In one corner of a voluminous Brooklyn rehearsal room, party hard–meister (and Voice advice columnist) Andrew W.K. — wearing his trademark all-white outfit from shirt to sneakers — noodles at a grand piano. Next to him, relaxing on an orange sofa, sits Marky Ramone, drummer and icon of one of the world’s most recognizable and beloved bands — clad in black, head to toe.
In his fifteen years with the Ramones, Marky weathered his share of punk rock tours, but now it’s his first time doing a punk book tour — along with full-band performances with W.K. on vocals — to promote the new Punk Rock Blitzkrieg: My Life as a Ramone (Touchstone; $28).
Ramone first toured with his band Blitzkrieg in 2010; W.K. came on board as singer in 2013 (he was preceded by Michale Graves, most famous for succeeding Glenn Danzig in the Misfits in the Nineties), making his debut with the band at Santos Party House, the New York club he co-owns. W.K. and Ramone’s Blitzkrieg then went on several European tours.
While the other Blitzkrieg members — guitarist Mark Neuman and bassist Graham Vanderveen — tune up across the room for their January 17 show at the Gramercy Theatre, Ramone and W.K. share tales that would enthrall any rock ‘n’ roll high schooler.
Marky Ramone: We met through a friend of ours, Steve Lewis.
Andrew W.K.: The king of the nighttime world.
Ramone: Yes, he is. He’s known for building clubs in NYC. I’ve known him since 1979–80. Steve brought Andrew over to [Bowery restaurant] DBGB and we ate. We had a rehearsal and everything worked out fine. Andrew brought his own way of doing things to the songs and it worked out great. Great performer. It just went well.
W.K.: Thank you. I was very happy to even be asked, to be considered via Steve, but of course, it was up to Marky, and that dinner alone…I went into it not really expecting that I would get the position. Marky was looking for a singer to do some shows, and to continue on the legacy of these [Ramones] songs being played live, which I really understood and believed in, but I was also very intimidated. Not just by the music itself and the legacy, and wanting to do a good job, but it was also a huge quantity of material to learn and do well, and there was a lot involved when you care about it, and I was taking it very seriously. It was very challenging. But Marky was very patient and gave me many chances to rehearse and improve. I can say going into it, I never expected 1) to be able to pull it off, but I never expected it would make me a better singer, a better performer, and all around a better person…being better able to contribute to whatever I’m doing in life. There are a lot of added bonuses and unexpected life improvements that came from this adventure. I’m very humbled by it and very thankful.
Ramone: And Andrew does it his way. Not to take away from Joey, obviously, but it’s 2015. Andrew, he definitely does wonderful justice to the songs.
W.K.: I appreciate that. The songs stand on their own, and for me at least, it’s impossible to sing [like Joey], and I would imagine for anybody, you can’t…live up to Joey. It’s a futile attempt.
Ramone: Or any other singer. Everybody has their own style.
W.K.: But he especially was extraordinarily unique and it’s an embarrassment to even attempt to try to replicate the magic of that. You don’t even touch it. Out of respect.
Ramone: Definitely. He had a style. And Andrew has a style. They both work.
W.K.: That’s the brilliance of the songs; the songs are so magically powerful, in a very elusive, mysterious way. Many people think, “Oh, it’s so easy
to replicate this style.” You cannot do it. It emerged out of a vortex that is not easily accessed by anybody. Even, I’d say, with all due respect, when the songs are being created, it’s not clear sometimes how these things happen. It’s so delicate, and the level of achievement, that any of this happened at all, let alone that I’m a fringe participant — that’s the thing: I think about these songs — not even getting to play them, just thinking about the music — it makes me feel better about being alive. How does that happen? All the parts are so unlikely that something like that winds up. And I just get to be near that phenomenon, and it rubs off on you and improves your life.
Ramone: And also, there were three chords. They were very memorable with really wonderful hooks, the choruses you could sing, they were two minutes long. And there were, I think, seventeen studio albums, so there’s a lot to choose from.
W.K.: As a singer, as long as you sing the song, it brings it out of you. It’s like playing with great athletes, I think. You may not be the best tennis player, but you play with Andre Agassi, and you’re going to play better. The song makes you better at music. That’s how powerful they are.
Ramone: When the Ramones asked me to join, 1978, for the first album I was going to record with them [Road to Ruin], you’re so immersed in it because of the joy and the pleasure of hearing them that you start playing them really well. I feel the songs are too good not to be played. There is a whole new generation after we retired in 1996, so a lot of those people weren’t even born then. That’s why it’s good to tour the world and keep [the songs] alive.
W.K.: I never got to see the Ramones live. They played in Ann Arbor, where I grew up. You played the Blind Pig — it’s on YouTube, which is amazing — but that club was eighteen and over; I couldn’t even get in.
Ramone: We always tried to stay away from that eighteen-and-over. We wanted everyone to come.
W.K.: Of course. I didn’t have a fake ID: I never would have had the balls to try to break the law at that time.
Ramone: I had a fake ID when I was a kid.
W.K.: Even at that time, the Ramones, for me, it really was like the Beatles or the Rolling Stones.
Ramone: Oh, thank you.
W.K.: Not that [the] band…would be around forever, but it was hard to imagine a time when [the Ramones] wouldn’t exist. I was born into it. It permeated so many levels of culture. [It was] an ideology, a way of how you could do things in life.
Ramone: The set we play now is cream of the crop. I look back at old videos all the time — I own the largest Ramones video library — so I can see the reaction of the audience, the cheers, so then I’d gather the set list. Of course, we’d play new songs every time an album came out, then integrate them with everything else. I have 400 High-8 tapes of the band from around the world.
W.K.: There are some cover songs that have a lot of words. Convoluted lyrics, like “I Don’t Wanna Grow Up,” the Tom Waits cover…
Ramone: Yeah, that’s true…
W.K.: It involves almost stream-of-consciousness words like a child might say. But I like those challenges. Then there are songs I feel like I’ve known my whole life, even if I didn’t, they’re so inherent, and those are usually the Ramones songs. Like “I’m Affected,” which is one I had to learn new. Without even trying to memorize it, I realized I had memorized it. I can’t think of any other lyrics to sing. That’s the only thing your body feels like singing.
Ramone: Like “I Don’t Care”: “I don’t care I don’t care I don’t care I don’t care.” I’m sure it’s fully ingrained, you know what I mean?
W.K.: It’s very satisfying to be completely within the music.