Nimoy transformed the classic intellectual, self-questioning archetype…

 …into a dashing “Star Trek” action hero

How Leonard Nimoy made Spock an American Jewish icon
Leonard Nimoy as Spock on “Star Trek” (Credit: CBS)

I suspect I can speak for most American Jews when I say: Before I’d watched even a single episode of “Star Trek,” I knew about Leonard Nimoy.

Although there are plenty of Jews who have achieved fame and esteem in American culture, only a handful have their Jewishness explicitly intertwined with their larger cultural image. Much of the difference has to do with how frequently the celebrity in question alludes to his or her heritage within their body of work. This explains why, for instance, a comedian like Adam Sandler is widely identified as Jewish while Andrew Dice Clay is not, or how pitcher Sandy Koufax became famous as a “Jewish athlete” after skipping Game 1 of the 1965 World Series to observe Yom Kippur, while wide receiver Julian Edelman’s Hebraic heritage has remained more obscure.

With this context in mind, it becomes much easier to understand how Nimoy became an iconic figure in the American Jewish community. Take Nimoy’s explanation of the origin of the famous Vulcan salute, courtesy of a 2000 interview with the Baltimore Sun: “In the [Jewish] blessing, the Kohanim (a high priest of a Hebrew tribe) makes the gesture with both hands, and it struck me as a very magical and mystical moment. I taught myself how to do it without even knowing what it meant, and later I inserted it into ‘Star Trek.’”

Nimoy’s public celebration of his own Jewishness extends far beyond this literal gesture. He has openly discussed experiencing anti-Semitism in early-20th century Boston,speaking Yiddish to his Ukrainian grandparents, and pursuing an acting career in large part due to his Jewish heritage. “I became an actor, I’m convinced, because I found a home in a play about a Jewish family just like mine,” Nimoy told Abigail Pogrebin in “Stars of David: Prominent Jews Talk About Being Jewish.” “Clifford Odets’s ‘Awake and Sing.’ I was seventeen years old, cast in this local production, with some pretty good amateur and semiprofessional actors, playing this teenage kid in this Jewish family that was so much like mine it was amazing.”

Significantly, Nimoy did not disregard his Jewishness after becoming a star. Even after his depiction of Dr. Spock became famous throughout the world, Nimoy continued to actively participate in Jewish causes, from fighting to preserve the Yiddish language and narrating a documentary about Hasidic Jews to publishing a Kabbalah-inspired book of photography, The Shekhina Project, which explored “the feminine essence of God.” He even called for peace in Israel by drawing on the mythology from “Star Trek,” recalling an episode in which “two men, half black, half white, are the last survivors of their peoples who have been at war with each other for thousands of years, yet the Enterprise crew could find no differences separating these two raging men.” The message, he wisely intuited, was that “assigning blame over all other priorities is self-defeating. Myth can be a snare. The two sides need our help to evade the snare and search for a way to compromise.”

As we pay our respects to Nimoy’s life and legacy, his status as an American Jewish icon is important in two ways. The first, and by far most pressing, is socio-political: As anti-Semitism continues to rise in American colleges and throughout the world at large, it is important to acknowledge beloved cultural figures who not only came from a Jewish background, but who allowed their heritage to influence their work and continued to participate in Jewish causes throughout their lives. When you consider the frequency with which American Jews will either downplay their Jewishness (e.g., Andy Samberg) or primarily use it as grounds for cracking jokes at the expense of Jews (e.g., Matt Stone of “South Park”), Nimoy’s legacy as an outspokenly pro-Jewish Jew is particularly meaningful right now.

In addition to this, however, there is the simple fact that Nimoy presented American Jews with an archetype that was at once fresh and traditional. The trope of the intellectual, self-questioning Jew has been around for as long as there have been Chosen People, and yet Nimoy managed to transmogrify that character into something exotic and adventurous. Nimoy’s Mr. Spock was a creature driven by logic and a thirst for knowledge, yes, but he was also an action hero and idealist when circumstances demanded it. For the countless Jews who, like me, grew up as nerds and social outcasts, it was always inspiring to see a famous Jewish actor play a character who was at once so much like us and yet flung far enough across the universe to allow us temporary escape from our realities. This may not be the most topically relevant of Nimoy’s legacies, but my guess is that it will be his most lasting as long as there are Jewish children who yearn to learn more, whether by turning inward into their own heritage or casting their gaze upon the distant stars.

Matthew Rozsa is a Ph.D. student in history at Lehigh University as well as a political columnist. His editorials have been published in “The Morning Call,” “The Express-Times,” “The Newark Star-Ledger,” “The Baltimore Sun,” and various college newspapers and blogs. He actively encourages people to reach out to him at



Global Decision: New Music Will Be

Released On Fridays, Starting This Summer


     After months of discussions and negotiation it appears every country will now adopt a standardized music launch day in an attempt to create “a sense of occasion around the release of new music.” That’s the word from IFPI, the worldwide body representing the recording industry, which this week said that sometime this summer  all new music will be released globally on Fridays.

“As well as helping music fans, the move will benefit artists who want to harness social media to promote their new music,” the IFPI said in a statement. “It also creates the opportunity to reignite excitement and a sense of occasion around the release of new music.” Currently, new music is released in the U.K. on Monday, with U.S. releases coming out on Tuesday. This new arrangement will see new albums and singles released at 00:01 am (local time) on Fridays. IFPI says the decision to standardize the release day came after thorough consultation with all parties who have an interest in recoded music.

“We’ve had a long consultation involving retailers, artists, and record labels, and we have looked at a large amount of insight and research,” IFPI CEO Frances Moore told Music Week. “The good news has been the widespread support we’ve seen around the world for global release day – no one has seriously questioned the concept. The only debate has been about the day. The artist organizations and many retailers and record companies internationally support Friday, and this is backed by consumer research in many countries.”

Still, many independent labels and artists appear to be dissatisfied with the idea of designating Friday – or any day – as “new music day.” And since there’s no law that forces companies to comply with this new agreement, look for some rogue players to defy the standard and release their singles and albums on any day they choose. 

Apple Reportedly Buys Camel Audio;

Plans For Tech Firm Remain Unclear


Apple      Apple Inc. reportedly has acquired U.K. music technology company Camel Audio – a company that, among other things, built the Alchemy software suite that allowed musicians to produce their own tracks digitally. While Apple has not officially acknowledged the acquisition, digital music blog MusicRadar says the deal closed in early January, around the time Apple attorney Heather Joy Morrison was named as the company’s sole director. Camel reportedly has shut down its operations, leaving behind a website containing only a user login page for contacting customer support, and miscellaneous legal information.

A notice on the website reads, in part: “We would like to thank you for the support we’ve received over the years in our efforts to create instruments, effects plug-ins, and sound libraries. Camel Audio’s plug-ins, Alchemy Mobile IAPs, and sound libraries are no longer available for purchase. We will continue to provide downloads of your previous purchases and email support until July 7, 2015. We recommend you download all of your purchases and back them up so that you can continue to use them.”

Thus far it’s unclear how the Camel Audio acquisition fits within Apple’s apparent plans to lead the digital music space. Apple already offers products for digital music production, including Garageband and Logic Pro X, and some sources believe Camel’s products will be folded into those existing products or perhaps into iTunes. The Silicon Valley giant has issued a vague statement noting that, “Apple buys smaller technology companies from time to time, and we generally do not discuss our purpose or plans.” The statement is typically offered when an acquisition rumor is legitimate, suggesting Apple did in fact purchase Camel Audio last month. [Read more: Apple Insider

Google Play Music Increases Its Music

Storage Capacity To 50,000 Songs


     In an attempt to thwart any attempt by Apple to grow its dominance in the digital music space, Google Play Music this week announced it has upgraded the storage space for registered users from 20,000 songs to 50,000 songs. The extra space is a free upgrade for users, and the expanded capacity is applied automatically for those who already host their music collection in Google’s cloud. Google Play Music is a music streaming and storage service that lets users listen on the web, smartphones, or tablets.

While many consumers are shifting to streaming services and away from downloaded digital files, many users have invested in building – and listening to – massive music libraries. Google’s offer to host even bigger collections is an attempt to lure those customers who are unwilling to give up their previous musical life in favor of streaming platforms.

Because of this single change many analysts say Google Play Music significantly has strengthened its competitive position against Spotify; a lack of storage for music and other media is considered one of the core issues still plaguing smartphones and tablets. Example: Apple sells the iPhone 6 with 16GB of storage, not nearly enough room for all the functions a modern smartphone is expected to provide. Even the base Moto X, which some people consider the best Android smartphone available, has only 16GB of storage. Google’s expansion to 50,000 songs – approximately 200 GB of cloud space – goes will beyond this limit and provides the convenience of streaming their own library. [Read more: Forbes Tech Crunch  Engadget

Starbucks Will Stop Selling CDs

In Stores At The End Of March


     As CD sales continue to slip both in the U.S. and globally, Starbucks has decided to stop offering them at its 21,000 retail shops by the end of next month. Starbucks representative Maggie Jantzen told Billboard the company “continually seeks to redefine the experience in our retail stores to meet the evolving needs of our customers. Music will remain a key component of our coffeehouse and retail experience, [and] we will continue to evolve the format of our music offerings to ensure we’re offering relevant options for our customers. As a leader in music curation, we will continue to strive to select unique and compelling artists from a broad range of genres we think will resonate with our customers.”

Starbucks supposedly will continue to provide digital music to its customers, although Jantzen did not reveal what offerings will be available in the future. “Music has always been a key component at Starbucks,” she said. “We are looking for new ways to offer customers music options.”

Starbucks began investing in music in the late 1990s with its purchase of music retailer Hear Music, which created collections that would inspire people to discover new music. That effort resulted in significant in-store sales, and the company expanded its music push with a partnership with William Morris. A subsequent deal with Concord Music Group led to original music releases from such major artists as Paul McCartney, Joni Mitchell, and Alanis Morissette.


Grace Digital’s WiFi Devices Log

More Than 1 Billion Listener Hours


Music Business      Grace Digital, a manufacturer of Wi-Fi-based wireless music systems, announced this week its North American customer base has exceeded 1 billion total internet radio listening hours. According to the Edison Research report titled “The Infinite Dial,” internet radio has seen steady listening increases in the U.S. over the last six years, as 21% of Americans listened to it in 2008, while 47% do so today. Listening hours also have increased: the average listening time in one week in 2008 was 6 hours and 13 minutes, a figure that today has more than doubled to 13 hours 19 minutes.

“The growth we’ve seen year over year… mixed with the projections within the industry, show us clearly that wireless streaming of digital content will continue to grow and has become the standard,” Grace Digital Audio’s CEO Greg Fadul said in a statement. “We are committed to our customers and will continue to provide products that will aid in this digital revolution.”

While numerous devices can be used to listen to online radio from a fixed or mobile location, Grace Digital’s Wi-Fi music players serve more as a traditional stereo unit designed for in-home use. 

A publication of Bunzel Media Resources © 2015

Banksy filmed himself sneaking into Gaza to paint new artwork


World-renowned street artist Banksy released a 2-minute video on his website this week that delivers an eye-opening view of life behind the guarded walls of the Gaza Strip.

The video, “Make this the year YOU discover a new destination,” invites viewers to witness the devastation of war-torn Gaza and the tribulation of the Palestinian population cordoned within its borders.

The satirical mini-documentary, which is set to the legendary East Flatbush Project’s “Tried by 12,” presents itself as an advertisement for world travelers. It begins by showing an individual, presumably Banksy himself, entering Gaza by climbing through what’s parenthetically described as an illegal network of tunnels. “Well away from the tourist track,” the caption reads.

Exiting one of the dark tunnels, Banksy ascends into the bombed-out region and is greeted by children playing amid piles of rubble. “The locals like it so much they never leave,” the video says. Cutting to a scrum of Israeli Defense Force (IDF) soldiers, it continues: “Because they’re never allowed to.


The video captures four of the mysterious artist’s new pieces. The first, titled “Bomb Damage,” is painted on a door defiantly erect at the facade of a destroyed building. Potentially inspired by Rodin’s “The Thinker,” it shows a man knelt over in apparent agony. Another depicts one of the Israeli guard towers along the separation wall transformed into an amusement park swing carousel. The third and largest piece is a white cat with a pink bow measuring roughly 3 meters high; its paw hovering above a twisted ball of scrap metal like a ball of yarn.

“A local man came up and said ‘Please – what does this mean?’ I explained I wanted to highlight the destruction in Gaza by posting photos on my website – but on the internet people only look at pictures of kittens.”

“This cat tells the world that she is missing joy in her life,” a Palestinian man resting nearby speaks in Arabic to the camera. “The cat found something to play with. What about our children?”

The fourth and final piece is simple red paint on a wall. It reads: “If we wash our hands of the conflict between the powerful and the powerless we side with the powerful—we don’t remain neutral.”

According to the video, much of the recorded destruction is the result of “Operation Protective Edge,” a July 2014 Israeli military campaign, the stated of goal of which was to prevent Hamas rocket fire from entering Israeli territory.

During the seven weeks of airstrikes, Gaza suffered up to 2,300 casualties, including 513 children; 66 Israeli soldiers and 5 civilians were also killed. Up to 7,000 Palestinian homes were complete destroyed, and another 10,000 severely damaged, according to the United Nations. Over half a million people were displaced by the conflict. By some estimates, rebuilding Gaza City could cost in excess of $6 billion and take more than 20 years.

Banksy isn’t new to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In 2005, he painted nine pieces along the 425-mile West Bank Wall, the barrier which separates Palestine and Israel.

Screenshot via Banksy/YouTube

The last Ramone standing

“We were 90 percent fun and 10 percent pent-up animosity”

Marky Ramone on losing his bandmates, why he didn’t punch Johnny in the mouth, and that scathing Morrissey review

The last Ramone standing: "We were 90 percent fun and 10 percent pent-up animosity"
Marky Ramone (Credit: AP/Star Shooter)

When you know you are going to meet Marky Ramone in person, and you see him in the flesh, your instinct is to walk first across the street and protect him from oncoming Ubers or falling debris. He is rock’s spotted owl, or black rhino: the very last of a magnificent species (apologies to Richie and C.J.), an original, living, breathing Ramone, and even though he glows with health, and is clearly in great shape, your gut tells you he simply must not come to any harm on your watch. Joey Ramone died in 2001, Dee Dee overdosed in 2002, Johnny lost his battle with prostate cancer two years later and only last year, founding drummer Tommy passed away.

Marky, who joined in 1978 after Tommy decided to work behind the scenes, was regarded as one of the best drummers on the legendary CBGB’s scene on the Bowery, having played with cult rockers Dust, and both Wayne (now Jayne) County’s band (known, believe it or not, as the Backstreet Boys) and Richard Hell and the Voidoids. As a Ramone he appeared in the cult classic “Rock ‘n’ Roll High School,” drummed for Phil Spector on the attendant album “End of the Century,” bottomed out on booze, got sober, and rehired and saw the greatest New York City band to ever pound our pavement to their end in 1996. After a stint in the Misfits, today, he plays in Marky Ramone’s Blitzkrieg with party rocker Andrew W.K. on vocals. He hangs out with famous foodies like Daniel Boulud and Anthony Bourdain and has his own line of marinara sauce. And now, he’s written a memoir that holds absolutely nothing back and should be the last word on the Fab Five from Forest Hills (and Brooklyn). Titled “Punk Rock Blitzkrieg: My Life as a Ramone,” it’s co-written with Richard Herschlag and was released late last month by Touchstone. (Note of full disclosure: At one point, long ago, my name might have been in the hat briefly as a co-writer; I cannot confirm that, but there was a discussion with my then agent, and I decided, correctly given how much I enjoyed the read, that it would be something that I would rather consume than help create.)

We met on an early February afternoon on a Bowery that looks nothing like it did back in the summer of ’77 (or even 2007). It was freezing and his jet black hair is covered with a wool watch cap. He wears a black mink coat (“I’m not a mink guy,” he explains, “but I swore I’d never freeze again.”). We head toward a high-end Italian place to have tea and (perhaps the only thing appropriate about the surroundings) pizza and talk at length about life in and out of the world-famous Ramones.

I was down here a couple of years ago with the four B-52′s and they had not seen the area since they were still playing CB’s and they were shocked by the gentrification.

It’s more shocking when you’re not around to see it being built. When you’re away from it and then you see it, it’s shocking, like you said.

But you’ve taken the Bowery’s transformation in stride?

What do you do? Do you consider it progress? Debate it?

Philosophically, I think it’s just New York being New York. It changes. So let’s talk about the memoir, Marky. In preparation, did you read Patti Smith’s book? Did you read your one-time band mate Richard Hell’s book? Other books of the kind?

I read all the Ramones’ books and there was some interesting things in them, but I don’t like exaggerations, and I wanted to quell rumors. That’s one of the reasons why I wrote the book.

You’re citing Dee Dee’s book (“Lobotomy: Surviving the Ramones” with Veronica Kofman, published in 2000, two years before Dee Dee died of a drug overdose) or Johnny’s book (2012’s posthumously published “Commando: The Autobiography of Johnny Ramone”) or both?

All the books.

Even Legs McNeil and Gillian McCain’s classic “Please Kill Me”?

Yeah, you know the thing with Dee Dee is that he had a very vivid, childlike imagination. Anything you asked him, it was exaggerated. And obviously Legs went along with it, right?

And Dee Dee basically was a drug addict.

He had a scar and he would tell people that he was in Vietnam, but it was from his appendix.

Dee Dee didn’t really believe that he’d gone to Vietnam?

He didn’t but he tried to convince other people that he was.

So he was a button pusher?

That was a gift, considering the fact that he was such a great songwriter, that he can use all these [fantasies].

He was definitely a talented guy. But I also remember seeing him in the Chelsea Hotel years and years ago, in the late ’80s, and he just looked so wasted. He just looked really unapproachably wasted, and it was sad because I’d been a Ramones fan since I was like an early teen.

And so I wanted to write my book. I figured 15 years, 1,700 shows, and it’s not just that. It’s the other bands I was in before the Ramones, like with Wayne County and Richard Hell and the Voidoids.

Both of them have written books. Wayne County wrote a book (as Jayne County, in 1996, one with the excellent title “Man Enough to Be a Woman”). Richard Hell wrote a book.

What did Richard write about?

I haven’t read his book. It came out shortly after Patti Smith’s and kind of looks the same. It seems like maybe the publisher was trying to make it like, if you enjoyed Patti Smith’s book then you should buy this book too. That’s kind of how it was marketed.

Just poetry?

No, it’s a memoir. It’s called “I Dreamed I Was a Very Clean Tramp.” Back to your book, “Punk Rock Blitzkrieg.” Had you kept diaries over the years? There’s a lot of vivid detail.

It’s basically in my head. The incidents that did happen — how can you forget them? It was just so many things. We were such a unique bunch of people. We were out of the norm.

When you joined the Ramones after Tommy left the drum seat in 1978, it seems like you didn’t bargain for a life with such a deeply strange group of guys.

I thought they were all brothers. Friends. Everybody was getting along.

And yet there are these long descriptions of you in this cramped van with Dee Dee and he’s taking like nine baths a day. Joey is completely suffering from serious OCD and Johnny is just this general, barking out orders.

A drill sergeant that no one listened to.

It was basically insanity.

Tommy’d had enough because they were bullying him, and he wanted to produce. He wanted to be on the other side of the glass.

You write that when you came aboard for album four, “Road to Ruin,” you wanted to kind of change their sound a little bit, if that’s fair to say? Kind of rock them up a little bit more?

I wanted to make it heavy. They needed it.

The later albums kind of are heavier and continued to be so through the ’80s.

The three first albums are great, but there were enough of their three-chord wonder albums already. They needed to advance somehow.

So just to clarify, your recall is just sharp. It’s just a gift. You can remember the ’70s, the ’80s. You have no diaries? Did you have to look at mementos?

I had composition notebooks. The ones you went to school with. I also have the largest video library of the Ramones. There’s 400 tapes.

Of the backstage stuff?

Everything. That’s why I made the video “Raw.”

Did you contribute material to the Ramones’ “End of the Century” documentary also?

We had a separate producer and director for that. That was his take. I wanted to make a more fun movie about what is was like being in the band. The thing is, though, we were 90 percent fun and 10 percent, I would say, pent-up animosity. Especially between Johnny and Joey.

And you kind of skewed towards Joey, even though you say Dee Dee was your best friend in the band. I think, politically, you were more aligned with Joey.

Oh yeah. Definitely.

Johnny was a right-winged, hardcore conservative.

Borderline fanatical. The thing with John is he went to military school. It overlapped into the Ramones. But we didn’t listen to him.

But Marky, I have to say, when I’m reading your book, and I’m hearing these stories about Johnny carrying on, I literally had a couple moments where I was like, why didn’t you just punch him in the mouth?

I could’ve.

I mean, you can’t have a Ramones without Joey, but can you technically have a Ramones without Johhny? Is that why you held back? Because there’s an argument that anyone can copy that down-stroked guitar.

Not like that.

But the frontman is the frontman, you know?

At one point with Joey, he was canceling shows and we considered asking Stiv Bators from the Dead Boys to audition for the Ramones. This is just what happened, because Joey was doing separate things and the other two Ramones didn’t like it.

I just wonder, why didn’t you just tell Johnny to shut the fuck up?

I did.

I’m saying like permanently. Would that have been the end of the Ramones?

If I kicked the shit out of him, who would play guitar?

It’s bittersweet for fans like myself because you imagine the Ramones, and you want them to be like the Beatles in “Help!” You want them to all live in a house together. You want it to be like the Monkees or the Banana Splits where they fight crime together. You want it to be a family because you’ve all got the same last name! When you find out the truth that there’s such a volatile mixture of personality and chemistry, it is a little heartbreaking. I think a lot of fans exist in denial that that was the case and that you’re not and never were the cartoon Ramones, all for one. It’s like they say: never meet your heroes, yeah, or read their memoirs. (laughter) But everyone should read this because it’s funny and detailed.

It’s involved.


It’s the beginning of my life. And it isn’t just about the Ramones, again. It’s about Wayne County, and my times [hanging out] with the Clash and playing with Richard Hell and the Voidoids and touring England in 1977, all the way up to what happened backstage at the Hall of Fame induction [in 2002, their first year of eligibility].

Should we talk about the Hall of Fame speeches now? A lot of people were shocked that Tommy was the only one who thanked Joey –.

I did too!

Oh, sorry. I thought it was just Tommy.

No. I thanked Joey and his mother. And Joey’s siblings.

And Dee Dee thanked himself.

And John thanked George Bush, which had nothing to do with his career. Inappropriate.

I interviewed Johnny shortly before he passed away. It was one of his final interviews and it was for Spin. And I got the sense that even when he was facing the end, he had no regrets and was a hard guy to get to admit he was perhaps wrong about anything at all. I asked him about the Bush remark and he just said, “He’s the president.”

But what did that have to do with his career? Nothing.

I think he was trying to shake things up and show support for a war that was rapidly losing public support. In a way, it was the most punk rock thing he could do and in a way it was an asshole thing to do. It’s not the time or the place for it, at an awards ceremony, but he knew he had the audience. He knew he was sick too, maybe.

It was his last attempt. He wanted to get a rise out of the music industry. That’s why he did that.

You claimed you knew he was sick for a while. When you knew they were both sick, how did that emotionally resonate with you?

Horrible. First it was Joey.

Was the band still together?


But you were still in contact with them and they were together as a business.

I noticed it in Joey’s physical appearance, especially on his skin. He contracted cancer. John didn’t yet have cancer until a couple years later. That’s probably one of the reasons why in ‘96 we decided to retire, because Joey’s chemotherapy had to start.

Towards the end of Joey’s life, you told Johnny that Joey was dying. By the way, why do you call him John and not Johnny in the book?

I guess it’s easier than Johnny. We used to call each other by our real names. I used to call Dee Dee “Douglas.” I used to call Joey “Jeff.”

So, anyway, you said to Johnny, “It’s the end. You gotta go see him.” You were in the room when Joey was on the way out.

I was the only Ramone to visit him.

That portrait you paint of Joey literally on his deathbed, God, I don’t think I’ve read any account about that.

Because nobody else was there!

Why do you think after all those years and all those records and all those hours on the road and the Ramones family nobody but you came? Dee Dee maybe has an excuse because he was probably strung out or in L.A. But you get on a plane. It’s 300 bucks. Jet Blue.

Pick up the phone and it’s even cheaper. He could’ve at least called him.

Do you think that would have meant a lot to Joey?

Yes. Definitely.

Did he look a lot different?

He clearly looked different. Thinner. Paler. The thing that John remarked was, Why should I go see the guy? I don’t like him.

That’s the one thing I just hit over and over again with Johnny when I talked to him on the phone for Spin. I was like, “You were brothers! You were Ramones. You at least have that bond.” And he was like, “Yeah, if anyone else said anything about him, they would have a problem because he was a Ramone.” I guess to him it was more about the institution of the Ramones being bigger than the individuals.

Sounds cliché but it’s true. We left all that animosity off the stage.

So how does it feel for you now? You’ve had a rough year as far as losing some key people in that institution.

Yeah. Tommy. My father I lost. Arturo Vega.

Before that, the great guitarist Bob Quine (of the Voidoids). Linda Stein. Kim Fowley just died. Leee Black Childers. Hilly Kristal. Joe Strummer. I interviewed Leee a few times and he was a sweetheart. Is all this the kind of thing that compels you to tell your story by putting you face to face with your own mortality? You clearly live healthier now than some of the years you describe in the book.

Yes. I make sure of that.

You look great. I’m not sure of your exact age [note: Ramone is 62] but I have an idea and you look probably 10 years younger than you actually are. Playing the drums keeps you fit, huh?

It’s physical. It’s exercise. You can’t walk away from it.

But at the same time, time flies and we all have to reckon with mortality. Is that something that inspires you to write a memoir?

No. I don’t think about it. That had nothing to do with it. I just want to tell my real story. Being a Ramone. Being in this nucleus. Having my dealing with the other three Ramones and Tommy.

You tell details of your life that I think even serious Ramones fans don’t know: For instance, you write about your father being in show business too.

No, it was my grandfather, at the Copacabana and the 21 Club also.

Right. Your grandfather. And that you’re a twin. I didn’t realize that also. And your history as this kind of old-school Brooklyn-ite. I’m a fourth-generation Brooklynite also. I went to high school in Long Island because my parents got divorced. I grew up split between five towns and Canarsie, but I think my dad might have gone to the same high school as you? I have to double-check.

Erasmus? OK. Neil Diamond went there too. I was the Brooklyn guy who met the four guys from Queens.

I love how the book starts. You talk about how you get into rock ‘n’ roll through novelty songs, which nobody ever admits. They always try to credit cooler bands. You talked about “Purple People Eater” being the first record you ever bought.

And “Monster Mash.” I was a kid. I liked sci-fi and horror.

Did you have a rule, like no matter what, I’m going to be honest with this book? You’re very frank about your addiction and your recovery.

I wanted to put that in there.

Not to screw with your anonymity but I think the cat’s out of the bag. Did that help you? You can’t lie in those rooms.

There’s only lying to yourself and it’s a hindrance to your sobriety. But I thought it would be good to put in there because if anyone else has the same problem and they’re impressionable and they like what I wrote, maybe it could help them.

In that scene that was marked by booze and drugs and rock ‘n’ roll, you would just wake up and hit the bottle, right?

I would have wine in the morning.

It was a coping mechanism for you. And then you would have to drum and play these incredibly fast songs.

I never got high before I played. Not even during recording an album. Only one album.

Would Johnny be able to tell if you were fucked up?

Yeah. He would know. Some people who drink can drink and you don’t even know it.

But you didn’t drink a cocktail with an olive in it. You swilled from the bottle. You drank to get high.

I had my wine glass. They’d give you free drinks everywhere. I’d have my martinis. Rum and coke. And that would be it. But eventually, it was getting to me and I realized I didn’t like waking up with headaches anymore. It was affecting the situation with the other three Ramones.

What do you think about all the money the Ramones are making now from licensing and stuff like that?

I think it’s great. We live in a capitalistic society.

The Cadillac commercial that claims, “The Ramones started in a garage.”

It was a basement. That’s Cadillac. That’s what they thought.

Can we talk a bit about the Voidoids? Specifically Bob Quine? He might be my favorite guitar player. His stuff on those two Lou Reed records, “New York” and “The Blue Mask.” Also, the big Matthew Sweet record (“Girlfriend”) and obviously “Blank Generation.” Nobody sounded like him and nobobody sounds like him today.

He came out of the box. Out of the cage. He really let loose with his Stratocaster. He knew how to play it properly.

Punk was so full of amateurs and genuine musicians. Can you tell when another musician is exceptionally unique?

Yeah. Definitely. Quine was one. Richard could have been one if he hadn’t succumbed to heroin.

When you met Phil Spector was he one too?

Yes. With Phil Spector, I knew immediately. He was on a different plane.

What about Joey?

Joey. I always considered him to be the perfect histrionic singer. Very timid, shy and introverted. But when he hit the stage, it was his. That spot that he stood on. Some people are like that. They transform.

You have bad karma in terms of being in bands with heroin addicts.

When you travel to other countries, the availability of getting the quality can definitely vary. Especially with Richard Hell. It made him very paranoid. What would he be able to cop and how good would the quality be? There would be a lot of hissy fits. Attitudes. But what I said in the book was if the heroin didn’t overcome him, he could’ve been the next Bob Dylan – a punk-poet on a much bigger level.

He had the words. He had the look. He had the voice and he had a great band behind it. Do you think he regrets it now?

Secretly, I think he does, yeah. He was the leader of the band. There were three other people with him. That was his responsibility. He didn’t take into account me, Bob, Thorn and Ivan, because of his love of heroin. So what was more important was his addiction, but it’s an addiction. Could he have helped it at the time if he wanted to? Yeah. But he didn’t want to. I guess he enjoyed it.

You write in typically great detail about auditioning for the Ramones and just knowing that you had nailed it. What made you know that you were going to be a Ramone? You’d met them before?

They used to come see my band.

You didn’t know your last name would become Ramone [Marky was born Marc Bell] and they would figure so heavily into your future at the time.

No. I didn’t even know that Tommy was going to leave the band.

There was nothing cosmic. No ray coming out of the sky. Do how did you wrap your head around it? That you were going to become the key member of this iconic band?

Tommy was being bullied. He was sick of the road. He wanted to produce. To be away from them.

Being bullied by John?

Joey started picking on him, too. Tommy was only 5-foot-6, 5-foot-6 and a half. They wouldn’t let him smoke. They were bullies. So fast forward. Tommy was leaving. He suggested to the other three to get me on board. He told Dee Dee that if he saw me in CB’s to ask me. So Dee Dee was the first one to ask me to be in the group. Then it was John. Then there was an audition. There were about 20 other drummers hanging around, but I knew I got it. I heard these songs already in the jukebox at CBGB’s. I knew them very well. I practiced them.

Did you have a conception of how fast they were played?

I saw them. I listened to a lot of jazz drummers and I knew how they held their sticks. They didn’t use their arms hardly.

So it’s almost an illusion. It seems like you’re pounding but it’s fast.

If I was going to use my arms for the whole hour and 20-minute set, it wouldn’t work. If you’re just using your wrist and fingers, it’s simple.

Do you talk shop with other drummers still?

They want to know how I do what I do and I explain to them. They’ll say, I can’t do it. My arm tightens up. I’ll say you’re doing it wrong then. You gotta exercise your wrist and fingers.

I’m going to read you a quote that I wrote down. This is a Phil Spector quote. We’re talking 14 or 15 years after Lenny Bruce died, but he comes in and is still obsessed with Lenny Bruce and he says, “All the true sacrifices were made in the late ’50s and the ’60s. This is a lazy time out here. Someone else paved our way. I was there.” I was reading then when I was reading your book and thinking you could apply that to pretty much any time. You could apply that to now. You could apply that to something now that you might feel at your age with all you’ve done. Looking at the kids in punk bands with tattoos who don’t have to worry about being beaten up by teddy boys in England or frat boys in America. Do you relate to Phil a little bit more now?

I always related to his politics.

But the feeling like it was an age of pioneers that don’t really exist anymore?

Who is there really? Who’s out there? Where are they?

It’s technology now. Those are the pioneers. That’s the difference. The new Ramones are techies. The new Lenny Bruces are techies.

Will that help them develop social skills? I doubt it. I hope so.

Will it help music?

I don’t know what we’re entering in the next 10 or 15 years, but it will hinder creativity in other artists because of all the piracy and the downloading.

Are the Ramones pirated a lot?

Well, everybody is, but it feels like our fans want to support us. But I’m talking about new bands.

The famous crest and the T-shirts?

All of it. “Hey Ho” and “Gabba Gabba Hey.” But I think that music is going to be stifled because a lot of artists are going to go, “If I keep getting ripped off then I’m just not going to do it.”

You’ve definitely broadened your interests or allowed yourself to spend more time on an interest that was already there in terms of cooking and marketing your own spaghetti sauce, which I have not tried but I would like to.

It’s No. 2.

But if you give me the URL, I’ll put it down in the piece where people can get it. 

I got my own beer coming out all over America.

You’re not only a survivor in the literal sense, but also a survivor in the sense that you realize there’s more to life than just being a punk rocker and being a Ramone.

We live in a capitalistic society. It’s America. I have the opportunity that if I put out a product, I can give some of it towards charity, which I do with my food. My beer’s going to go to Musicians Without Borders. The sauce proceeds are going to go towards Autism Speaks. I’m happy for that — that I’m in a position to be able to do that.

Do you think it helped you survive everything? That you had other passions, whereas — I don’t know. I guess Johnny had other passions, like baseball?

He was a sports fanatic. He liked horror movies. So did I. We used to collect sci-fi posters together.

But you need something else. Whether it’s family or a pet. Alice Cooper golfs.

I like to work on my cause.

Tell me about the end of the book, where you take a couple of pages to list your favorite everything. Favorite producers. Favorite films.

I just wanted people to see what my lists would be.

I’d never seen that at the end of a book before. It was great.

My favorite rare cars. Drummers. So they can get more of an idea of what I like besides just drums.

There was a point where the Ramones became more of an institution in the way that the Grateful Dead or something like that, where you go and see the show and it’s an event, but you’re not going to lay your money on them having a top 10 hit. During this period, you kind of bottomed out and you got sober. You were fired or did you quit?

No. I was let go. By the whole band, not just Joey.

Then you were asked to rejoin four years later. But at the same time, you seem like one of the more stable rock stars I’ve interviewed. What’s the key? Your head is on your shoulders, Marky.

I never smoked cigarettes.


Is it New York? Is it just the way you grew up in Brooklyn?

There was a code in Brooklyn. You gotta be blunt. Upfront. No bullshit. No airs. Be who you are. Stop the crap. Stop the bullshit. When I confronted people who had the airs and the rock star attitudes, I didn’t deal with them. I’d just walk away.

But at the same time you have some flash. You still have that rock ‘n’ roll thing. You have a good combination of rock style and rock attitude but you don’t seem remotely self-destructive or bitter.

Bitter? For what? No reason to be bitter.

A lot of people write memoirs to settle scores.

That’s the thing. I wouldn’t write a book to be vindictive. I wrote a book to be informative. To be comprehensive. When you write a book to be vindictive it’s so childish, because that book is going to be around forever. You have to live with it. If I wanted to be vindictive, I could be, but not in a book. Not in my book. It’s childish. It’s not the right premise to air your feelings of vendettas towards other people because the general public who are going to buy the book are not going to know the inner vendettas that the band had towards each other.

Arturo and Tommy were still alive when you started?

Yeah, they were. They knew I was writing a book. See, when Tommy died, the book was done already. I would’ve devoted a whole chapter to the guy. There wasn’t time.

Do you feel a weight of responsibility now that all four of them are gone? You take a band like Lynyrd Skynyrd who all go down in one plane crash, or Badfinger. It seems like there was some real money funny business going on that maybe triggered something that was already there and the two guys killed themselves. But the Ramones, like one after the other, what happened?

They succumbed to cancer. Why? Who knows?

People get sick, people die. It’s part of the life cycle. It seemed cruel. This is a band that I love, that you love, that everyone who loves good music loves, and they all died too young.

We were closer than family.

But was it because they didn’t take care of themselves on tour all those years?

No. The thing is this. Joey occasionally dabbled in cocaine and alcohol, but not to a point where he was on skid row. Cancer can affect anybody, from the strongest person in the world to the weakest. It doesn’t discriminate what body it enters.

But four people from the same band within 10 years?

Very ironic. I know that. I think about that all the time. Why? Three. Not one. Not two. Three. And then Dee Dee overdosed.

But you’re still out there. How did you hook up with Andrew W.K.  [who sings Ramones classics with Marky Ramone’s Blitzkrieg band]?

Through a friend. Steve Lewis. I don’t know if you know him or not, but he’s responsible for a lot of the nightclubs in New York. So Andrew W.K. was suggested. Andrew agreed to come down to rehearsal and it worked out. He loves the Ramones’ songs.

Do you think if the other members were around to see it, they would acknowledge that it’s within the same spirit?

Oh, they’d be very grateful.

You’re literally a flame keeper. And Andrew W.K. is definitely a true believer in rock ‘n’ roll.

He knows how to engage people.

He’s a little nutty.

I like that because it creates an interest and curiosity. He does it his way. I didn’t want a Joey clone.

The book’s been out nearly a month. Are you starting to get a balance of praise for the actual quality of the writing?

Four and half stars on Amazon. No. 1 for three weeks.

We didn’t talk much about the ’90s, which is when things kind of started leaning towards where we are now, where the Ramones are — I don’t want to say posthumously because you are alive and playing — but after the band broke up, they were appreciated and you had to watch Green Day, Rancid, the Offspring and Blink 182 take basically this thing that you invented, not in a garage but in a basement or CBGB’s or Max’s or wherever, and sell millions and millions of records and play outdoor sheds and arenas. I think you were very frank in saying that it irked you guys a little bit.

Joey got hurt the most because he was the most sensitive.

Not that they weren’t grateful or respectful to you. I think Green Day opens all their shows to this day with “Blitzkrieg Bop.”

Oh, they do, and we were grateful. It’s flattering. Any artist that’s imitated. But what they did is they used our foundation, sprinkled their magic on it, and then started their own bands.

Did you feel like, hey, we’re not done yet?

In ‘96? No. We knew. We had discussed it.

It gave you a couple extra years.

On a larger level, yeah. We did Lollapalooza. The radio started playing us some more.

U2’s new single is called “The Miracle (of Joey Ramone).”

But it doesn’t mention his name in the song.

No. It’s the subtitle. What did you think when you heard that single?

I thought that the dedication was nice, but knowing his intelligence, he could’ve put Joey Ramone’s name in the song. Now if you don’t know the Ramones and what he’s referring to, what’s he singing about?

Right. He could be singing at the Clash.

It’s very generalized. It’s not specific.

You have a pretty good bullshit detector. You can tell who the true fans are and who they aren’t.

Like this guy Morrissey. When the Ramones went there to promote their first album, he wrote the most scathing review of the first album that I ever read. Now, he’s a big Ramones fan and he’s sorry he wrote the review, and Rhino and Warner’s is letting him choose an album [Morrissey Curates the Ramones] that we just put out the songs on. They let him choose the songs on it. This guy who hated the Ramones.

Maybe he didn’t get it yet?

That’s not the point. You either get it or you don’t.

Lester Bangs. When “Exile on Main Street” came out, Lester famously trashed it, and then he ran a retraction of his review saying this is a great, great record. Sometimes, especially when you’re young, you want to be iconoclastic. It’s my tendency to defend Morrissey because I’m a fan. I’m just playing devil’s advocate.

You don’t go back on your word.

There’s a long history of revision of opinion in culture. I don’t think that he knew that a letter he wrote to N.M.E. when he was a teenager– that he would grow up to be a pop star and every word he ever wrote would be preserved. The larger point is that now the Ramones are a legend and the music has proven to be lasting and powerful, people come around and say I was into them from the beginning. That must be frustrating for you but also gratifying. If it wasn’t beloved, no one would say anything.

A lot of people at the time were afraid of change. That was the problem.

You were opening for Van Halen and Black Sabbath fairly early on.

1978. Wrong pairing. Let’s put it that way. But back then who could we play with? How many bands were around, you know what I’m saying? But anyway. That’s what we were up against. But for Morrissey, all of a sudden, 40 years later, to convince Rhino to put out a song-selected album that he put together? Give me a break.

I guess they just assumed that they would sell records with his name.

I don’t know why they have to use his name.

Well, this is great. Thank you so much for being so generous with your time and the coffee and pizza. As I said, I’m a huge fan. I brought the book if you would sign it.

What I like about [co-author] Rich Herschlag is that he was able to write the book in my voice. That’s important.

Did you actually type with him?

No. I talked into a tape.

But he caught your voice? That’s hard to do.

Very important. A writer can make you sound like you have the King’s English and I don’t.

Ten Years After Hunter S. Thompson’s Death, the Debate Over Suicide Rages On


February 20, 2015

Today, February 20, marks the tenth anniversary of Hunter S. Thompson killing himself with a .45-caliber handgun in his home in Woody Creek, Colorado. Since his suicide, the right-to-die movement has gained a stronger foothold in American consciousness—even if the country is just as divided as ever on whether doctors should be assisting patients in ending their own lives.

“Poling has always shown a majority of people believing that someone has a moral right to commit suicide under some circumstances, but that majority has been increasing over time,” says Matthew Wynia, Director of Center for Bioethics and Humanities at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus. Wynia believes a chief factor in that change has been “more and more people say they’ve given a good deal of thought on this issue. And the more people tend to give thought to this issue, the more likely they are to say they are in favor of people having a moral right to commit suicide, under certain circumstances.”

The sticking point is what constitutes a justifiable reason to kill yourself or have a doctor do so for you. In Thompson’s case, he was suffering from intense physical discomfortdue to a back injury, broken leg, hip replacement surgery, and a lung infection. But his widow, Anita, says that while the injuries were significant, they did not justify his suicide.

“His pain was unbearable at times, but was by no means terminal,” Anita tells me via email. “That is the rub. If it were a terminal illness, the horrible aftermath would have been different for me and his loved ones. None of us minded caring for him.”

A mix of popular culture and legislative initiatives have shifted the terrain since then. When Thompson made his big exit in 2005, Jack Kevorkian was still incarcerated for helping his patients shuffle off their mortal coil. He was released in 2007, and shortly before his death a few years later, HBO chronicled his struggles to change public opinion of physician-assisted suicide in the film You Don’t Know Jack, starring Al Pacino.

Last year, suicide seemed to cross a threshold of legitimacy in America. When terminally ill 29-year-old Brittany Maynard appeared on the cover of People magazine next to the headline, “My Decision to Die,” the issue was thrust into the faces of every supermarket shopper in the US. Earlier in the year, the season finale of Girls closed with one of the main characters agreeing to help her geriatric employer end her life, only to have the woman back out after swallowing a fistfull of pills, shouting, “I don’t want to die!”

After the self-inflicted death of Robin Williams last summer, those with strong moral opposition to suicide used the tragedy as an illustration of how much taking your life hurts those around you. “I simply cannot understand how any parent could kill themselves,” Henry Rollins wrote in an editorial for LA Weekly. “I don’t care how well adjusted your kid might be—choosing to kill yourself, rather than to be there for that child, is every shade of awful, traumatic and confusing. I think as soon as you have children, you waive your right to take your own life… I no longer take this person seriously. Their life wasn’t cut short—it was purposely abandoned.”

A decade earlier, Rollins’s comments might have gone unnoticed. As might have Fox News’ Shepard Smith when he referred to Williams as “such a coward” for abandoning his children. Of course, both received a good lashing in the court of public opinion for being so dismissive toward someone suffering from depression. “To the core of my being, I regret it,” Smith apologized in a statement. Rollins followed suit, saying, “I should have known better, but I obviously did not.”

A 2013 Pew Research Poll found that 38 percent of Americans believed that a person has a moral right to commit suicide if “living has become a burden.” But if the person is described as “suffering great pain and have no hope of improvement,” the number increased to 62 percent, a seven-point jump from the way Americans felt about the issue in 1990.

“Psychic suffering is as important as physical suffering when determining if a person should have help to die.”

Still, only 47 percent of Americans in a Pew poll last October said that a doctor should be allowed to facilitate a suicide, barely different from numbers at the time of Thompson’s death. Wynia believes an enduring factor here this is the public’s fear that assisted suicide will be applied as a cost-cutting measure to an already overburdened healthcare system.

“There is worry that insurance companies will cover medication to end your life, but they won’t cover treatments that allow you to extend your life,” he says. “And then the family is stuck with either ponying up the money to extend that person’s life, or they could commit suicide. That puts a lot of pressure on both the family and the individual. Also, there is the issue of the doctor being seen as a double agent who isn’t solely looking out for their best interest.”

As with abortion before Roe v. Wade, when determined citizens are denied medical assistance and left to their own devices, the results can sometimes be disastrous. “There are people who try and fail at suicide, and sometimes they end up in much worse positions than they started,” Wynia adds. “I’ve cared for someone who tried to commit suicide by drinking Drano; that’s a good way to burn out your entire esophagus, and if you survive it, you’re in very bad shape afterward.”

A 2014 Gallup poll showed considerably more support for doctors’ involvement in ending a patient’s life. When asked if physicians should be allowed to “legally end a patient’s life by some painless means,” 69 percent of Americans said they were in favor of such a procedure. But when the question is whether physicians should be able to “assist the patient to commit suicide,” support dropped to 58 percent. This has lead many advocacy groups to adopt the term “aid in dying” as opposed to “assisted suicide.”

A statement on the Compassion and Choices website states: “It is wrong to equate ‘suicide,’ which about 30,000 Americans, suffering from mental illness, tragically resort to each year, with the death-with-dignity option utilized by only 160 terminally ill, but mentally competent, patients in Oregon and Washington last year.”

According to Oregon’s Death With Dignity Act—which permitted Brittany Maynard to be prescribed a lethal dose of drugs from her physician—a patient must be over 18 years old, of sound mind, and diagnosed with a terminal illness with less than six months to live in order to be given life-ending care. Currently, four other states have bills similar to Oregon’s, while 39 states have laws banning physician-assisted suicide. Earlier this month, legislators in Colorado attempted to pass their own version of an assisted suicide bill, but it failed in committee.

In 1995, Australia’s Northern Territory briefly legalized euthanasia through the Rights of the Terminally Ill Act. Dr. Philip Nitschke was the first doctor to administer a voluntary lethal injection to a patient, followed by three more before the law was overturned by the Australian Parliament in 1997. Nitschke retired from medicine that year and began working to educate the public on how to administer their own life-ending procedure without medical supervision or assistance. Last summer, the Australian Medical Board suspended his medical registration, a decision which he is appealing.

Nitschke says two states in Australia currently offer life in prison as a penalty for anyone assisting in another’s suicide, and that he’s been contacted by the British police, who say he may be in violation of the United Kingdom’s assisted suicide laws for hosting workshops educating Brits on how to kill themselves. Unlike more moderate groups like Compassion and Choices, Nitschke’s Exit International doesn’t shy away from words like “suicide,” and feels that the right to die should be expanded dramatically.

A proponent of both left-wing social justice and right-wing rhetoric about personal freedoms, Thompson had very strong feelings about the role of government in our daily lives, particularly when it came to what we were allowed to do with our own bodies.

Laws in most countries that allow physician-assisted suicide under specific circumstances do not consider psychological ailments like depression a justifiable reason for ending your life. Nitschke sees a circular hypocrisy in this, arguing that everyone should be granted the right to end their own life regardless of health, and that those suffering a mental illness are still able to give informed consent.

“Psychic suffering is as important as physical suffering when determining if a person should have help to die,” Nitschke tells me. “The prevailing medical board [in Australia] views almost any psychiatric illness as a reason why one cannot give consent—but the catch-22 is that anyone contemplating suicide, for whatever reason, must be suffering psychiatric illness.”

These days, Nitschke is avoiding criminal prosecution by merely providing information on effective suicide techniques. So long as he doesn’t physically administer a death agent to anyone—the crime that resulted in Kevorkian being hit with a second-degree murder conviction and eight years in prison—he’ll most likely steer clear of jail time.

Philip Nitschke’s euthanasia machine. Photo via Wikimedia Commons

“I think our society is very confused about liberty,” Andrew Solomon, author of The Noonday Demon: An Atlas of Depression, wrote in 2012. “I don’t think it makes sense to force women to carry children they don’t want, and I don’t think it makes sense to prevent people who wish to die from doing so. Just as my marrying my husband doesn’t damage the marriages of straight people, so people who end their lives with assistance do not threaten the lives or decisions of other people.”

While support for laws banning physician-assisted suicide typically come from conservative religious groups and those mistrustful of government-run healthcare, the idea that the government has a role in deciding your end of life care is rooted in a left-leaning philosophy.

“The theory used to be that the state has an interest in the health and wellbeing of its citizens,” acccording to Wynia, “and therefore you as a citizen do not have a right to kill yourself, because you are, in essence, a property of the state.”

This conflicted greatly with the philosophy of Hunter S. Thompson. A proponent of both left-wing social justice and right-wing rhetoric about personal freedoms, Thompson had very strong feelings about the role of government in our daily lives, particularly when it came to what we were allowed to do with our own bodies.

“He once said to me, ‘I’d feel real trapped in this life, Ralph, if I didn’t know I could commit suicide at any moment,'” remembered friend and longtime collaborator Ralph Steadman in a recent interview with Esquire.

Sitting in a New York hotel room while writing the introduction to The Great Shark Hunt, a collection of his essays and journalism published in 1979, Thompson described feeling an existential angst when reflecting on the body of work. “I feel like I might as well be sitting up here carving the words for my own tombstone… and when I finish, the only fitting exit will be right straight off this fucking terrace and into The Fountain, 28 stories below and at least 200 yards out into the air and across Fifth Avenue… The only way I can deal with this eerie situation at all is to make conscious decision that I have already lived and finished the life I planned to live—(13 years longer, in fact).”

Thompson’s widow, Anita, was on the phone with her husband when he took his life. To this day, she feels that the situation was far from hopeless, that his injuries weren’t beyond repair, and that he still had plenty of years left in him.

“He was about to have back surgery again, which meant that the problem would soon be fixed and he could commence his recovery,” she tells me. “My belief is that supporting somebody’s ‘freedom’ to commit suicide because he or she is in some pain or depressed is much different than a chronic or terminal illness. Although I’ve healed from the tragedy, the fact that his personal decision was actually hurried by a series of events and people that later admitted they supported his decision, still haunts me today.”

In September 2005, Rolling Stone published what has come to be known as Hunter Thompson’s suicide note. Despite being written four days beforehand, the brief message does contain the weighty despair of a man unable to inspire in himself the will to go on:

No More Games. No More Bombs. No More Walking. No More Fun. No More Swimming. 67. That is 17 years past 50. 17 more than I needed or wanted. Boring. I am always bitchy. No Fun — for anybody. 67. You are getting Greedy. Act your old age. Relax—This won’t hurt.

Seeing as he lived his life as an undefinable political anomaly—he was an icon of the the hedonism of the 60s and 70s, and also a card-carrying member of the NRA—it’s only fitting that Thompson’s exit from this earth was through the most divisive and controversial doorway possible.

“The fundamental beliefs that underlie our nation are sometimes in conflict with each other—and these issues get at some of the basic tensions in what we value as Americans,” says Wynia. “We value our individual liberties, we value our right to make decisions for ourselves, but we also are a religious community, and we are mistrustful of authority. When you talk about giving the power to doctors or anyone else to help you commit suicide, it makes a lot of people nervous. Even though we also have a libertarian streak that believes, ‘I should be allowed to do this, and I should be allowed to ask my doctor to help me.’ I think this is bound to be a contentious issue for some time to come.”

If you are feeling hopeless of suicidal, there are people you can talk to. Please call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.

Follow Josiah M. Hesse on Twitter.


Freeplay Sues Four YouTube Multichannel

Networks For Copyright Infringement


Lawsuit      Freeplay, an independent music-licensing company, this week filed lawsuits against four YouTube multichannel networks – Disney’s Maker Studios; AwesomenessTV and its Big Frame division; and BroadbandTV – claiming those platforms infringed hundreds of its copyrighted songs. In the lawsuits, Freeplay claims it previously contacted the four MCNs about licensing the music in question, but the companies were unwilling to negotiate. The suits seek unspecified monetary damages and demand that the infringement cease.

“The systemic misappropriation of its copyrights without authorization has harmed our client,” said Oren Warshavsky, partner with law firm BakerHostetler, which is representing Freeplay. “We seek to right that wrong through this action.”

Interestingly, two other YouTube MCNs – Machinima and Collective Digital Studio – earlier this month filed their own lawsuits against Freeplay, claiming the company is a “copyright troll” that initially offered music it said was free to use, then threatened to sue unless the MCNs entered into licensing deals. Freeplay said those allegations are baseless and without merit.

As reported by Variety, Freeplay Music was founded in 2001 and manages administrative rights to a catalog of “tens of thousands” of songs. The company claims it has issued more than 1.8 million licenses to date.

The lawsuits were filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York.


Pandora’s Earnings (Again) Point To

Increasing Costs As The Root Of Its Red Ink


Pandora Mobile      Shares of Pandora last week were slammed after the company reported its Q4 2014 earnings fell short of revenue estimates, and also revealed its revenue picture for Q1:15 would be weaker-than-expected. Motley Fool this week observed that, while Pandora has made some progress in increasing the amount of advertising revenue taken in per hour of music, its net costs continue to rise, as well. The result has led to “continued and growing losses, indicating a severe spending problem that may not have a clear solution.”

As the Fool’s Timothy Green wrote, “Pandora makes a royalty payment for each song it plays, and it attempts to bring in enough advertising dollars per song to pay for both these royalties and its operating expenses.” During the fourth quarter of 2014, the company brought in $48.19 in advertising revenue for every thousand hours of music streamed, an increase from $40.95 in the fourth quarter of 2013, and $32.33 in the fourth quarter of 2013. Meanwhile, mobile-driven dollars made up 78% of Pandora’s revenue during the fourth quarter, and over two years, Pandora has increased the advertising dollars per thousand hours on mobile by nearly 75%, compared to a 16% increase on computers.

These increases, combined with 15% growth in listener hours during the fourth quarter, led to a 33% year-over-year jump in revenue during the fourth quarter. “But all this improved monetization came with a cost,” Green says. “During 2014, Pandora increased its sales and marketing spending by 52.2%, faster than the 44% increase in revenue in 2014. Total operating expenses also rose faster than revenue, jumping nearly 53%.” Add to that the royalty fees, which are likely to increase this year, and Pandora remains mired in a business model from which there is no easy escape. 

With Upcoming Beats Reboot, Apple

Aims To Be The Music Industry


     While analysts continue to speculate on Apple’s reboot of iTunes Radio (with a $3 billion infusion from Beats), company insiders reportedly are eschewing comparisons to Spotify or Pandora. Apple’s goal apparently is to be the music business, not to compete with other services, as it leverages the existing 800 million iTunes and App Store customers from which it already has active credit card numbers.

Apple Insider reports the company is debating pricing for its upcoming subscription music service, looking to reduce the $9.99-per-month rate of the existing Beats Music product. While a price point of $7.99 has been floated for several weeks, major labels are said to be skeptical of reducing the value of music to that level.

Apple is said to be looking to evolve its entire iTunes focus as consumers move away from purchasing music to listening to it via online streaming services. Digital music sales have plummeted since 2013, while music streaming listenership has grown 54% over the same period. With about 1/10 of the world’s population in its iTunes database, Apple clearly believes there’s a way to own the music customer for years to come. 

MySpace Still Gets 300 Million

Video Views A Month…Really!


MySpace      Believe it or not, MySpace – the former king of all social media – still gets 300 million video views a month. That’s good enough to place it at #16 on comScore’s Video Metrix (at least in November)…so what’s up with that?

What’s up is the fact that the digital platform that put social networking on the map is alive and well almost a decade after Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. dropped $580 million on it. In an expensive lesson of corporate “bigness,” Murdoch and company failed to grasp the enormity of social media and caused the site to languish through a combination of executive oversight and rigidity that turned off most of its once-loyal users. Taking a $545 million loss, News Corp. sold the emaciated MySpace to internet ad company Specific Media in 2011 for $35 million.

The purchase was a costly bet that ultimately turned into a “series of expensive lost opportunities,” Murdoch told CNN last month. “This was just ahead of Facebook, and [MySpace was] just about to start a video service, which would have been three months ahead of YouTube. [But] we took bad advice. We put in a layer of bureaucracy.”

While MySpace has faded from the online ad world’s general consciousness, the site actually is doing fairly well, especially among young users. Tim Vanderhook, chief executive of parent company Viant Inc., told the Wall Street Journal that the music-oriented platform reaches 50 million unique users every month – more than five times its reach in late 2013. Most of those users are 17 to 25-year-old music and entertainment fans, but the site also sees a lot of return visitors from its mid-2000s heyday, particularly on Thursdays. As the WSJ notes, these folks have old digital photos stored on their old MySpace pages, and they occasionally retrieve those pics for Facebook’s weekly “Throwback Thursday” posting ritual.

“MySpace was an early photo-sharing platform, so we still see a lot of people coming back to access old photos,” Vanderhook told the Journal. “They may not visit every day but they come back once a week or once a month.” 

Digital Music Streaming Keeps Losing $$$

…So Why Do Labels Think It’s The Future?


Music Business      While music sales continue to slide,  music consumers increasingly are listening to Pandora and Spotify – even as those companies (and others) seem to hemorrhage money on a daily basis. While it may appear short-sighted for record label execs to place their industry’s fate in the hands of companies that could drag them down under the weight of performance fees, the lucrative nature of music licensing presents a profitable business model in a post-album world.

As Paul Resnikoff, editor of Digital Music News (no relation to this publication) recently pointed out, “nobody’s making any money in digital music” – from songwriters and performers, to music services that had hoped to ease the transition from physical to digital with a thriving music economy.

As summarized by USA Today:

* Pandora continues to lose money each quarter amid sky-high royalty payment charges. (See separate story, above.) In its fourth fiscal quarter, Pandora reported a net loss of $30.4 million despite a 44% jump in revenue of $920.8 million. Pandora now claims a record 81.5 million monthly listeners.

* Music download sales, once considered the savior to declining CD sales, have seen their sales peak. Unit sales fell 12.5% in 2014, according to Nielsen SoundScan, and look to fall even further this year as more consumers look to cloud-based subscription services.

* Spotify, the world’s most popular paid music service, with 15 million subscribers, sits atop a heap of similar services struggling to find audiences, including Rdio and Rhapsody. Still, Spotify lost $80 million on revenues of about $1 billion in its most recent earnings filing.

While Apple could bring innovation and direction to its much-anticipated new streaming service, company executives have to weigh the risk of diving completely into the streaming pool at the risk of damaging download sales altogether. Insiders report the music service – minus the Beats name – will be built into the iOS8 operating system so the service will show up in iTunes and on the iPhone and iPad Music app – one of four key icons on the home screen.

iTunes “needs to be in streams,” DMN‘s Resnikoff says. “The conversation is moving forward without them.” 


A publication of Bunzel Media Resources © 2015


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