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I Slept with Joey Ramone: A Family Memoir [Hardcover]

Mickey Leigh , Legs McNeil


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Amazon.com: 4.0 out of 5 stars  88 reviews
39 of 43 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Revealing and Entertaining Memoir Weighed Down by a Bit Too Much Resentment 18 Jan 2010
By Amazon Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
I will preface this review by saying I am not what you would call a huge Ramones fan. I know their music well and appreciate their tremendous influence on subsequent acts but I am by no means a fanatic. As such, this is the first full-length book I have read on the band or a member of the band, though I know there is much out there. One of the main reasons I decided to read this book was to hear firsthand of their role in the birth of punk in the '70s. I had read Legs McNeil's book on the history of punk and seen many documentaries that highlight the Ramones importance in this respect. I, however, came to know the Ramones long after the release of _Rock 'n' Roll High School_ and mediocre record after mediocre record. I wanted to experience and learn about the impact the early Ramones had on the music scene and the lasting influence of that impact. Mickey Leigh (and co-author Legs McNeil) do not disappoint in this respect. They do an excellent job of capturing the excitement of how Joey Ramone and his band built on the sound of the New York Dolls and Iggy and the Stooges to become the first true punk band. However, many before them have done this well.

One reason why I enjoy reading biographies of musicians is to get insight into the musician in their formative years, to find out what it is that inspired them. That is the second reason I decided to read this book. I figured Joey Ramone's brother could provide unique insight into what made Joey Ramone and the Ramones who they were. Again, here he did not disappoint. In fact, I would argue that the strongest part of this book are the scenes of Joey and Mickey (their names were actually Jeffrey and Mitchell Hyman then) growing up in the Forest Hills area of Queens. I was fascinated to learn what music and what song first got the Hyman brothers excited about music. Mickey provides a real insight into their home life, the dynamics of the family, their mutual growing obsession with music, and the multitude of health (both physical and psychological) issues that Joey struggled with before (and during) his life as a rock star. Up until this point, this is an exceptionally entertaining read.

However, once the reader gets to the point that Joey and The Ramones start to encounter success, things seem to change. Mickey is constantly making snide comments about the musical ability of the band and how lacking it is. He is quick to remind the reader--in not so subtle ways--that he is a more talented musician than the members of the band. In one instance, he discusses a contribution he made to a song but that was dropped because the guitar riff was too hard. There is simply far too much of this type of resentment scattered throughout the second half of the book. Micky may have good reason for this resentment. He did contribute to the writing process of several songs and help the Ramones in many ways and never really receive credit. However, the book began to make this reader feel uncomfortable. It began to feel like Micky was using the book to pay back anyone who had ever wronged him--no matter how slightly. This extends beyond just the Ramones and their inner family. But it is his depiction of the members of the Ramones that is so unsettling. If for no other reason, than the three core members are no longer alive to defend themselves. This reader kept wondering why he waited until they were gone to write this book. It feels very much like Mickey feels like he deserved the success Joey had. And, somehow, this book--at times--feels like another attempt to achieve that fame.

Having said that, there are many other points in the book where Mickey comes across as someone who genuinely loves his brother. The scenes toward the end of Joey's life are particularly touching. Plus, there is value in the story of how both brother's relationship is repeatedly strained and mended as one achieves the fame and success that both crave. So, with the caveats mentioned above, I will say that, although parts of it might lead to frustration, this is an entertaining and informative book that will appeal to most music fans--and especially to fans of the Ramones. Despite the flaws, the strength of this book is that Leigh and McNeil provide a first-hand (which is of course not objective) account of how a misfit overcame (and continued to overcome) challenge after challenge to become a legend and icon to millions of music fans--including some of the most influential and successful people in music today.
19 of 20 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Joey, we hardly knew ye. And we still don't. 13 April 2010
By Bruce Barker - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I was in the music scene at the time much of this book takes place, but far removed from the New York scene. As a result I've met many of the people in Mitch's book, but wouldn't push the envelope by calling them close personal friends. It was a time when all of us spent a lot of time frying our brains and convincing ourselves that what we were doing really mattered.

Mitch captures that atmosphere well in the first half of the book but seems to lose touch with the realities of it as his story progresses. I was both eager and a bit fearful as I approached this book because I didn't know Mickey's motives. I watched Richard Carpenter, for example, spend years trying to make a buck off of his sister Karen's death - even going so far as to change up lyrics and sing songs like, "She'd only just begun.... to live." I hoped that Mickey hadn't started down that sickening path.

The good news is that for the most part, he never gives the reader a sense that this is an attempt to bankroll his brother's notoriety. The bad news is that he does waste a lot of time trying to rewrite history in order to paint himself in a better light - at the expense of Joey's (Jeff's) reputation.

I saw the Ramones a number of times and in fact was backstage (if you could call the open area a "backstage" at all) at the show he mentions at Frolics up in Salisbury, Mass. The tension between Johnny and Joey was obvious and their respective entourages quickly seperated into camps on opposite sides of the room. The problem with this book is that while it is very detailed and honest about some aspects of the band, there are huge gaps and outright falsehoods as well.

The first half of the book does a great job in describing how the core band came together. But like many others, Mickey buys into the legend. Anyone even on the fringes of the business at that time knows the legend of the Ramones. They know the story of how other bands zoomed past the Ramones and became millionaires while the Ramones languished in near-poverty. The tale ends with the embittered band calling it quits frustrated and enraged that they never made the big bucks or booked the stadium tours they always dreamed of. Sadly, this isn't the entire truth. Yes, other bands were more successful. But the Ramones didn't exactly starve. Crowds in England, Germany, and several other countries were ten times the size of the usual turnout for their American shows. The band made enough money that Joey owned several residences. They never recorded a platinum album, but they had a large enough core audience that they could bank on sales in the hundred-thousand copy range for all but their last few albums. If you know what you can dependably expect in revenue, it makes it a lot easier to budget how much you spend in production to ensure a profit. Additionally, they were heroes in many countries and their records were hot sellers in smaller but passionate markets around the world. When the band "broke" in South America much of their music was sold on the black market because the label couldn't distribute enough legal copies quickly enough to keep up with the demand. Sire regularly screwed its artists over on royalties, but that's as common throughout the music business as the use of the "C" chord.

The actual truth is that it was an exponential thing. As their bitterness at not becoming household names grew, the quality of their music and their self-abusive behaviors were affected accordingly. They were always an odd construction and became trapped in their own formula, eventually becoming a parody of themselves.

Mickey's book provides some sort of explanation as to the processes that caused it to happen the way it did - but only to a point. The Ramones began to approach the cusp of true success and somehow it all fell apart. It is at this exact moment in the Ramones legacy that Mickey decides to take a sharp turn away from the story of his brother's band and begins to focus on his own personal woes. He devotes the remainder of the book to relating his own relationship with his mother, his falling out with Joey over royalties and record credits, his own drug arrest and so on. While he makes a half-hearted attempt to explain his feud with Joey by blaming it on Johnny Ramone, it's clear that Mickey's real issues are with his brother.

I would much rather that Mickey had devoted more pages to what happened in the last half of the Ramones career as a band. He implies that the Ramones never dented the singles chart, but they did have a moderate hit with "(do you remember)Rock & Roll Radio." It actually got a little airplay and was included in compilation albums and "best of the 70s" collections. Mickey barely brushes up against this song, mentioning that he and his brother would listen to their transistor radios in bed at night as kids. (The chorus of the song says, "do you remember lying in bed with the covers pulled up over your head, radio playing so no one can see?") The song itself is very autobiographical and alludes to many of the childhood events that Mickey mentions in the early part of the book. It was also a turning point in the fortunes of the band. After that song it seemed nothing went right. The Rock & Roll High School movie bombed and their subsequent albums seemed like afterthoughts. I've always wondered what event or events brought about the change. Was it bad management? The exit of one of the core members? Joey's OCD? Unless someone else close to the story decides to write a book (and there are very few left alive to do so) we'll never know the full truth. In fact, Mickey completely ignores some of the excellent music the band created in the later years and doesn't even mention albums like "Acid Eaters", "Adios Amigos," or "Too Tough To Die" which contained another near-hit for the band with "Howling at the Moon (Sha-la-la-la). He also skips the recruiting of the band by Steven King for the Pet Semetary soundtrack. I had hoped the presence of Legs McNeil as co-author would have kept things on track, but alas such is not the case.

Mickey also claims that Joey suffered from Spina Bifida as a result of one of his surgeries. This is almost assuredly incorrect. Spina Bifida is a birth defect and is not a surgical side effect. It sounds more like Jeff (Joey) suffered from birth defects caused by an undeveloped conjoined twin. He may have had Spina Bifida Occulta - a minor form of the birth defect that does have some neurological impact but isn't as serious. John Cougar in fact, was born with Occulta. Joey did have the odd gait and posture of someone with the condition. I don't believe this was Mickey lying about Joey's health issues so much as I think it represents laziness on his part. He had access to the medical records and if he had taken the time he could have done a better job with the health diagnoses he presents - especially considering how they affected the lives of those involved.

I also would have loved to have heard how it was that Green Day wound up inducting the Ramones into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame since they only receive a somewhat unflattering mention toward the end of the book.

"I Slept With Joey Ramone" is a decent read. But it would be a mistake to accept it as THE definitive Ramones biography. Far too many of Mickey's personal issues seep into the book - particularly in the last third - and it leaves many questions unanswered. I gave it a 3 star rating because Mickey deserves a heartfelt thank you from every Ramones fan for relating at least part of Joey's life story. More important than that however, he tells us with great affection of Jeff Hyman's last few moments on earth and how he expired doing what he loved most - listening to good music that eased his heart and soul. Every single person that has loved Ramones music wishes they could have been there to say goodbye to Joey Ramone and, thanks to Mickey, now we can feel and share what that must have been like. If I ever get to meet Mickey again I'll want to shake his hand and thank him for the gift of that shared intimacy. For me - one of the countless casualties of the vain struggle to keep rock & roll alive - it made the book worth more than twice the cost.
11 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars SENSATIONAL READ!!! 2 Jan 2010
By Paula Rudy - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Even if you've never heard of, or listened to the Ramones Music, anyone who loves a real-life come from behind story will love, "I Slept with Joey Ramone."

As this book was written by Joey Ramones younger brother, Mickey Leigh, it makes the story even more amazing, because it's NOT fiction. First time author Leigh's very original style makes for a most pleasurable read. However, in this situation I also welcomed the additional insight from rock journalist Legs McNeil - as well as the input from other central characters, including Joey Ramone's mother - which eradicated any suspicion of this being a one sided version of the rock icon's life story.

"I Slept with Joey Ramone" is about being an underdog, about hope, about brotherly and motherly love, about how powerful yet fragile the human spirit is. It's also a behind the curtain look at how tremendously successful and influential one can become in the world of rock & roll, even if you don't start out with a lot of musical talent, have records in the top 40, or get much radio play. And how you can be successful as a human being in general. "I Slept with Joey Ramone" is about not giving up...ever.

Every year there are some really great come from behind, coming of age stories - like the recently released movies "Blind Side" and "Precious" - that demand your attention because they're so damn inspirational. "I Slept With Joey Ramone" is clearly one of those stories, that's well worth the read.

It seems to me that even though Mickey Leigh is Joey Ramones younger brother, more importantly, Mickey is Joey's biggest fan. Besides U2's Bono, of course. The brother's relationship became somewhat tumultuous later in their lives, but at the end of the day, and the end of story, the love displayed between the two is truly touching. Talk about making a grown man cry!

Hey, I won't say that everyone will ball that reads this powerful true story, but I did, and my 20 year old son did -- who is all of a sudden very interested in the history of punk rock. This is just a beautiful book that works on every level.
10 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Great Book 2 Jan 2010
By Eileen Friedenreich - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
"I just read "I Slept With Joey Ramone". What a great book! The writing and the portrayal of Joey's life were both excellent. I grew up in New York in the same era, although I was not a Ramones fan. I have a brother with a complicated relationship too and I can relate to many of the emotions presented by Mickey. This book was from the heart and bittersweet on so many levels. I really enjoyed the parts about Joey and Mickey growing up in Queens and how Mickey, the younger brother had to deal with so many aspects of Joey's bizarre path to stardom, including his OCD, his unique nature and persona, and ultimately his incredible talent. The relationships within the Ramones were fascinating (how and why did these guys stay together for so long?). Their rise to success in the early days (1970s) was really interesting, especially given what was happening musically and politically at the time. The descent and disappointments of the band and its members is really well written and of course Joey's death as told by Mickey was heart wrenching to read. There are always dozens of people who try to attach themselves to stars and claim some sort of self-importance from it. In the long run and certainly in the end, it's family that matters. Joey and Mickey both came to know this very clearly. Really good book. I guess I am now officially a Ramones fan...."

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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Joey Ramone 3 Feb 2010
By L. A. - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
Not the kind of biography I was expecting. It was not so much about Joey Ramone after a few chapters. It resembled an attempt to promote one's self and feel important, more than to fully delve into Joey. I gave the book to my husband to read since music is literally his life. He was not too thrilled with this book either. He liked the autobiography I bought him at the dollar store better.
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