It isn’t easy being a Ramone.
With three of the bandmembers dead (Joey, Dee Dee and now Johnny), the remaining members are left to carry on a legacy that doesn’t completely include them, since only one (drummer Tommy) was an original member. Still, Marky Ramone, who took over on drums after Tommy’s departure and played with the band longer than any other non-original member, is doing his best to carry on for the band — mainly with a DVD he’s put together about the group, called “Raw.” And it couldn’t have come out at a better time, Marky said. “Raw” is the happier-days antidote to all the obituaries of the last three years — and to the recent rumors about how the bandmembers actually hated one another.
“Contrary to what a lot of people thought, it wasn’t just infighting. There were good times too,” said Marky (real name Marc Bell). “And I’m grateful to have been in a band like that.”
During the last eight or nine years he spent touring with the Ramones, Marky carried a Hi-8 camera with him everywhere he went, and he shot a ton of behind-the-scenes footage. He said that at the time, he hadn’t been thinking about releasing it one day — it just seemed like a natural and non-intrusive way to document the band. “They weren’t playing up to the camera or anything,” Marky said. “And I had no commercial thoughts at all. I just thought I might give [the footage] to them as gifts one day. It just seemed like a good idea.”
In all, Marky shot around 200 two-hour tapes. Eventually, over the course of nine months, he and director John Cafiero whittled the footage down to five hours. Then, in May, Marky brought Johnny Ramone in to work on the commentary track.
“He went to the studio, he watched it and then he made his comments,” Marky said. “It was very simple. He didn’t want to watch all the footage before the finished version. He wanted his reaction to be fresh on the first viewing. And he’d get so focused, going over those memories. I think he really enjoyed it.”
Johnny’s prostate cancer was taking a heavy toll on him by that time (see “Ramones Guitarist Johnny Ramone Dies At Age 55″ ). “I’m amazed he had the energy to do this,” Marky said. “And I’m grateful that he did this. I’m also grateful that I was able to give him something back, that it gave him a chance to relive those memories. And he gave us a huge compliment. He said this was exactly the way he remembered it, too.”
Once Marky saw the condition Johnny was in, he decided that if anyone asked him about the guitarist’s health, he would tell them the truth — that he thought Johnny was dying. That decision didn’t make Marky very popular in the Ramones’ circles, and it made Johnny’s wife, Linda, very angry at the time (see “Johnny Ramone Is Not Dying, His Doctor Says” ).
“I got some flak for it,” Marky said. “But it was the truth, and I felt a responsibility to say something. I wasn’t being vicious. I was just trying to set the record straight. Some people were happy I told the truth. Johnny was OK with it, but his wife was a little upset. But it came from a positive place on my end, and we all made amends.”
Marky says that “Raw” — as opposed to another Ramones doc called “End of the Century” — is (inevitably) from a more positive place (see ” ‘End Of The Century’: The Ramones’ Long, Sad Trip, By Kurt Loder” ). “End of the Century” directors Michael Gramaglia and Jim Fields focused on the dysfunction within the band, most memorably with a harsh scene in which Johnny explains why he never contacted Joey after the band’s 1996 breakup — even when the singer was on his deathbed (“If I didn’t like someone, I wouldn’t want them calling me up if I was dying,” he said). In addition, Marky said, “End of the Century” doesn’t really capture the band the way the members remembered it themselves — or at least the way Marky does.
“It’s good,” he allowed. “It’s a decent job, and everyone should go see it. But it’s a straight-up documentary. ‘Raw’ is also true-life events, but it’s more [our] experience of them. You’re witnessing it with us versus looking at it after the fact. It’s the closest to us that you can get.”