 18 Ramones songs and this New York Dolls song and the Motorhead Ramones song, and it's amazing how well the songs fit the story. Actually, it makes sense if you think about it because most of the Ramones songs were somewhat autobiographical, based on real events. Even though some of the songs seem bizarre, they're all based on real feelings. So it works really well. They had a showcase premiere in Perth, Australia and it went really well. So now we're working on bringing it around the world.
PSF: Were you the musical director of the production?
TR: Yes, I was the musical director and also somewhat of a technical advisor, trying to keep it real to the Ramones...because it wouldn't work unless it was real.
PSF: Is there a live band playing the Ramones?
TR: There's a live band playing the songs. They were real hardcore Ramones fans; one of them, the guitar player, was in the Clash. They play great, and the actors do their thing and it works.
PSF: Do they have the Ramones drum sound down?
TR: I worked really hard on that. I had to teach them...
PSF: The way you taught Marky?
TR: Yeah, I kind of played backwards, so, yes. It's like the cymbal hits come where they normally wouldn't. It makes all the difference in the world too.
PSF: A lot of doubling on the floor tom?
MR: Eighth notes. One hand going like this...(drums on the table), not two.
PSF: Reminded me of, I guess, Dave Clark?
MR: He was mainly a snare player. But more like (sings and beats on the table) "Hey baby, do you wanna dance...so let's dance." When I heard that song first, when it came out, that's what he did he counted 1,2...1,2,3,4. It just works. It's just eighth notes.
TR: Mark knows all this stuff. Him and Jerry Nolan and Peter Criss were like encyclopedias of the history of drumming, certainly rock drumming.
MR: So that's what it is. To play it for an hour and a half, sped up from 33 to 45, it's another story.
PSF: Do you listen to any of these Black Metal, Death Metal bands with drummers that play incredibly fast, double drum pedals?
MR: No, I'm not impressed by speed. I'm impressed by a feel. That gets me off. I've seen all the fast drummers, I've heard all the drum fills. They've all been done. I'm not into Death Metal, now that's just my opinion. There's a market for it. They're doing it, they're very physical with what they're doing. But what interests me is, it might sound ancient, but I like listening to Hal Blaine, Phil Spector's drummer. I like listening to the stuff Keith Moon did on the first Who album. Where did all this develop from? From these guys, it's like going back to Elvis, back to Jerry Lee Lewis, these are the guys that created that. I can understand why kids like these hardcore heavy metal drummers, because they're doing all these fills and accents and all this stuff, and in the way they're teaching the kids certain things to do, and eventually the kid ends up developing his own style. That's just my opinion. They're very impressed by the speed. I'm impressed by style.
PSF: I asked you before if you'd seen Joey and Johnny a lot when they were ill. Tommy you didn't answer that question. You said it was in interesting question but you didn't answer it – what's it been like for both of you to be the surviving members of the band?
TR: It's hard to take.
MR: You think about it every day.
TR: It's too awesome and bizarre to really deal with. So you just sigh, and you go, "Boy that's so strange."
MR: There's a reminder of it every moment. One time in every day, a song or a photo, and you go, "They're gone."
TR: I didn't get a chance to see either Johnny or Joey. It's interesting. Dee Dee never saw anybody in the hospital ever. I think Mark and CJ are the only people in the Ramones that saw a sick Ramone.
PSF: You couldn't bring yourself to go?
TR: No, no I wanted to see both of them. I don't think they wanted to be seen...ill. I talked to both of them on the phone. Every time I made an offer to see Joey it was like, "Oh, nah, nah don't." The way it ended up, everybody else ended up seeing him except for me. Almost like there was a conspiracy to keep me away, or something. That's getting paranoid, I suppose, but there's a lot of paranoia involved in the Ramones organization.
MR: Yes, there is...a lot.
TR: ...on everybody's part. The Ramones is like the Ramones itself and there's like an extended family. The extended family is very jealous and controlling of their Ramones-ness.
MR: That's true.
TR: Anyway, I was kinda kept away. But me and Joey talked on the phone, so there was a closure there, but it was very painful for me that I wasn't able to see him.
With Johnny it's a little more complex. I got there about five, six days before he died. Maybe a week before, he's very ill by then. And I was talking on the phone with him all the time. Basically pleading to see him, and for whatever reasons he didn't want to see me. With him I guess it was a combination of many things, but one of them possibly being, again, since I never saw him very ill, maybe he didn't want me to see him in that condition. I think, because he could have passed away at any time at that point, because that's the stage his illness was at, he seemed to want to be surrounded by his new friends, who were all celebrities.
And this for some reason was very important to him. I think he considered it a sign of achievement or of winning the prize of being successful by having celebrity friends, I guess. This is very important to him. Winning and achievement were everything to him. Everything was a game to him and he had to win it all. If you noticed the press release of his death, it says he was surrounded by...you know the names, big names.
MR: To me it sounds like a publicity thing.
TR: Anyway, it was important to him, for whatever reason.
TR: So, there were no Ramones of any kind at his...you know...when he passed away. Nor at his funeral.
MR: I was in Europe when I heard the news. It was inevitable...even when I saw him four or five months ago. Some people when they're in that condition...they might not want people to see you, who you've known for years. It didn't seem like that.
TR: But it's got to be more than that, because even at the Rock + Roll Hall of Fame Johnny had his own table, with his celebrities.
MR: Exactly. He liked his celebrity friends.
TR: He didn't have any Ramones at his table. And he didn't have any Ramones or Ramones extended family around him. I think he wanted to separate himself, put himself in another league or something.
PSF: This idea that we see in End of the Century, that it was his band. Do you think he wanted it to be thought of in that way? That he was the Ramones?
TR: I don't know. I really don't know, but it's interesting. It's interesting because we had total closure. Here I was in Los Angeles, just a couple of miles away from where he lives...we had closure over the phone. And I said, "C'mon I wanna go see you." He said, "Nah, nah." We knew we were close, you know, we bonded over the phone. But it was strange, really strange. He had to play his game all the way to the end. He had to win, whatever that means. I don't know. I mean, I certainly didn't think he won anything, but in a way that made me feel good. That he left thinking that he won, which was very important to him. That made me feel great because what he had to go through was unbelievable. I felt so bad for him. I mean it was just so awful what happened to him. So I felt good about that, that he felt like he left a winner.
PSF: What do you see in the future? These projects that you're involved in now, is that like the last hurrah of the Ramones? Do you think you might collaborate? Do you think there might be something else?
MR: I'm writing my book.
PSF: I heard Ringo the other day say he was tired of people asking about the Beatles. I wondered if you had that kind of feeling?
MR: It's always gonna happen. That's the business we chose to be in. People live longer than others. I'm writing my book. He's involved with his play. We got the DVD. I do a spoken word show, which I'm going to do a lot more of.
PSF: What's that like?
MR: I describe the New York Scene, starting with Jayne County, Max's Kansas City, auditioning for the Dolls, then playing with Richard Hell, going to Europe touring with the Clash, coming back and being asked to join the Ramones, being in the Ramones, and other things too.
PSF: Is it just you talking?
MR: I have a 90-selection slide show behind me with a twenty-minute video intro that I threw together, and a Q & A. That's basically it. It's funny, I guess I can use my other talents, sometimes thinking I'm a comedian. But it flows. I've gotten a lot of good, positive reaction from it. Who knows what the future brings. I'm just glad the RAW video came out, the movie's done, and for me life goes on.
TR: Like Ringo says, it's hard. But it's a duty. It's very important that people know about the Ramones, because I feel that the Ramones were such a special band that were under-appreciated. A majority of people don't know anything about the Ramones, other than like a one-dimensional imagery of them or something. So I think it's important to get the news out, to get the story out. I give the interviews and I do these things for that purpose: to get the message out, to let people know about the Ramones. Since the band isn't in existence. They used to tour so that would serve that purpose, so now the kids have to get it from stories and listen to the records. I just wanna let everybody know about the Ramones and keep giving the message out.
MR: The Ramones were a band. To me no one individual was more important than the others. It was a unit. One member of a band could not exist without the others. You needed the drummer, you needed the bassist, you needed the singer, you needed the guitar player. So to say it was somebody's band to me is ridiculous. It was all of our band.
I drove Tommy back to Queens with the Cheney-Edwards debate on the radio. Tommy talked about his current "psycho-bluegrass" acoustic music project – Uncle Monk – and more about the Ramones. He thought it was unfortunate that End of the Century did not make it clear that Dee Dee was a pathological liar, and anything he said he would contradict within five minutes. He talked about Johnny rebelling against then "becoming" his military father. He described discovering Gilbert and Sullivan, and how he thought their lyrics were so much like the Ramones. And we talked about the election and politics. Tommy said he had heard Ann Coulter recently, and was struck by her vicious anti-liberal wit. "Johnny was just like her," he said.
Also see our Richie Ramone interview
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