Get Lit: I Slept with Joey Ramone by Mickey Leigh with Legs McNeil
Though the title indicates this might be a juicy memoir from a punk-rock groupie, it's actually by the brother of the Ramones singer, who did indeed share a bedroom with the tall boy born Jeffrey Hyman for many years. The crux of the book follows Leigh's (born Mitchell Hyman) extremely up-and-down relationship with his brother. At one time, they could be each other's closest confidantes and friends. Then they could be screaming at each other for perceived slights both musical and familial. Not helping matters were Joey's mental difficulties (he struggled throughout his life with high-level OCD) and, later, rampant drinking and drug abuse. Overall, the book is a rollicking run through the brothers' relationship, and is especially insightful on the Ramones' early years. Of course, there's also a degree of score-settling. Leigh points out that it was actually he who was in a working band first, and met each of the three other original Ramones before his brother - at the time, a neighborhood freak - even thought about a career in music. Singer/guitarist Leigh's own punk-pop groups, including the Rattlers, Tribe and STOP, had some marginal success. But Joey's stature cast a long shadow, and Leigh has held a number of non-musical odd jobs, including pot dealing. There's a bit of "it coulda been me" in the writing.
Leigh also makes no bones about how he felt the band and his brother took advantage of him, whether during his stint as the Ramones' first roadie/road manager, or uncredited collaborator writing and playing songs. He even credits himself with influencing the band to adapt the jeans/sneakers/T-shirt/leather-jacket uniform during a time when Joey - and even Johnny - were still fond of glam outfits and sparkly shit.
Ah, Johnny. Most Ramones books and the documentary DVD End of the Century have noted that he ran the band like a drill sergeant, often acting like an utter dick and not caring what anyone thought. Leigh recounts many stories of the fascistic guitar player's nastiness and even violence toward women. That Joey's girlfriend left him for Johnny and eventually married the guitarist was only one of the reasons that the pair simply ignored each other for the last 15 years of the band's existence, choosing to "speak" through intermediaries even if they were sitting in the same car.
When Joey died from complications due to lymphoma in 2001, he and Mickey had mostly patched up their differences. The strength of I Slept with Joey Ramone is that it offers a degree of personal insight into the band - and especially Joey - not even found in other books like road manager Monte Melnick's great memoir On the Road with the Ramones or Everett True's Hey Ho, Let's Go. And Leigh - with the help of punk scribe McNeil, who himself literally co-wrote the book on punk rock (Please Kill Me) - is a solid storyteller.
Touchstone, 416 pp., $26.
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