Marky Ramone may not be the last surviving member of the Ramones (he shares that honour 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.
Phil Spector had a lot to be proud of, but he was proudest of his billiard table. Right here the legendary pool player Willie Mosconi had given Phil lessons on how to sink balls like a champion. Mosconi had once sunk 526 in a row. He could make one billiard ball jump over another and then strike and sink a third ball. Mosconi had coached Paul Newman during the filming of the 1961 movie The Hustler. Phil Spector was no Paul Newman, but when it came to producing a record, he was Marlon Brando.
He had big plans for End of the Century. The Ramones’ fifth studio album was going to be big in both the sonic and sales senses. Seymour Stein was paying Phil Spector on the order of a quarter million dollars to produce it and put the band over the top.
Phil led us back to the living room and explained how his Wall of Sound would meet the Ramones’ wall of sound and create wall-to-wall sound. For that to happen, we had to all listen to him and put our confidence in him. He told us how much he liked the new songs, including “Do You Remember Rock ‘n’ Roll Radio?” which he said had a classic fifties feel and which should become a huge anthem. He had high hopes for “Danny Says,” which was an airy ballad and a major departure for the group.
The cover song he wanted to do was “Baby, I Love You,” which he had cowritten back in 1963 for the Ronettes. Phil emphasized how important it was for Joey to get the right feel on the vocals for “Baby,” and that if he did, there was no stopping us. The song had been a hit before and could do it again.
Although I loved the song, I wasn’t sure it was right for the Ramones. But it wasn’t like I was going to question the judgment of probably the greatest producer who had ever lived. In any case, Phil Spector was comfortable with old friends, whether they were songs or people. It was easy to see why Grandpa Al Lewis fit into that category. Lewis’s politics were, like Phil’s, radical and to the left. There in the living room, with his cigar and classic New York accent, Lewis argued for the abolishment of New York’s harsh Rockefeller drug laws and the establishment of universal health care. John wasn’t into it.
“You give these lazy immigrants something free like that and you’ll never get rid of them.”
“Who wants to get rid of them except you?” Lewis said.
“They built the country.”
“People like my father built the country,” John said.
“Do you know how many Chinese immigrants died pounding out the Union Pacific Railroad, my friend? Hundreds!”
I had to laugh hearing John warn us about immigrants taking free stuff. All his T-shirts came from the band’s merchandise. We would get plain T-shirts in bulk so that Arturo Vega could silk-screen the Ramones logo onto them for sale after the shows. Before the logo went on, John would skim a dozen black shirts, a dozen blue ones, and a half dozen of whatever color. Those were the shirts John wore to every occasion including interviews, bar mitzvahs, and wakes. He never under any circumstances bought underwear or socks. His mother always bought him a ton of them for Christmas and that was all he ever needed. John’s yearly wardrobe budget was zero dollars and zero cents.
Grandpa Al was more than a left-winger. He was an eccentric and one with a delusion here and there. He told us he served on the legal defense team of the 1920s anarchists Sacco and Vanzetti. There was no doubt Grandpa would have if he could have, but he was about eleven years old at the time—or an infant, depending upon which birth date you believed. He also informed us that in the sixties he met Charles Manson, who babysat his sons. “He was a gentleman!” Grandpa said. Hearing this, Dee Dee started talking about his own sons, who didn’t even exist, and about his fictional days fighting the Vietcong. Someone should have grabbed a tape recorder, because this was an album.
When we walked into Gold Star Recording Studios on May 1, Phil, my new buddy, stopped me.
“Take it off. Take it off! I’m not spending the fucking day staring at a picture of my ex-wife!”
I was a Ronettes fan. It was as simple as that. That’s why I was wearing a T-shirt with Ronnie Spector and the other two Ronettes on it. It was not to annoy Phil. If anything, it was a tribute. For a second, I didn’t know what to do. On one hand, I didn’t take shit from people, including the guys in my own band. On the other hand, I wanted things to go smoothly, especially now. We didn’t need to start the album of our lives with a confrontation. But on the first hand again, I didn’t have another T-shirt with me.
So I took off the shirt, turned it inside out, and put it on again. Now Ronnie’s gorgeous eyes were staring at me, not him. I thought I saw Phil smile for an instant. It wasn’t much—just an upturn of one side of his mouth and done. I had shared wine with Phil many times and felt equipped to deal with him. If everyone in the room took the same approach, there was no reason it shouldn’t be smooth sailing.
There wouldn’t be many people in the control room. Those were Phil’s rules. It would be just Phil, his longtime engineer Larry Levine, the three other Ramones and myself. No wives and girlfriends allowed, and no crew. Monte had driven us to Gold Star from the Tropicana and would drive us back later but was content to sit in a chair just outside the control room. He had other things to worry about and had taken enough shit from us on the road to last a dozen rock-and-roll lifetimes.
The women at this point were Marion, Vera, Roxy, and Linda. Linda was Joey’s girlfriend. We discovered that fact when filming for Rock ‘n’ Roll High School wrapped and Linda boarded the van to continue with the Ramones on tour. Joey hadn’t stepped inside yet, and Linda took a seat in the front row. John turned around and busted her in one second flat.
“No, no, no, honey. You sit in the back.”
“What do you mean?” Linda said.
“We have rules here,” John said.
“You’re with Joey. You sit in the back.”
“Not for long,” Linda said.
Even as she got up and moved to the rear, Linda was defiant. John was speechless. He opened his mouth halfway as if a string of words coupling rage and disbelief were on their way out, but their sum total was silence. He shook his head and looked around as if to point out that we were all witnesses.
She was short, pale, and rail thin. But that’s where the similarities ended. Linda had a big mouth. She had an answer for everything. Joey seemed to love that about her. Shy and nonconfrontational as Joey was, Linda had enough chutzpah for the both of them. And when she went to battle with John, it was like Joey went to heaven. Still, she sat outside in the studio lounge with the other women. Butting heads with Phil Spector was out of the question.
Just hanging out in the lounge at Gold Star was an honor. This was where it all happened—if not literally all, at least most of it. Phil Spector and Gold Star made magic together. The Ronettes recorded a string of Top Forty hits within these walls. Phil Spector gave birth to the Righteous Brothers’ “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin'” here. John Lennon, George Harrison, Leonard Cohen, Ike and Tina Turner—the list was long and the space on the walls too small to fit all the gold records produced within them. Gold Star’s résumé was largely Phil Spector’s résumé.
It was also Larry Levine’s résumé. Larry was Phil’s engineer. He was there for the whole ride. When you heard the strings and horns blend in perfectly at the beginning of the Crystals’ “Then He Kissed Me,” it was Larry Levine’s finger on the fader. When you heard the pounding bass guitar on Ike and Tina’s juiced-up version of “Proud Mary,” it was Larry Levine mixing the miked speaker sound with the direct signal.
Someone not only had to know exactly what Phil Spector meant when he shouted “Give me more bottom!” but had to actually give it to him. And fast. When Phil Spector created a wall of sound by cramming forty musicians into a tiny room, someone had to make sure every brick in the wall was where it was supposed to be. Like any good soldier, Larry Levine deserved combat pay once in a while, whether or not he actually got it. Like only some good soldiers, Larry was very gracious and professional. We were lucky he was here for the whole Ramones ride.
The doorway leading to the Gold Star echo chamber off to the side was narrow. The walls in the main room consisted of thick cement plaster with heavy isolation forms. As we set up the drums, I was conscious of Phil Spector’s preferences. He leaned away from cymbals and hi-hats. He preferred to get his trebly percussion sounds from tambourines, maracas, or any other percussive instrument he could better control in the studio. Particularly with a cymbal, once there was a big crash on the drum tracks, the “wash,” or fade, of that crash overlapped everything and could easily get in the way of other sounds. The cymbal was next to impossible to scrub out when you were going back to work on the tracks.
For that reason, Phil Spector would physically remove Wrecking Crew drummer Hal Blaine’s cymbals. In the back of my mind, I thought about the trouble that approach would cause the Ramones. We had a style. I had a style. That style could be tinkered with but not sabotaged. Going to the crash cymbal was automatic for me. It was automatic for the band. When it felt right, I reached for it like a runner taking a deep breath. Fortunately, the issue never came up. Phil’s main suggestion was to put a towel over my snare drum to get a dry sound, and I agreed.
I played to a click track, as I always did in the Ramones. I never did it with Richard Hell and the Voidoids, because that music was largely about rhythmic feel and included multiple changes in time signature within a given song. Sophisticated programming would have been required to match a click track, and all that effort would have hurt the songs anyway. But Ramones songs were perfect for the click track: 4/4 and 2/4. I knew if I could play along perfectly with the click, the band would sound that much more solid and tight. Phil Spector agreed. And John liked the savings in studio costs.
I played the songs one after the other. Through the glass I saw Phil pound the console a couple of times, but it was no big deal. I couldn’t hear any of it in the headphones just like I couldn’t hear what looked like Phil’s occasional yelling at Larry. Other than my own drums and the scratch tracks, all I heard most of the time in the “cans” was Phil hitting the “Talk” button and saying “Try it again.” Usually by the third or fourth take, he would yell, “That’s it! That’s the one!”
Usually I knew what he meant. The difference between a passable take and a keeper was often just a matter of energy. That was a subtle difference on some songs. On “Chinese Rock,” the heroin saga Dee Dee had written with Richard Hell, it wasn’t too subtle. Phil Spector pumped his fist into the air at the end of the second take, and all I had to do was let the microphones record the quick natural fade-out of the hit on the snare.
Phil listened closely and agreed when I suggested we use Rototoms on “I’m Affected” and “This Ain’t Havana.” Rototoms could actually be tuned—by rotating the head—which I thought would work well with the big sound Phil was looking for. There were certain pitches that resonated more depending on the degree of echo. It wasn’t like Road to Ruin, where the bottom heads of the drums were off and I was just looking for a big thud.
Day five was nothing like days one, two, three, or four. Phil had a concept in mind for the opening chord of “Rock ‘n’ Roll High School.” The opening chord to the Beatles’ “A Hard Day’s Night” was an F with a G added, played on a Rickenbacker 12-string electric guitar. Producer George Martin had George Harrison strum the chord hard and let it ring out for a few seconds. There was incredible sustain on those notes, and it became probably the most famous, identifiable chord ever to introduce a rock-and-roll song. The very first time the world heard that chord, everyone knew that whatever followed was going to be great. In that vein, Phil wanted John to let his opening chord ring. John wanted to wring Phil’s neck.
We lost count of how many times Phil had him play it. We lost track of time itself. It had probably been over an hour. But like Chinese water torture, an hour could seem like a lifetime. The drip-drip-drip of this torture was consistent enough to cause madness. John would stroke down on the G and stand there scoffing while it rang. He looked down at his Keds sneakers, then rolled his eyes up toward the ceiling.
Meanwhile, Phil shook his head, pounded the console, and motioned with his finger to do it again. He did a shot of Manischewitz and tossed a Dixie cup into the garbage can. Phil muttered a few things, but he wasn’t yelling. Neither was John. That was too bad. The silence was deafening. It was a cold war, and we all wanted someone to fire a harmless little shot to break the tension. Even better, we wanted Phil to yell, “That’s it! That’s the one!” But it never came. It was hard to know for sure, but it seemed like Joey enjoyed it.
Phil reached for his gun. Dee Dee sat up straight. Joey stopped grinning and put down his Coke. We knew what we knew, or at least we thought we did. Phil had pulled a gun on Leonard Cohen in this same room. Phil had fired a shot off in the studio during the recording of John Lennon’s album of classic cover songs, Rock ‘n’ Roll. Now he would have Johnny Ramone make history even if he had to kill him.
I didn’t believe it for a second. Phil walked a few paces to his right and laid his .38 down on the wooden end table alongside the console. The .45 came out next. The firearms were even less likely to send anyone to rock-and-roll heaven on that end table than they were in their holsters, but the other Ramones apparently didn’t see it that way. Dee Dee looked at me as if to say, “Should we run for it?” I shook my head back as if to say, “Give me a fucking break.” John was frozen on the other side of the glass. But Phil walked back toward Larry and gave John the signal to play. The faucet was dripping again.
The water torture itself had the sustain John’s chord lacked. Something was needed to stop the insanity, but what? A power failure like the one during the Voidoids sessions during the summer of ’77 would have been nice, but blackouts rarely came when you needed them most. Maybe Larry Levine would come up with a technical solution. Maybe John would break a string and we would move on to something else. Anything else.
Relief came as it often does: in the form of two LA prostitutes. They walked in one after the other, following George Brand. One hooker was a bleached blonde wearing red spandex and a tight, low-cut silk blouse. The other had dark hair and an olive complexion with a body wrapped in denim so tight that if you opened a button, she might pop like a balloon. Both hookers wore fur coats. It was eighty-two degrees on this May afternoon in Southern California.
Our producer followed George and LA’s finest out the control room door. Phil’s drill was to disappear into a side office and return ten or fifteen minutes later as if he had been to the men’s room. We didn’t know exactly what to call this kind of break, so we called it lunch. The control room door flew open. It was John.
“You all saw that. He was going to fucking shoot me.”
“Yeah, right,” I said. “In your dreams.”
“Well,” John said, “let him shoot me. It’ll be better than going through this shit anymore.”
“You saw him pull out those guns, Marc, didn’t you?” Dee Dee asked.
“You’re overreacting,” Joey said. “He didn’t point them at anyone.”
“He was getting ready to use them,” Dee Dee insisted.
“Remember, those are heavy guns,” I said. “You expect him to carry them around in the studio all day?”
At that point, Dee Dee told us the same story he had told us several times over the last few days. While we were at the Beverly Hills mansion, Phil had a talk with Joey in a room upstairs. Dee Dee and John thought Phil wanted to take Joey away from the Ramones and produce him as a solo act. That didn’t make any sense, especially with Seymour Stein paying Phil Spector a lot of money to produce the group. More likely, Phil was interested in getting the best and biggest vocal sound possible on the album and wanted to give Joey kind of a pep talk.
In any case, Dee Dee, who like the rest of us was drinking all afternoon, wandered upstairs to find Spector. According to Dee Dee, at that point Phil, maybe thinking Dee Dee was an intruder, burst out of the room with his .38 drawn. Dee Dee claimed they had a few words and then Phil pointed the gun at Dee Dee’s heart and told him to go back downstairs to the living room.
It wasn’t impossible that it happened this way, but I didn’t actually see it, and it was unlikely. And I had to consider the source: Dee Dee, who fantasized the way other people breathed. It didn’t make him a reliable witness, but it made him a great songwriter.
In the control room, after hearing this, I told the other guys not to obsess over the guns, the yelling, the pounding, or the retakes. We were going to walk away with a great album. I also told them to remember where Phil was coming from and not to take it personally. When he was in high school, he was grabbed by a bunch of bullies and beaten severely, after which he swore he would never be a victim again.
“He probably fucking deserved it,” John said.
Phil was in a good mood when he walked back into the control room. The LA hookers were worth their weight in gold. Maybe platinum. Phil was very cordial with John and had Larry adjust the guitar amp setup in the echo chamber to do tracking for “Rock ‘n’ Roll High School.” Phil, John, and Larry got a lot done over the next thirty minutes or so until the door to the control room opened and Monte walked in. I saw Phil’s mood sour a little right away. Monte wasn’t supposed to be in the room except at the end of the session when it was time to drive us back to the Tropicana.
“I need to talk to John for a minute,” Monte said.
“We’re in the middle of something.” Phil shot Monte a nasty look.
But Monte proceeded into the main recording room and fished John out. They left together through the control room. Phil was now visibly angry. Whatever personal triumph there was for him in working smoothly with John for a short while had now dissolved to disgust, and Larry was right in the line of fire.
“Don’t ride the fader! Don’t ride the fader unless I tell you to!”
“Okay, Phil. I got it.”
“Not okay! What part of ‘Don’t ride the fader’ do you not understand?!”
The control room door opened again and Monte stepped in. I was braced for Phil to savage Monte for sending him into a tailspin.
“I have some bad news,” Monte said. “John’s father died.”
We called it a day.
John’s father had died of a heart attack. It was a complete shock. He was only sixty-two. It was obviously very sad. He had recently retired and moved with John’s mother to Florida. There was such a thing as the American Dream, and there was also the American nightmare. The nightmare was to spend your entire adult life doing hard labor in return for a few golden years and then get shortchanged. I had seen it many times before, and it wasn’t going to be me if I could help it.
When we saw John in the lounge a minute later, he was pale, numb, and shell-shocked. One bookend to his life was John Wayne, and the other was his father. He idolized his dad. He was always trying to please him, to prove himself. Even in the Ramones. And now he was on his own.
John was gone for a few days. He had to fly from Los Angeles to New York to see family, then from New York to Florida for the funeral. Phil used the studio time to work on bass parts and vocals. Working with Dee Dee seemed to stress out Phil even when the bass sounded great. The annoyance jumped a couple of notches when we worked on “Chinese Rock.” I thought the song was coming out okay. Joey liked it. Dee Dee, of course, loved it. And Phil went through a lot of Manischewitz and Dixie cups.
When John came back, he looked worn-out and not just from jet lag. He had flown a triangle around the country to put things in order, comfort his mother, and be strong for everyone who came to the funeral. He had no time to even begin sorting out what his father’s passing meant to him. But beneath the bags under John’s eyes was a little smile, which he explained to us. Linda had gone along with Monte a few days earlier to drop John off at the airport. And today she had also gone with Monte to pick him up.
Johnny and Linda Ramone (Photo: Catherine McGann/Getty)
All of this was anything but expected. Not only was Linda Joey’s girlfriend, she and John seemed to be in perpetual conflict. Whatever the dynamics, John was touched that someone would care enough about him to go along, especially with no obligation to do so. John seemed to believe he had alienated the rest of the band, and of course there was some truth to that. So Linda’s gesture meant even more.
We weren’t sure if it had something to do with John’s return when the following day Phil Spector asked us all to enter the control room at Gold Star to hear the playback of “Rock ‘n’ Roll High School.” The most unusual aspect of the request was that it included everybody—wives, girlfriends, and crew. Maybe it was Phil extending an olive branch. Maybe he just wanted to prove to us how great the album was turning out under his direction. Whatever the case, we were glad to get a chance to hear progress.
The couches in the control room were stuffed with bodies. Monte sat next to John Markovich, our sound man. The control room was usually off-limits to both of them. The last time John Markovich had stepped inside, Phil shouted, “Who the hell is he? Get him out of here!” Phil Spector didn’t seem impressed when we told him repeatedly Markovich’s vocation. If anything, it got him more pissed off. As for Monte, he was allowed entrance only to inform band members of a parent’s death. And even then . . .
Phil hit the “Play” button on the main tape machine. We heard John’s one-chord intro, which sounded not quite up there with “A Hard Day’s Night” but pretty good nonetheless. Next, we heard the drums, then guitar, a bit of Joey’s vocals, and then Phil stopped the tape and rewound. We figured there was a technical problem. Phil hit “Play” again and let the tape run before stopping at about the same spot and rewinding again.
Phil said nothing, and we asked nothing. He went through the cycle a third time, then a fourth, then a fifth. I looked quickly at Marion, who, with Phil’s back turned, shook her head a bit. I knew that look as well as I knew anything. It meant What the hell is going on here?
I really didn’t know. It seemed a little hostile, maybe toward John. Maybe Phil was trying to point out how the chord needed still more sustain. Or maybe he was showing us that all the hard work had paid off. I wasn’t sure. The only thing I was sure of was that I wanted to hear the whole song and so did everyone else.
“Well, you don’t need me here.”
It was just a whisper from Monte to John Markovich. It wasn’t meant for anyone else’s ears, especially not Phil’s. But Phil had the best ears in the Western Hemisphere, so if we heard it, so did he. It might as well have been said in the echo chamber. Still, Monte lifted himself up off the couch and tried to slink out of the control room.
“What the fuck do you think you’re doing?” Phil Spector was pissed off.
“I’m leaving,” Monte said. “You don’t need me here.”
“You’re damn right we don’t need you here,” Phil said. “We only need the keys.”
“Are you deaf? The keys. To the van. Hand them over.”
“C’mon, Phil,” Monte said. “What are you doing this for?”
“What do you think, you’re going to go back to the Tropicana and take a nap? Fine. Take a cab!”
“I’m responsible for the van,” Monte said. “The insurance is in my name. I can’t just leave it with you or with anyone, for that matter. If something happens to the van, it’s my ass.”
“I got news for you,” Phil said. “It’s already your ass. Van or no van.”
At that point I felt bad for Monte. He seemed to be fighting back the tears. No matter how many gold records Phil Spector had on his wall, there was no way the Ramones were going to fire Monte. Not over this. On some level, Monte had to know that. On another level, Phil had us all so agitated that anything seemed possible. Someone from the band should have jumped in at that moment on Monte’s behalf. But no one did. We were paralyzed. Monte was between a rock and an echo chamber.
I felt even worse when I considered the way we endlessly pranked Monte. Earlier in the year, on our way from Chicago to Detroit, we all had to take a leak and the next rest stop was at least a half hour away. So we pulled the van off to the service road of Route 90 and took our turns. Each of us would pee facing the van, so that the vehicle would shield us from the passing traffic. I went, then John, then Dee Dee. Joey was holding it in.
Marky Ramone next to the famous Ramones van. (Photo: Courtesy of Marky Ramone)
When it was Monte’s turn, John took the wheel, and we waited till Monte’s fly was open. At that point John put the van in gear and pulled up about fifty yards, leaving Monte exposed to the world. His reaction was the normal one. He panicked and ran to catch up with the van with his schlong still hanging out. I let John know Monte was coming, and when he got close, John stepped on the gas and pulled the van forward another fifty yards.
And here we were at Gold Star, leaving Monte exposed all over again. This time it was no joke. Monte walked out of the control room and into the lounge, all the while hoping Phil wouldn’t follow him, but he did. John, John Markovich, and I followed behind. Phil wasn’t going to let it go. Where were the LA prostitutes when you really needed them?
“I’m coming back later to pick everybody up,” Monte said. “Okay?”
“No. Not okay. Don’t come back.”
“I am coming back,” Monte said. “It’s my job.”
Monte made his way out the exit. No personnel were fired. No shots were fired. Phil shook his head and walked back into the control room muttering.
“Stupid schmuck.” I looked at John, who was also shaking his head, and offered the only two words that popped into my head.
John had another concern. Phil had told him earlier in the day that we were going to move to a different studio the following day, but Phil wouldn’t tell him where. I told John that’s because it’s nowhere. There was no way we were relocating. This was the place where all the magic had happened going back to when we were still kids listening to Darlene Love. Maybe Phil was just kidding around with John. Or fucking around with John. Either way, I felt the urge to get away from it all. I thought about renting my own car and heading up into the hills.
I was glad about one thing—that no matter how close he had come to blowing a gasket, Monte ultimately did not give in to the great Phil Spector. In a sense, Monte had earned his own gold star.
But this was no way to make an album. We all knew it. So the four of us put in a call to Seymour Stein. Seymour was one of the all-time class acts and had sunk a fortune into the Ramones more out of belief than out of financial sense. So we weren’t going to tell Seymour Stein what to say or do or think. We just had to clear the air. We were at a boiling point. We never knew what to expect when we walked into the studio. There was happy Phil, and there was down Phil. There was understanding Phil, and there was maniac Phil. We needed producer Phil.
That night, when Phil Spector knocked on my door at the Tropicana, he seemed fine, and I certainly wasn’t going to recap the day’s events or tell him we had complained about him to the guy who was paying all the bills. Phil enjoyed my company and had obviously calmed down. He probably had a few drinks between then and now, and if the bottle of grape Manischewitz in a brown paper bag was any indication, he was about to have a few more.
Fortunately, there was always other stuff to talk about, especially with Phil. The nuclear plant at Three Mile Island in Pennsylvania had nearly melted down earlier in the spring, sending the eastern part of the United States into a state of fear and alert. The crisis was averted, but Phil was convinced it actually got much closer to a catastrophe than the government ever admitted, and more radiation got out than we were being told. I agreed. A meltdown was a terrible thing on either coast.
The next morning on the van ride over to the studio, John told us he had heard from Linda Stein the night before. Seymour had called Phil and asked him to cool it. It was fine to do whatever he needed from a production standpoint, but the confrontations had to stop. That included confrontations with the Ramones crew who, like Phil Spector, were just doing their job. There was no argument. Seymour was paying him, and that was the way it had to be.
Phil was calm when we got to the studio. He had never been abusive directly to the band members, but now he was far less edgy and more businesslike. Dee Dee looked ready to bounce off the walls as Larry set up his microphones and Phil watched. We were working on the bass sound for “I’m Affected.” The bass guitar introduced the song and had to be big.
Phil had Dee Dee run through the song a few times before recording. Larry had three or four microphones on the bass cabinet at different distances and angles. Phil told Larry repeatedly to leave the faders up, but Larry kept bringing them down a bit.
“How fucking badly do you want to ruin this song?” Phil said. “That was the sound I was looking for, and you went and fucked with it.”
“Phil, there was too much distortion on the bass. I couldn’t record it.”
“You mean you have the balls to sit there and tell me something you’ve done . . . something we’ve done a thousand times you suddenly can’t do.”
“We never recorded with that amount of distortion,” Larry said. “What’s distorted is what you’re telling me! What’s distorted is your fucking brain!”
Larry Levine and Phil Spector in a recording studio. (Photo: Ray Avery/Getty)
It struck me that no matter how good the album might turn out or how many copies it might sell, the experience of making it wasn’t going to get much better than this. Phil wasn’t giving less shit. The shit was just running downhill.
The next day, Monte told us we had the day off. He had gotten a call from Gold Star Recording Studios saying that Phil wouldn’t be in today. It was kind of a relief, but John and I didn’t want to waste the day. So we had Monte drive us to SIR, a rehearsal studio on Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood.
“Us” consisted of John, Dee Dee, and me. Although my tracks were already down, we wanted to make demos of a couple of songs that still needed guitar and bass, starting with “I Can’t Make It on Time,” and “All the Way.” We took one of the medium-sized rehearsal rooms in the back as opposed to the large production stage at the front. About a half hour in, I had to go to the bathroom, so I excused myself and walked to the men’s room down the hall. After finishing and washing, I figured I would get a fresh pair of sticks from my shoulder bag. As I unzipped it, I saw that my wallet was open and my money was gone.
It was $150. I knew I had packed it. I remembered putting it in that morning just before walking out the door. I challenged my memory. Maybe I thought about putting it in the bag but didn’t. No, I definitely had. I remembered putting it in the billfold and even remembered the denominations—six twenties, two tens, and two fives. I turned my head and saw Dee Dee sitting on a stool and fiddling with his bass. As I looked up from the floor, he looked down at me. If it was an awkward moment, it was awkward for me only. When John walked back into the room a moment later, it was game on.
“What are we going to do, John?” I said. “My money’s gone.”
“You sure?” John said. “Of course I’m sure,” I said.
“Okay, come on, Dougie,” John said. “Start with the pockets. Come on.”
“Seriously?” Dee Dee said.
“Come on, Dee Dee,” I said. “I gotta check you out.”
Dee Dee didn’t put up a fight. He just shrugged and emptied his jean pockets. Out came room keys, a few dollars, roach clips, and a rainbow assortment of pills. That wasn’t going to be good enough. I had him hand me his leather jacket, and I went through that. Then John told him to take off his pants entirely. John knew I didn’t want to pat Dee Dee down. I didn’t want to relive being strip-searched at Erasmus even if I was the one doing the searching. It was bad enough I had to see Dee Dee almost naked. If management or another band walked in, they would have thought the Ramones were rehearsing for a porno instead of an album.
It was amazing how many drugs one man could slip and shove into his clothing if he put his mind to it. Dean Gallo would have lit up like a Christmas tree. But my money was still missing. I knew one thing: if Dee Dee had it up his ass, he could keep it.
I looked at one last suspicious area and then looked at John. John nodded.
“C’mon, Dee Dee,” I said. “You gotta finish with the socks.”
Dee Dee was now sitting on the floor. He put one foot up on his knee, pulled off a white Champion athletic sock, and turned it inside out. I nodded, which in universal strip-search language meant C’mon, the other one, too. Dee Dee took off the other sock, and the money came right out. I picked it up and counted it: six twenties, two tens, and two fives.
“Don’t look at me,” Dee Dee said. “I don’t know how it got there.”
“It’s a complete fucking mystery,” John said.
“You are one sick little klepto,” I said.
There was no yelling. There was no further interrogation. There was no apology. Dee Dee’s expression didn’t even change. That was more upsetting to me than either losing the cash or even the idea that my bandmate would steal it. For all Dee Dee apparently cared, this could have been the baggage carousel at LAX. I counted the money a second time, put it back in my wallet, and we continued rehearsing.
We rehearsed at SIR for a second day and a third. I took my bag to the bathroom every time I had to go. When we resumed the sessions at Gold Star, I took a good look at Larry Levine. He looked okay. There was a rumor going around that Larry had suffered a minor heart attack. To me, “minor heart attack” was an oxymoron. If it was true—and we definitely weren’t going to ask Larry or Phil—it had to have something to do with stress. Specifically, the stress of being used as a whipping boy over the past few weeks or the past couple of decades. The more you held it in, the more it came back to bite you. But I didn’t want to play doctor or psychologist. I was just glad Larry was alive and well. In the studio, it was business as usual.
Johnny, Dee Dee, Joey and Marky (Photo: Peter Noble/Redferns)
Business as usual for the Ramones included wearing leather jackets on the album cover, but there was now talk of doing away with them. The photographer, Mick Rock, had us shoot it both ways: one set with the jackets, the other without. The shots without the jackets were above the waist only and featured each of the four of us in a different solid-colored T-shirt: black, yellow, red, and blue. Now that we heard through Danny Fields that Sire was considering putting the T-shirt shot on the cover, it was time for a band vote.
I thought we should keep the coats on for the cover. First of all, it was punk. Second of all, we looked better in the jackets. Third, and not necessarily last, with Phil Spector at the helm, End of the Century was in all likelihood going to have more of a pop sound than our audience was used to, so I felt that keeping the jackets on would reassure our fans. The place for the T-shirt shots, I thought, was the inside cover. No jackets inside the jacket, get it? It was good bonus material, but not an album cover.
John agreed. He had been wearing the same exact jacket the whole time I had known him, and to him it was a family member. But Joey and Dee Dee liked the T-shirt shots, so the vote was two to two. The record company would have to serve as the tiebreaker. It didn’t matter much right now. The album wasn’t due out for a while. The project was winding down, and there wasn’t much left for John, Dee Dee, or me to do. I wanted to get back home and relax for a little while before we started touring again in June, and it seemed John and Dee Dee couldn’t get out of LA fast enough.
Though it was also premature, we talked about what song or songs might become singles. “Rock ‘n’ Roll High School” seemed like an obvious choice, but the lyrics were over-the-top anti-school. “Do You Remember Rock ‘n’ Roll Radio?” seemed like another obvious choice, but that one broke an even more sacred rule: Don’t bite the hand that feeds you. Or plays you. The song took a clear shot at commercial radio of the day, blasting stations for generic playlists and predicting the imminent death of rock and roll.
We wouldn’t know for sure for a while still, but it looked like “Baby, I Love You” would be the first single off the album, given its history. I didn’t mind that Phil had Jim Keltner play drums on “Baby, I Love You.” Jim was one of the best session drummers around. His massive résumé included extensive work with John Lennon, George Harrison, and Ringo Starr on their various solo projects. George and Ringo even put notes on their album covers asking people to join the Jim Keltner Fan Club. For me, having royalty fill in once in a while was an honor.
The guitar work on “Baby, I Love You” was being done by David Kessel. He and his brother Dan were sons of Barney Kessel, session guitarist extraordinaire and charter member of the Wrecking Crew. If you took people like Barney Kessel and Hal Blaine out of the picture, the Billboard charts of the fifties, sixties, and seventies would look like a wall full of holes.
The background vocals on the original version of “Baby, I Love You” had a strange history of their own. Even though the Ronettes were scheduled to tour at the time, Phil Spector held back his future wife Ronnie Bennett to work on the lead vocals. While Ronnie’s cousin Elaine filled in on tour with the other Ronettes, the background vocals in the studio were performed by Darlene Love and a seventeen-year-old Cher. They were the best fill-ins available on the planet.
Whoever Phil Spector had in mind to sing background vocals this time around, it wasn’t going to be Dee Dee or, for that matter, Johnny Ramone. They were flying over the Rocky Mountains by now. I wasn’t far behind.
Before he took off, John reflected for a moment on Three Mile Island. He had no use for all the fairy rock stars and the No Nukes concert they were already talking about putting on. In fact, John said, we needed more nuclear plants—a lot more, and fast—to put an end to those long lines at the gas pumps and to destroy those Arab towel-head fucks and their oil fields. I didn’t bother arguing. If nothing else, it was good to see John feeling like his old self again.
From Punk Rock Blitzkrieg: My Life As a Ramone by Marky Ramone and Richard Herschlag. Copyright © 2014 by Mark Steven Bell. Published by Touchstone, a Division of Simon & Schuster, Inc. Reprinted by permission.