“We’re A Happy Family” was classic Ramones, the cliched title belying horribly dark lyrics of an (admittedly hilarious) dysfunctional family. The same irony, unbeknownst to their fans, was also the dark, stark truth within the Ramones. The band of misfits and delinquents that virtually invented punk rock were maladjusted to say the least, and unlikeable at best. Mickey Leigh’s also wonderfully and ironically titled bio I Slept With Joey Ramone — Leigh was Ramone’s younger brother — is just one of many books that paints the band in an unflattering light, full of complicated, deceitful, dishonest and just plain hateful interpersonal relationships. For a band whose myth exemplified the “band as a gang/family,” the reality was shockingly different.
Leigh’s unique relationship, not only as a brother, but as a Ramones guitar tech, roadie, stage manager, backup singer, co-songwriter and more gives him a unique perspective, and it’s one that’s borne out after reading several books on the band. Johnny was the authoritarian “leader”, Joey the OCD “artist” who drank too much, Dee Dee the out of control delinquent, drug addict and lead songwriter, and finally Tommy, the drummer, producer and only sane member of the band, who got out before it was too late.
If being a little brother is hard, then being the younger musician brother of a music legend is doubly so. Leigh struggled on his own as a musician — despite being in a band with the legendary Lester Bangs — but would contribute to The Ramones and Joey throughout their career, almost always uncredited. Those often intentional oversights would cause friction with Joey, his parents, The Ramones, and anyone in their circle; it was a classic “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” life lesson. It’s those relationships, during both the good times and bad, that are at the heart of this book. The fact that it takes place within the lives of the founders of punk rock only makes it more compelling, and this feels like one of the truer and more honest books on The Ramones.
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