Marky Ramone may not be the last surviving member of the Ramones (he shares that honor with Richie, C.J. and even the short-lived Elvis Ramone), but he is the last man standing to play with the group in their 1970s heyday and he lasted far longer in the band than any of his fellow survivors. His new book, Punk Rock Blitzkrieg: My Life As a Ramone, tells his whole crazy story, from his early days on the CBGB scene as the drummer in Richard Hell & the Voidoids to taking over for Tommy Ramone in 1978 through getting booted from the band for substance abuse issues to his eventual rehiring. Along the way, he played on classic tracks like “I Want to Be Sedated,” witnessed countless scenes of madness and acted in the classic film Rock ‘n’ Roll High School. In the 11th chapter, he writes about the group’s tumultuous 1979 recording sessions with Phil Spector. Here is an exclusive excerpt:
We were back at Los Angeles International Airport waiting for our baggage to slide down the ramp and swing around the carousel. I knew what everyone’s stuff looked like more or less, and the Ramones’ luggage wasn’t on the first cart unloaded. A situation like this one required patience, and Dee Dee didn’t have any. He edged up to the carousel and eyed a particular red American Tourister suitcase that had already circled around once, unclaimed.
The suitcase looked like it had taken a beating over the plains states. The handle was busted and the zipper was broken. Clothing was sticking out. As the bag swung around for lap two, Dee Dee positioned himself to intercept it. He yanked it off the belt using the broken handle and began rifling through. A white silk blouse caught his eye. So did a gray cashmere sweater. Dee Dee had excellent taste in stolen women’s clothing at the airport. He slipped the items under his jacket and continued the treasure hunt.
I smiled and looked at Marion in disbelief. She smiled back and rolled her eyes. There were a hundred and fifty witnesses and basic rules of civilization, and none of them seemed to mean anything to our bassist. But the middle-aged white lady now yelling in Dee Dee’s face caught his attention.
“Excuse me! What are you doing with my clothes?”
“Oh, this yours? Sorry.”
He didn’t seem sorry at all other than that he was caught. He pulled the blouse and sweater out from under his jacket and sheepishly handed them over to the lady.
“What is wrong with you?”
We were all still trying to figure that out and really didn’t expect a breakthrough here in baggage claim at LAX. The lady folded her garments and tried to put Humpty Dumpty back together again as Dee Dee gazed back down the carousel for the next victim. I hoped our luggage was coming soon.
There were turrets on either side of Phil Spector’s Beverly Hills mansion. As we stood outside the wrought iron gates waiting to be led inside, I wondered whether Phil Spector himself was up right now in one of those turrets looking out on me, Dee Dee, Joey, John, and Monte. It was kind of the same creepy feeling Dee Dee and I got walking along the Berlin Wall and getting lit up by searchlights, except the East Germans weren’t looking to deliver the Ramones a platinum album.
It was less a house than a compound. There were a lot of warning signs. Do not enter. Do not touch gate. Beware of attack dogs. The signs looked pretty amateurish, and that made them more rather than less imposing.
George Brand let us in the front gate, past the fountain, and in through the large wooden entrance doors. The furniture was mostly red velvet from the mid-seventies, which was recent history but receding fast. George led us to the living room, where behind a grand piano sat Phil Spector.
“Ramones! You ready to make the best album of your lives?”
“Yeah, yeah, ready.”
Sitting on the love seat was Grandpa Al Lewis. Lewis would forever be connected to the role he made famous on the sixties TV show The Munsters. But I loved him even before that as Officer Schnauser on Car 54, Where Are You? It was surreal seeing him in Phil Spector’s living room— or anyone’s living room, for that matter. And the next surprise arrived when Grandpa stood up. He was well over six feet tall. In the cowboy boots and ten-gallon western hat, he looked closer to seven feet.
Phil walked us toward his billiard room. On the way there I looked through to the gigantic kitchen and saw a massive Saint Bernard chained up in the corner. He looked big enough to drag the mahogany cabinets and marble counters with him if he really wanted to. If a visitor for some reason tried something unwise and somehow got past George, Phil’s guns, and Phil’s karate, the dog would maul whoever it was and make them wish Phil or George had finished the job.