All his life, Mickey Leigh lived in the shadow of his older, taller, weirder brother, Joey Ramone. Both worshiped rock 'n' roll, from The Beatles to Alice Cooper. Both became musicians. One became a rock icon.
Lead singer of the legendary punk-rock band The Ramones, Joey Ramone died of lymphoma in 2001 at age 49. But Leigh has a new memoir out about life with Joey, and I Slept with Joey Ramone has as much to say about family as it does about music.
Their story begins in Forest Hills, Queens, with two boys guiding one other through the complexities of childhood and adolescence. Mickey emerges as an ordinary kid, while Joey suffers from numerous health issues. Leigh details his brother's obsessive-compulsive disorder and weak physical constitution, but he also succeeds at putting them into the context of Joey's life. Joey feels and looks like a freak, but he turns his condition into one of rock's most enduring images: the long, gangly frontman, hanging on his mic stand in a black leather jacket, ripped jeans and his trademark round glasses.
Leigh watches the birth of punk rock from the sidelines. As his brother ascends to fame, Mickey puts band after band together, only to see each one fall apart. Joey hires his brother as a roadie, a backup singer, a musical collaborator. But while The Ramones' legend grows, Mickey works odd jobs, from cab driver to bartender to marijuana dealer. Mickey asks for royalties, for contacts, for help with his own music projects. Joey says no. For the most part, the family sides with Joey, who is at once more powerful and more needy than his little brother.
Mickey may have longed for Joey's rock-star status. But here we learn that Joey may have also longed for the relative normalcy of his brother's life. Sibling rivalry is a great metaphor for the complex relationship between bandmates, particularly in this book; the infighting within The Ramones was even more bitter and agonizing than the squabbles between Mickey and Joey.
At times, the brothers would be spotted in New York City nightclubs standing back to back and not speaking. But when Joey becomes terminally ill, Mickey is there for him; his bandmates are not. Death may be the great equalizer, but Mickey Leigh makes the point that in the end, your family — love them, hate them or both — is all you've got.