The latest entry in the growing field of Ramones Studies is I Slept With Joey Ramone: A Family Memoir. The angle here is that Joey Ramone, né Jeffrey Hyman, is examined by Mickey Leigh, né Mitchel Hyman, his brother. Mickey also talks a lot about his own life, which is fine for a couple of reasons. For one, he’s got an easy, unforced style (helped by Legs McNeil, an old hand at historicizing the movement he helped create). For another, Mickey’s life has a lot to do with Joey’s, maybe in more ways than he’s aware of revealing.
The Queens childhood opening is like a notebook for early Ramones records: The boys hang out, watch TV, discover rock and roll, pretend to be on drugs, and endure bullies, an asshole father (“Daddy liked men”), and a broken home—all told at great speed, without much moping and plenty of dumb jokes. (Humor high point: Joey gets knocked into a bush.) Even Joey’s many problems are sort of funny (he was regularly hauled into the principal’s office, but there he “hung out and ate Popsicles”), though it’s weird when he threatens his mom with a knife.
The brothers start playing music, which gives them a sense of accomplishment, but also of competition. Local cool guy John Cummings, later Johnny Ramone, is Mickey’s best friend, but he doesn’t want anything to do with Joey. For a while, Joey is a misfit among misfits. But they’re all Queens guys—the sort who refer to their psyches as “upstairs,” and request clarification with “Whattaya mean?”—so they stay on each other’s wavelengths. Some of the guys get up a new band, and Johnny wants “a good-lookin’ guy in front.” They get Joey instead, and the rest is history.
Or someone else’s biography. Anyone who picks up I Slept With Joey Ramone will be interested in the plentiful Ramones bio-nuggets: Who wasn’t talking to whom, what girlfriend Joey had when, how Joey could be really cool sometimes and a real dick others, etc. But though we hear some of these details from various witnesses, most of it comes from Mickey, and he has his own story—in fact, this is his story. He knows that, like always happens, the people have come to see his brother, and he’s happy to oblige. But he makes sure you get his side, too.
It’s not always cozy. Mickey believes his brother could have stuck up for him more—not just with the guys, but also with the royalties and career breaks (Joey: “I just plugged [Mickey’s] band on MTV!” Mickey: “But he plugged lots of bands he liked”). He wants you to know the reason every time he and Joey weren’t speaking, and usually Mickey—according to Mickey—is not at fault.
Don’t let that put you off, though. The apple didn’t fall too far from the other apple, and Mickey’s bitching is sort of like what you imagine Joey’s would be like if he were the one who wound up schlepping road cases with a hernia instead of being a star. Mickey is a smaller, slightly less crooked mirror of his brother. If it seems a little sad when Mickey pulls out his clippings, so does being a punk icon when your records always tank. Not to mention scoliosis, problems upstairs, and, finally, cancer.
Joey’s fights with Mickey may not have the historical interest of his fights with Johnny Ramone, but they’re of the same kind: petty, absurd, and entertaining. And, unlike Joey and Johnny, Joey and Mickey made up. Several times. The last time, though, is very sweet. “He pulled me down to him, and he just didn’t let go. I can still feel that hug.”