Mickey Leigh with Legs McNeil | I Slept With Joey Ramone: A Punk Rock Family Memoir (Touchstone)

Whatever name the demons went by, they shaped a tale that manages to leave the reader with a feeling that Joey left his life not in submission to them, but after having conquered them.

 
 
We tend to immortalize our cultural icons, assigning mythic status to them and endowing them with a timelessness that can undercut the fact that they are human beings. Mickey Leigh’s illustrious memoir of his older brother, who is among the most recognizable icons of American pop culture, reifies him as a human. It tells the story of an unlikely rise to greatness that was achieved both in spite of and because of nearly insurmountable hurdles. Long time colleague and friend Legs McNeil lends a hand in authoring the book as well, adding a layer of sound objectiveness in an otherwise wonderfully subjective biography.
 
Between brothers there is often a gravitational pull that transcends disagreement and decade-long grudges. It’s thanks to that very gravity that Leigh’s story, the story of Jeff Hyman, has been brought to life. It is indeed a story of life, of brothers, of spectacular frustration, heartbreak and triumphant reconciliation.
 
Depending on the point in history to which one is referring, it is sometimes appropriate to call the author’s late brother by his given name, sometimes by his self-appointed pseudonym Jeff Starship and sometimes by his most celebrated moniker, Joey Ramone. An intimacy with each of these incarnations of Leigh’s brother is achieved through personal accounts of their childhood together in a middle class New York Jewish family, interviews with important figures who played major roles throughout their lives and an expository look at the way Joey Ramone’s personal demons affected the lives of those who knew him. Whatever name the demons went by, be it schizophrenia, alcoholism or finally cancer, they shaped a seemingly tragic tale that manages to leave the reader with a feeling that Joey left his life not in submission to them, but after having conquered them.
 
It’s a sad fact of humanity that great artists are often tortured in their personal lives, but rarely is there an opportunity to understand their beauty through the eyes of those who knew them best. Leigh offers a glimpse into the process that turned Jeff Hyman from an awkward, shy schoolboy into a hippie who sold plastic flowers on sidewalks, a glam rocker donning a black jumpsuit and lavender platform boots, and finally a leather-jacketed, bespectacled cofounder of punk rock music.
 
The important message of this book, one that the author surely would want the reader to take away, is that his brother left a legacy that is nearly ubiquitous in the face of modern music by living the life he lived, and that Joey Ramone the rock star was only a fraction of the larger-than-life character of the man himself. | Jason Neubauer

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