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Books - M

MARKY RAMONE: Punk Rock Blitzkrieg - Marky Ramone {420 pages, John Blake Books}
Of all the books about THE RAMONES, my expectation of reading something new has never been higher than about this, drummer Marky Ramone’s autobiography. I had a fear that it could fall flat, but at 400+ pages, my expectations went up a notch.
It should be stated that this is not a book singularly about THE RAMONES; Marky doesn’t join the band until over 120 pages in. Before that, Marky recounts his adolescence in Brooklyn and all the childhood pranks that went with it - including throwing a dummy from the roof of a building at passers-by and also enduring some serious schooling brutality issues. Of course, he discovers music and becomes a dedicated drummer. One of the most enjoyable parts of the book for me was of the era that Marky played in his first real band, DUST.
Soon after DUST split, the Punk era begins and we get onto more familiar territory with Marky joining RICHARD HELL AND THE VOIDOIDS, and then, of course, THE RAMONES.
Some of the stories are familiar, some previously unknown. There is a great emphasis on the friction between Joey and Johnny Ramone, and the revelation that Joey did attempt to break the silence but got shot down but Johnny. There are stories of the eccentricities of Dee Dee (including addiction, theft, dishonesty), of Joey’s terrible personal hygiene, of Johnny’s iron-fist rule. There are also quite detailed accounts of the recording of each album, with ‘End Of The Century’ being captivating stuff and details of the shooting of the Rock ‘n’ Roll High School alone being enough to make this book worth purchasing.
Marky’s alcoholism is tackled with honesty and alarming clarity. His drinking is brought up early on and it steadily progresses throughout the narrative until Dee Dee discovers Marky’s hidden bottle of vodka during the recording of ‘Subterranean Jungle’. His burgeoning alcohol problem is told with great pathos; he doesn’t shirk the fact he made his father breakdown or of the destruction he caused on his final blackout and he openly admits to attending Alcoholic’s Anonymous and continues to do so today.
The passing of his fellow RAMONES is discussed, with Joey’s in particular being particularly sad - especially in light of Marky’s failed attempts to get Johnny to contact him.
Marky’s actual narrative is concisely written, using simple but effective language. It’s not expletive-laden, it’s not some kinda self-centred ego trip, nor is it an attempt at over intellectualism or revelling in the scandal and myth of one of the most dysfunctional bands ever. What it is, or appears to be, is honest, direct and incredibly readable.
The text is filled out with 16 photo pages which go back to his childhood, several featuring DUST, a few of his stint with WAYNE COUNTY and RICHARD HELL, but none with THE RAMONES. Instead there is a multitude of Marky with the likes of Phil Spector, Kiss, Bono, Ozzy and even Tony Bennett. Again, this emphasizes the point that this is Marky’s story - not just that of THE RAMONES.
Placed alongside Mikey Leigh’s ‘I Slept With Joey Ramone’, this could be the closest to a definitive biography of THE RAMONES as we are likely to get, especially one written from the inside. Having read more about THE RAMONES than probably any other band, I certainly learned a few things here, heard a few revelations and sense I probably know each Ramone somewhat better for reading this book. I certainly believe I understand Marky more now and certainly have a greater admiration for him as a person and a musician that before.
If you are a RAMONES fan, (and most of you reading probably are), then I cannot recommend this book high enough. The success of any autobiography is not to just educate (which this does), but to leave the reader with a sense of knowing the writer more intimately than before. This achieves all that and more. (24.11.15)

MDC: Memoir From A Damaged Civilization - Dave Dictor {192 pges, Manic D Press}
I think it’s fair to say that, more than any other band in US history (including DEAD KENNEDYS), none has courted controversy and been as politically outspoken as MDC in all of its creations. At the helm has always been Dave Dictor, confronting social and political ills and frequently coming under-fire for his actions and words. This is Dictor’s autobiography and no matter how well the humble reader may think they know Dave, I am sure that this will offer new insight and maybe even challenge your ideals of the man.
Although written chronologically, this has an anecdotal feel as opposed to most autobiographies. Dictor doesn’t linger too long on his childhood, nor does he dwell too heavily on his parents or schooling; however both his parents re-appear frequently throughout the book, culminating with an ‘In Memoriam’ chapter that’s laden with gravitas and respect. It’s also clear from a relatively early age he loved music, and had a way with words writing ‘My Family’s A Little Weird’ at the age of 16, before he was even in a band.
Leaving Long Island for various colleges including Tampa (where the shooting of a friend by the police was pivotal in the naming of MDC) and Boston, Dictor found himself in Austin, Texas. It was here that he discovered Raul’s and Punk Rock.
From there, it’s a straight telling of the band’s history including tours, each album is discussed, band members and associates. It’s clear Dictor has a lot of respect for those that helped him and the band on its way, and he frequently breaks the narrative to dish out some personal respect to a number of individuals.
Some of the most notable stories in the book revolve around skinheads, particularly in San Francisco and Dictor’s narrow avoidance of a beating in NYC thanks to John Joseph and Harley Flanagan, then of CRO-MAGS. Elsewhere a friend’s Great Dane saved him by attacking a crazed Nazi Skin, tales of life at the infamous Vats in San Fran, Rock Against Reagan and the furore around The Pope’s visit to San Francisco.
On a more personal level, Dictor is not shy of documenting some of his more dubious sexual exploits (and those less dubious), his time he spent teaching special needs pupils (a time he enjoyed greatly it appears, and a profession he was good at too), and his use of heavy drugs, even to the point of becoming a dealer, and how he got clean. Rounding the book off, is a somewhat horrifying account of a staph infection that was poisoning his body. It was during this time that the inspiration for the book was hatched and it’s a triumphant moment when he writes of having beaten the disease.
The book is filled out with a number of unseen photos, flyers and song lyrics.
Dictor’s narrative is certainly easy to read. He doesn’t go into any sepia-tinged sentimentality of the halcyon days of Hardcore but he does give kudos when necessary. It’s quite a conversational narrative; Dictor could almost be telling the reader these stories face-to-face at the local pub. It’s a revealing read also, none more so than when the man who wrote the ‘Millions Of Damn Christians’ album says, following his survival from the staph infection, that MDC is now, "a political hardcore band on a mission from God." That could be Dictor’s humour, but the context of the statement does suggest something deeper.
What the book does highlight, is that Dictor is most definitely one of Punk Rock’s genuine lifers. His belief in the power of music as a political and social medium is glaringly apparent and the way he conducts himself exemplifies those ideals.
A true Punk Icon - and this is his story. (24.01.17)

MINISTRY: The Lost Gospels According To Al Jourgensen - Al Jourgensen with Jon Wiederhorn {316 pages, Da Capo}
Without doubt, everything Al Jourgensen has done has been an attack on the senses. Be it aural or visual, or simply the public persona of Al, it always grabs the attention, confronts and most certainly does not sit complacently in the middle of the road. This autobiography is no different. The opening prologue details a time in 2010 when Jourgensen nearly died due to burst stomach ulcers. He was shitting and vomiting masses of blood. He passed out. It’s graphic. It’s an attack on the senses - and it sets the tone of the book perfectly.
For those who only know of Jourgensen via MINISTRY, it should be noted he is the main force behind the likes of REVOLTING COCKS, LARD (with Jello Biafra) and PAILHEAD (with Ian MacKaye) and has copious credits as a quality producer. He was a complete drug addict (Heroin, Cocaine, Acid, Methodone), an alcoholic and has been in more fights than Mike Tyson, more bizarre sexual encounters than THE DWARVES and has sufficient piercings and tattoos to keep a body art emporium in business for the best part of a decade.
Jourgensen takes the story right back to his pre-mature birth in Cuba in 1958 and, even at this stage, he was born suffering with jaundice, a failing liver and loss of hearing. The family’s move to America instigated his rapid metamorphosis into the person he is. His adolescence included stealing cars (from his parents), being bullied for being a Cuban, him fighting back and eventually the discovery of drugs and music. His childhood makes compelling reading actually; it’s clear he was troubled, but had the support of his grandmother in particular, and Jourgensen is not shy of extolling his love for the woman.
By the time he forms MINISTRY, tales of drug abuse, arrests and debauchery litter the pages. It could almost be seen as fantasy, as we read of dogs shagging women during the recording of ‘The Mind Is A Terrible Thing To Taste’ and of him being institutionalised in a multi-storey institution with nymphomaniacs on the fourth floor. Throw in the subhuman consumption of alcohol and drugs, a wry wit and some scathing critique and you are reading about a man that is both horrific and hilarious, depressing and fantastical. Somehow though, with the aid of Wiederhorn’s literary skills, it’s all intensely genuine, which only amplifies the disturbance level.
Jourgensen doesn’t hold back from showing his loathing of long-time MINISTRY collaborator, Paul Barker either. The dislike he has for the man is intense, and it is proven justified when it’s discovered Barker had been ripping him off financially. In equal parts, if you got Al as a friend, he’s quick to point it out, be it William S Burroughs, Timothy Leary or the late Mike Scaccia.
Outside of the book’s core, Wiederhorn has pulled a minor masterstroke by inserting various interviews with associates of Al, many of which are his closest including his wife Angie, long-term MINISTRY guitarist Mike Scaccia, collaborators Jello Biafra, Gibby Haynes and Phildo Owen and Al’s step-father, Ed Jourgensen. Interestingly, these interviews confirm the craziness of Jourgensen’s own account of his life. There’s also an amusing recap of MINISTRY’s recording sessions - but coupled with the drug and alcohol choice that fuelled the album specified. The book is further filled out with some photo pages and a discography of Al’s recording and production career.
It’s easy to view this merely as a sensationalist account of a man who has released intense music and lived a life so extreme it almost defies comprehension. There is more rebellion, debauchery, hedonism, animosity and anarchy here than 99% of so-called rock ‘n’ roll bad boys could ever muster. It’s alarming, stomach-churning and depraved. However, there is another side to the book, and that’s an insight to the private Al Jourgensen - one that is a devoted and humble father, loving husband and surprisingly shy individual. It is in these two seemingly polar-opposite personalities that the book has genuine depth and power. The words may very well be Jourgensen’s own, but Wiederhorn deserves credit for placing focus on those words without stripping the narrative of Jourgensen’s personality. (05.10.15)

MY DAMAGE: The Story Of A Punk Rock Survivor - Keith Morris {320 pages, Da Capo Press}
It’s without a doubt that, with the exception of Jello Biafra, the most instantly recognisable voice of the 80s US Hardcore boom is that of Keith Morris. From being the best singer BLACK FLAG ever had, through his work with CIRCLE JERKS and onto today with OFF!, the Morris vocal can be no one else: snide, sneering, arrogant and as powerful a force ten tornado. Many have tried to copy it; all have failed. Amidst all of those bands, he has an enthralling story to tell, and this is it.
It starts off in alarming style with Morris recounting the story of a road accident he had due to a diabetic blackout. It sets the tone for the damage control that has infused Morris’ life. It also makes matters clear that this is going to be a straight-talking autobiography; one that is honest, witty and lacking pretension.
From there the narrative follows the usual autobiography fare. Born a native of Los Angeles, his parents moved briefly to Las Vegas before moving back to LA. His father certainly comes across as an interesting character. Morris Senior was kicked out of High School for kidnapping the Principal, was a member of a motorbike gang, a Golden Glove boxer, a heavy drinker and regular drug user. He was also a successful business man, being owner of a bait shop in which Morris Junior often worked - and stole money for his own drug and alcohol dependency.
From there it’s a detailed account of BLACK FLAG, CIRCLE JERKS, BUGLAMP, MIDGET HANDJOB and OFF!. Throughout the bands, he was also a talent scout for a record label and manager of THE HANGMEN and THE NYMPHS. And then there was the partying... Morris makes no attempt to gloss over his alcohol and drug intake or the troubles it got him in. One particular story involves smashing up a cop car in a car park after a gig - only for all the other cars to contain plain-clothed cops themselves.
The reality of his addiction is written with a clarity and bravery few manage. The episode where he confesses his addiction and theft of shop takings to his father is an emotionally charged narrative with a surprisingly empathetic response from his father. The same clarity and bravery is displayed - possibly more so - when Morris writes of his discovery of being a diabetic. The fatal power of diabetes is highlighted even more when, in Oslo, he was due to join TURBONEGRO on stage at a festival. Due to lack of food, he slipped into a near-fatal diabetic coma. This is, once again, written without frills or fanciness, nor any aggrandizing. You can feel his despair, and his fear. The main narrative culminates with the formation of FLAG and the continuing saga of OFF!.
The book, which has been written with the aid of Jim Ruland who is a regular scribe for Razorcake zine, is filled out with 16 photo pages, an in-depth index and the usual closing acknowledgments.
Throughout the book, Morris gives his version of some of the most infamous events in Californian Punk history. Some dispel myths and hyperbole - particularly when Greg Ginn and BLACK FLAG is involved - other incidents are written about for the first time. Morris continually comes over as a genuine and sincere person; he’s quick to praise but also bluntly honest if he believes something doesn’t cut it. When he writes about himself, there is a sense of pride about what he has achieved (and rightly so) but he also writes with a wit and self-deprecating humour that erases any suggestion of egotism or self-centeredness.
This could be viewed as more than a narrative about a legendary Punk vocalist. His battles with substance abuse and later, diabetes, present a psychological exploration into the man’s own mortality and his own realisation that he is fortunate to still be striding stages and blasting thrilling, explosive music with OFF!.
This is a revealing book from someone who was not just there on the scene or in a peripheral band, but from one who was in two of the most significant LA Punk bands ever. It’s easy to read, uncluttered and honest. If ‘Nervous Breakdown’ and ‘Wild In The Streets’ mean anything to you (and if they don’t, I’m not sure why you’re reading this website), then this book really does make not just mandatory reading, but thrilling reading. (30.10.16)