Paging: The Ramones

By

Published December 4, 2009

“This book has been 55 years in the making,” says Mickey Leigh of his recently released “family memoir” I Slept With Joey Ramone. In it the writer-rocker-Ramones contributor (born Mitchel Lee Hyman) details growing up in Forest Hills and Howard Beach as the little brother of the punk avatar once known as Jeffry Ross Hyman. The book began in earnest as a column for the downtown punk rag, New York Waste with a title that was meant to “grab everyone’s attention,” says Leigh. “The story was really about me getting scared when I was two or three years old and going to sleep in my big brother’s bed.”

Some of the most entertaining pieces in the book are the childhood moments only a brother would remember like having rock fights with the neighborhood bullies, quiet anger over losing songwriting credits on Ramones tracks, Joey pulling a knife on Leigh and their mother, or even Joey’s passion for ice skating. “Really, who the hell would have thought that?” says Leigh. “It was the one sport he really enjoyed and was actually good at it, maybe because he had those long, strong legs.”  To take it beyond the strictly personal Leigh also brought on Punk magazine co-founder Legs McNeil to help him conduct 50 interviews—with everyone from Bono to Ramones’ mother, Charlotte Lesher, who died in 2007. “The tricky part was that Legs had been in this world of doing oral, uncensored histories [like the seminal Please Kill Me: The Uncensored Oral History of Punk] and that’s not what I had in mind at all,” says Leigh, who actually had to turn in the chapter on his brother dying of lymphoma almost six years to the date of his death. “I kept trying to take myself out of the story, but my publisher wanted the personal approach. I only wanted the quotes where it was really necessary for things that I didn’t really want to say myself.”  

For instance, when his brother got drunk and threw a television at then-girlfriend Angela, Leigh and Legs got her take so it didn’t seem like he was making any unbalanced swipes in his brother’s absence. The same could be said for detailing the difficulties the band encountered while recording End of the Century with Phil Spector, Johnny Ramone stealing away and marrying Joey’s girlfriend Linda, or the medical report Leigh obtained from St. Vincent’s to inform his writing about his brother’s crippling OCD, which got so bad Leigh once had to take Joey back to JFK after a flight from England so he could “rectify the mistake of not having stepped off the curb properly.” “I put it in there so people would really know what happened and to inspire people who’ve been in similar situations,” says Leigh of the medical revelations which have stirred up some controversy. While critics and fans have been very receptive to the book’s unflinching narrative, as evidenced by a packed reading in Tribeca this Tuesday and early interest from studios about making it into a film, Leigh’s also received some angry letters from old friends like Ramones ex-manager Danny Fields. “He wrote me this letter saying how despicable I am. It’s like the The Ox-bow Incident, like he was trying to start a lynch mob or something,” says Leigh. “Maybe he was mad because he was trying to write his own Joey Ramone biography. But the real fans on the fan boards at JoeyRamone.com have been really touched by it and they would have been the most critical.”