Punk Rock Blitzkrieg: My Life As a Ramone (Touchstone Publishing) certainly isn’t a literary-minded memoir in the vein of Patti Smith’s award-winning Just Kids or Kim Gordon’s recently published Girl in a Band, and it’s not a raunchy, decadent beach read like Motely Crue’s classic tell-all, The Dirt. And while Marky had a legitimately tough battle with the bottle, one that got him kicked out of the band briefly in the mid-80s, he’s a meat-and-potatoes guy and, thankfully, spared us his own version of the Scar Tissue–style therapeutic confessional.
But as a book, Punk Rock Blitzkrieg misses on a number of levels. It isn’t an especially well-written (Marky likes his puns, I’ll say that much), nor is it particularly revealing. Stories of Phil Spector pulling guns, Dee Dee popping pills, Richard Hell shooting up, and those wild nights at CBGB’s aren’t going to shock or enlighten anyone with even just a cursory knowledge of New York punk history. That might make the book sound like something of a snooze—and make no mistake, there are similar histories out there whose pages turn at a much faster clip—but despite the tome’s myriad shortcomings, there’s something genuinely and undeniably charming about the way Marky weaves his personal tale. He’s equipped with a languid yet amiable voice, which is given a slight no-bullshit edge courtesy of a left-leaning, union-proud Brooklyn upbringing, and he presents every anecdote— from the mundane (two words: Cracker Barrel) to the triumphant (the band’s induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame) to the comical (Al “Grandpa Munster” Lewis arguing politics with Johnny) to the heartbreaking (the untimely deaths of Joey, Dee Dee, and Johnny, and Marky’s own struggles with sobriety)— with equal weight. Marky comes off as simultaneously mystified, blasé, and deeply proud about being a Ramone. He’s both an amused observer and a frontline soldier in one of the most dysfunctional rock armies in musical history.
If there’s one take on the Ramones that seems to have emerged as a consensus as time moves on, it’s that they were a family as much as a band—a deeply troubled family, but a family nonetheless. Punk Rock Blitzkrieg reinforces that narrative. Johnny comes off as one real mean bigoted SOB, Dee Dee as the sweet yet disturbed kid brother, and Joey the loony cousin, at times gentle and at others maddening. Marky posits himself as the stable, level-headed peacemaker who might occasionally lose his grip but remains reliable. It’s when discussing the band’s internal dynamics and his role in them that Marky becomes most emotional. And how could he not? Setting aside the drugs for a moment, which seemingly every rock band has dealt with in some form or another, the Ramones were an emotional trainwreck: bitter, vindictive, psychologically fragile, and filled with rage. They led a claustrophobic passive aggressive existence punctuated by moments of extreme caustic behavior. Yet without a trace of sentimentally or irony—and this after bashing Johnny for three hundred pages—Marky vehemently reinforces how in the end they were “da brudders” and they cared deeply about one another. If nothing else, this take is remarkably consistent throughout every member’s personal story and illustrates the degree to which that corrosive dynamic was as integral a part of the band’s identity as the leather jackets, the presidential seal, and the 1-2-3-4. In the end, Punk Rock Blitzkrieg is probably only required reading for the most ardent of Ramones fan, but if you want to hear the story of one of rock’s most genuinely strange, iconic, and revolutionary units told by a nice fella from Brooklyn, then you could probably do worse than to sidle up to Marky Ramone.