The late Joey Ramone is feted with tough love in these cradle-to-grave memories from his kid brother Mickey Leigh (born Mitch Hyman).
In Leigh’s collaboration with longtime punk journalist McNeil (co-author: The Other Hollywood: The Uncensored Oral History of the Porn Film Industry, 2005, etc.), Joey Ramone (born Jeff Hyman) is the classic middle-class misfit whose salvation came in the rock ’n’ roll teen culture of the late 1960s. Growing up in suburban Forest Hills, N.Y., Leigh witnessed his sickly, awkward OCD brother transform from a freakish, sometimes violent kid to a moon-booted glam-rocker known as “Jeff Starship.” In the early ’70s Jeff transformed again—into Joey Ramone, the charismatic Ramones frontman and punk-rock heartthrob. Although Leigh planned to pursue his own dreams of rock stardom, initially he settled for being the Ramones’ underpaid roadie. From this vantage point he saw the band’s rise to international cult stardom through New York City’s fledgling CBGB punk scene. He also experienced firsthand the Ramones’ perpetually dysfunctional, dark netherworld governed by the near-psychotic dictatorial ways of guitar player Johnny Ramone. Frustrated and broke, Leigh eventually cut his professional ties with the Ramones and pursued a series of dead-end musical and occupational activities. When the author focuses on his own uphill battles, the memoir hits occasional snags. He hit up Joey for residual money for his backup vocals on the Ramones’ “Blitzkrieg Bop”—used in a 1991 Budweiser commercial—and had constant feuds with his brother about songwriting credit on their several musical collaborations. This belated demand for money and recognition seems somewhat hypocritical, especially considering Leigh had previously been determined to stake out his own identity apart from the Ramones. Nevertheless, Leigh showed dogged persistence in the face of constant futility. Sadly, though, it took Joey’s losing bout with cancer to fully reconcile the two brothers’ differences and bring them together again.
Overlong but intermittently fascinating behind-the-scenes look at one of punk’s most unlikely icons.