Mickey Leigh: "I Slept With Joey Ramone"

By: Sarah L. Myers

“Mickey Leigh just doesn’t give a shit.” That was the lead in the story I was reading at Joey Ramone’s kitchen table. Reading it out to Mickey, we shared a laugh. Though his own body of work and musical career reaches farther back than that of his brother, Mickey has spent recent years working on preserving Joey’s legacy. Before Joey passed in April 2001, his family promised him a huge 50th birthday celebration. The party went on as planned, and six years later it’s still happening. The Joey Ramone Birthday Bash will be held May 19 at Irving Plaza in New York City.

Mickey knows people love Joey, but he knows people love him, too. He’s one of the most respected figures on the New York music scene, yet he’s unpretentious in every way. This is the guy who recorded “On the Beach” with his band, The Rattlers - one of the best monster/surfing/shoulder-shaking rock n’ roll songs ever. Originally released in 1979, the song was included 15 years later on Sibling Rivalry, an EP Mickey and Joey recorded together. The list of his bands seems endless: Birdland (with Lester Bangs), The Rattlers, Stop, Crown the Good, and The Plug Uglies with Handsome Dick Manitoba of The Dictators. While he says he “barely waves at his guitar” now, he plans to start playing again immediately after he finishes his current project.

A few years ago he strived to boost the Lowest East Side music community by joining the staff at Coney Island High, even founding the publication Coney Island High Times and working the bar. Like every last punk rock institution (the Continental and CBGB’s), Coney Island High is no more, but Mickey’s dedication hasn’t wavered one bit. I sat down with him at Joey’s East Village apartment to talk about I Slept With Joey Ramone, the biography he’s writing with Legs McNeil. The time spent on the subject was relatively short - the rest of the evening had Mickey sharing photographs and memories. There was a post card from close friend Phil Spector, sent shortly after The Ramones were inducted into the Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame. There was the Joey Ramone doll, hilariously towering about six inches over the one of Jesus next to it on the desk (a sign taped to the Joey doll reads, “Hey, look! I’m bigger than Jesus!”)

Mickey also played some records, and showed me other things in Joey’s apartment - the JAWS cookie jar, his one gold record (for Ramones Mania), and the drawers overflowing with cassettes and CDs. It was a special night, and listening to his stories was a great preview of what’s to come in the book.


How did the idea of the book come about? When did the plans start coming together for this project?

I guess I’d thought about writing a book about the whole situation, I don’t know, probably in the 1990s sometime, when I started writing for a couple of magazines, for a couple of local magazines. I wrote for a Lower East Side paper called, it was called New York Hangover at the time, and it became New York Waste. Then I started a magazine for this rock club I was working at called Coney Island High. I was bartending over there. I started a magazine called the Coney Island High Times, and I wrote this little article called “I Slept With Joey Ramone” about when I would get really scared, like when we were little kids I’d see a scary movie like “The Crawling Eye” or “Invaders From Mars”, and I was like three years old and I’d go running into his bed, you know? So “I Slept With Joey Ramone.” But, you know, it was just a catchy little thing that people would assume when they saw it was about some kind of sensational, scandalous stuff. That gave me the idea, I thought that I could do that because I grew up with all these guys. I knew them before my brother did. But it just didn’t seem like the right time and I probably would’ve gotten a lot of flack and probably not a lot of cooperation, you know? I don’t think I would’ve been able to get into all the details of the relationship between me and my brother, the ups and downs and all that, you know?

So it started back then but I forgot about it, and after Joey died I thought his life story deserved to be told. Not only because of The Ramones but more because of the uniqueness of his life and all the adversity he had overcome to achieve what he did. So it’s a great story in that respect.

How did Legs McNeil become involved with the project?

I wrote a chapter outline and I wrote a sample chapter and I started looking for an agent. This agent that I had at ICM said that since I had never written a book before I would have to have a co-writer, right? I didn’t really want to have a co-writer but she said I would have to, if she wanted to represent me to people like Simon and Schuster, Random House, things like that. So I figured all right, if I’m going to have to do that, and of course she wanted me to use some people she already represented. I switched agents after that and went to an agent at William Morris and he told me the same thing. He wanted me to do it with this guy who wrote a biography of Gram Parsons from The Byrds. I figured if I’m going to have a have a co-writer, I’d rather do it with somebody who knew my brother as well. And Legs and he were best friends at one time. Also I did kind of want, the way I envisioned this book was for me to write it, and also to include interviews with people, and I knew Legs was good at that. That’s his forte. So I thought I could do the writing and Legs could help me with that aspect of it, right? So I opted to use him instead of a stranger that one of these agents wanted me to go with.

Who was interviewed for the book?

We have a list of like 60 people for that. I wish I had the list in front of me, I could read it off to you. Just off the top of my head, obviously the remaining band members, who at that time was Johnny… Dee Dee had died already. Johnny, my mother, my step-brother, I mean this was starting… this was birth to death. I wanted to include everybody that wasn’t in Everett True’s book (Hey Ho Let‘s Go: The Story of The Ramones) and wasn’t in Monte Melnick’s book (On the Road with The Ramones). People like Joey’s step-brother and step-sister, and obviously my mother and some of Joey’s other girlfriends, and Alan Arkush who directed Rock n’ Roll High School, and P.J. Soles. And Craig Leon, who produced the first Ramones album. I wanted to get Phil Spector but he was a little hard to get to. So people like that. Joey’s chiropractor, you know, the list goes on and on. Richie Stotts (The Plasmatics), the people he played with. Andy Shernoff, Daniel Ray, Marky, Tommy, everybody. Not so much his fans, but the key people.

Did you speak with Monte? (Melnick was the Ramones’ tour manager for the length of their career)

Spoke to Monte a little bit, but I didn’t really need to get that much from Monte, you know? I spoke to some of the roadies. (I spoke to) Linda Stein, Seymour Stein. There were some people that were already interviewed but it was really for the people that hadn’t been interviewed before - the girls that lived with him for four of five years, people like that. But Monte, I talked to him. But he didn’t really have that much to add. I mean, he had his book own which was supposedly going to be road stories. That wasn’t really what I was going for. I was going for the more personal stuff.

That’s something that, as a Ramones fan, I felt was needed. I felt like we didn’t really know the personal side of Joey. Until “End of the Century” came out I didn’t really know the story about Linda (Joey’s girlfriend, who later married Johnny Ramone). Do you not want people to find out too much about Joey?

Well, there’s a lot of things that I’m not divulging. But there are some very personal things that I am divulging. I mean there’s nothing that hadn’t really been touched on before. Like that they all had some mental problems growing up, and that Joey had actually checked himself into St. Vincents psychiatric ward when he was like 21 years old, because he was having a really hard time with his OCD and having some suicidal thoughts. So he checked himself in there, and we actually printed some of the medical report, some of the diagnosis, which is personal but it gives you… it’s the best way we thought to definitively convey to the reader how bad of shape this guy was in mentally.

So you can compare it to, or you can see what he was up against and how much he had to overcome to become this idol of so many millions of people, you know? Whereas these doctors were saying he’d never be able to function in society on his own, he’s going to be a vegetable. You know, they’re telling him that. They’re telling my mother that. I thought it was important for the reader to know that that was not just talk, that was true. You as a Ramones fan would know that that’s kind of been touched on before - that these guys were not… .that they had problems. The stuff about him and Linda and John was not really a secret either and it came out full force in “End of the Century.” So kind of clarifying all that, as well.

It was hard for me to watch that documentary because I love The Ramones so much and seeing those struggles, and the lowest of the low in terms of their career, was difficult to watch. Do you think people are going to have the same reaction to the book?

I guess, like you know, we’ve heard this before. So I don’t think it’s going to come as a shock. And to hear John talk about it, you know, pretty blatantly, is pretty interesting. To see how that whole thing developed. I don’t know. It’s something I can’t be too concerned about - how fans are going to take that. I think they’ll be interested.

How was the process of writing the book? You wrote some sample chapters and Legs did the initial interviewing?

We both did the interviews because Legs wouldn’t really know what to ask these people, especially people from the early days before Legs knew anybody. And even after that. A lot of it he could do himself, some of them he did. But for the most part it didn’t work out because he didn’t really get any questions answered that I wanted to get answered. And obviously things like talking to Alan Arkush - we did that together. I went out to L.A. like two or three times. We took care of interviewing all the people out there. One of the obstacles was he was still working on his porn book (The Other Hollywood: The Uncensored Oral History of the Porn Film Industry) when we started doing this. Now I understand how hard it is to be involved in two projects like that. It was frustrating in the beginning because he was still working on that and I was trying to get this thing together. Simon and Schuster originally only gave us eight months to do the whole book, which is crazy. I don’t know what they were thinking really. Maybe they didn’t know what kind of book I had in mind. So Legs and I did the interviews together. It was kind of more leaving it in his hands to cut the applicable material from the transcripts to insert it. So as I was writing I would put insert Tommy, insert Charlotte, my mother, insert whoever, Richie Stotts, Angela, (Joey’s) girlfriend, Robin Rothman, another girlfriend, people like that. And that’s kind of how we did it. I’d write and I’d leave a hole for where I thought somebody else should come in, another voice. I didn’t want to be the voice throughout, and I guess it was a little confusing because there haven’t been that many books written like that? I don’t think, I don’t know. I haven’t read that many rock n’ roll autobiographies. It seems like they’re done with mostly interviews or they’re written. I haven’t seen one that’s really kind of combined the two. So it was a little uncharted territory but it’s worked, I think.

What was your biggest challenge in writing the book?

I guess the biggest challenge for me was to… I mean, the subplot is, you know, the relationship between me and my brother. And that was difficult because, I mean we were like best friends until 1990 when this commercial came out that used “Blitzgrieg Bop”. It was a car commercial, a Chevy commercial. I’m pretty sure it was Chevy. Actually, this was a Bud Light commercial.

I sang on the first album, I sang the backups on seven songs, including in the bridge of “Blitzgreig Bop” that goes, “hey ho, let’s go, shoot ‘em in the back now,” there’s “ooh ooh.” So I’m singing that and I hear it on the commercial and it started this big fight between me and my brother, right? And I also helped him write some songs that I didn’t get credit for so this kind of accumulative effect of all these things got me kind of frustrated and we had a big fight. Dealing with that part of it was the hardest part because it’s… I didn’t want this to be a Mommie, Dearest. Everybody’s expecting it to be me just ripping apart my brother, and I didn’t want it to be that. So doing that tactfully was really difficult. I’m still not sure how I’m going to come off but, you know, I’m not trying to white wash anything or myself, either. When I acted stubbornly, I say it. Instead of apologizing to me, he’d like mention the name of my band on MTV when they’d ask him “who are your 10 favorite bands?” He’d maybe say mine. So that was his apology, maybe, but I didn’t accept that. So maybe I was being stubborn. But handling that whole part of it, and the whole turmoil it caused with my whole family, that was the hard part for me.

Were you and Joey able to resolve all of your problems?

Um, yeah, but we didn’t directly resolve those particular issues, like issue by issue. But we did decide to just drop that whole thing and just move on, get past it.

And you released an album together in 1994? Sibling Rivalry?

For that Sibling Rivalry thing, I really kind of wanted us to write some songs together, you know, do it that way. But he didn’t have time, so we did this one song, “See My Way”, which was a cover song that he always liked that my band (The Rattlers) had done. So we decided to do that and then he decided that we should put “On the Beach” on there, and another song that my band had been doing.

The film rights for the book have already been sold, right?

This friend of mine, Rory Rosegarten, who was the first manager of my band, The Rattlers. We met him back in like 1979. We were opening up for The Plasmatics actually, and Rory was writing for this little Long Island music paper called Good Times. He wound up introducing us at this big theater, and he had heard “On the Beach”, and was kind of familiar with The Rattlers. He was this 18-year-old kid in high school and he wanted to get into the music business, so we made him our manager for a little while. Rory and I kept in touch, and he stopped managing bands, went to college, then he started managing comedians. He managed Robert Kline and Ray Romano and he became the executive producer of “Everybody Loves Raymond”. Rory, this kid who was managing my band when he was 18-years-old, went on to become this big shot. So we’d always kept in touch. He’s the guy who hooked me up with the William Morris agent and when he did he said, “I want first dibs to make a movie out of this if all goes well.” So it started getting to the point where people are calling left and right. They’re going to make a movie, they’re going to make a Ramones movie, so I called Rory and said we’d better start getting on the case here even though the book isn’t finished. So we started negotiating and we got it done last August, even though (the book) is still not done, but we made a deal with Rory to give him the rights.

Do you have a release date for the book at this point?

Fall 2007. But we’d better get it done pretty soon for that to happen. I’m hoping it’s going to get done. Gillian McCain (co-author of Please Kill Me) is editing it right now. She has a Masters Degree in English Lit, and she’s confident, and so am I, that she can do a good job and she’s almost finished. So it’s getting close.

I should ask you about the closing of CBGBs. Had you been down there recently before it closed in October last year?

No. Little Steven had organized this whole effort to try and save CBGBs, and he asked me to come play with The Rattlers and I did that. That was the last time I played at CBGBs. I went there to see The Dictators when it was the last weekend. We tried to do what we could, you know, everybody did but it wasn’t meant to be. But, yeah, I did try and I went there a couple of times and it’s kind of sad that it’s not there anymore but that whole neighborhood is so different. And I am trying to work something out with these people who have a bar right under the Joey Ramone street sign to turn it into Joey Ramone’s Place on Joey Ramone Place. Actually, it’s a place that Jesse Malin, Joey, and I had talked about doing something at before Joey died. It was available then and it didn’t work out for whatever reason but now it’s available again, so I’m trying. It’s very possible that it won’t work out but maybe it will, so that would be nice.

What do you envision Joey Ramone’s Place being?

You know, kind of an extension of these Birthday Bashes that I’m still doing every year, a place like what we all wanted it to be back then, a place to get new, unsigned bands exposure. Just a place to keep the music scene thriving down there, which it seems like if we don’t do this I don’t know what’s going to happen down in that area. It’s pretty much decimated by luxury high rises and boutique hotels. CBGB’s is probably going to wind up being a Bank of America or Rite-Aid or something. Anyplace that used to be dangerous is now, anybody who has money wants to be there because I guess it makes them feel dangerous.

I was very interested to find out that you had written most of “(It’s Not My Place) in the 9 to 5 World” (from End of the Century). I always loved that song and thought that it didn’t sound like a Ramones song.

Well, there you go! Um, he had the words and not much more. The words were kind of, the meter of them did not lend themselves to like a typical Ramones 4/4 kind of beat. So I just had this thought of making it somewhere between the Little Rascals’ “Good Lovin”, you know that guitar riff? And “I’d Like to be in America” from West Side Story, and “La Bamba”. Something like that, yeah. So it worked with his words, and I would go to his apartment and record these songs on a little cassette and he would take it from there and play it for the producer or whoever. But that one worked out. I helped him write a bunch of songs. That was the one I guess I made the biggest contribution to because it’s so different from anything they had ever done. Yeah, it was fun, it was fun helping him write some songs.

Is that the kind of thing you guys would argue about the most? The industry side of the music?

Yeah, I mean later on.

Like I said, I would help him with these things and I kind of just left it up to him to see what he would do, if he was going put my name on it or not. And when he didn’t I got upset, but I didn’t say anything at the time. You’ll have to read the book to find out why, but yeah there are enough of those accumulated then shit kind of hit the fan and I finally wound up speaking out about it and it caused some problems.

What was it like growing up with Joey in Forest Hills?

Difficult, because my mom got divorced when I was like five years old. She got remarried to a guy who lived next door to us, but then moved to Howard Beach and we all moved to Howard Beach. He had a son and daughter, so we had a stepbrother and stepsister, then we moved back to Forest Hills and he got killed in a car accident and the two kids got taken away, so it was like we were a little happy family then my mom got divorced and it’s just the three of us then we were with these other people, then it was just the three of us again.

So it was a little difficult. It wasn’t your typical “Father Knows Best” TV family. But we weathered it all and something really good came out of it that my brother and I were able to follow our dreams, you know, with the support and encouragement of our mother who was extremely supportive and encouraging. So it kind of worked out, I hate to say for the best, but something positive came out of all the turmoil.

When did you and Joey start coming down to Manhattan and getting involved in the music scene?

We started coming down here in the mid-1960s. My brother started hanging out in the Village when he was like 13 years old, so that would’ve been 1967, 1968. Me and my friends would come down to the Village also and just hang out and try and fit in. We dressed like hippies. We dressed like Jimi Hendrix. We were 12 years old and my brother actually got us, we had a little band, my brother produced a single for us, which never came out. But he also got us shows. He was our booking agent. He was like 16 and we were like 12 years old playing in like the Café Wha?, and all these little clubs on the West side, so we were hanging around here since we can remember.

What was it like?

It was great. It was like out back yard. We lived in Forest Hills but we could be here easily and quickly enough.

There was nothing happening in Forest Hills, really. So it was great to be able to get on the train and come down to see shows at the Fillmore East and Central Park or wherever. We would just go see as many shows as we could. That’s what we did. Even before the Fillmore me and my brother would go to the Brooklyn Fox, where the radio stations, the WMCA Good Guys, and Cousin Brucie, they would have all these rock n’ roll shows with Mitch Ryder and the Detroit Wheels and the Temptations and the Supremes. All those kind of shows. So we were into it from the very beginning.

Do you think at some point Joey would have wanted a Ramones reunion?

He never really talked about wanting one. I don’t think so. I think he’d had it. I think he had his fill. He’d had enough.

And he was so active in the East Village, hosting events and promoting new bands.

Yeah, he was having more fun with that than these last days with The Ramones so I don’t think he minded. He was working on his solo album. He had his plate pretty full. Plus he was sick and he wasn’t feeling good a lot of the time.

Were you involved with Joey’s solo album, Don’t Worry Bout Me?

No, not at all. I mean, I got involved with it after he died because I had to, you know? That a whole other story I guess, which I can’t really get into because that’s going to kind of be the epilogue. I can tell you I played on that song, “Don’t Worry Bout Me”, because I just thought it sounded kind of bare and it needed a little filling out so I threw a little guitar part and a little background vocal, some “oohs” and it worked and it helped. I don’t think he was finished with that album. I think it probably would have had a few more songs but no, I wasn’t really involved. Because we were fighting a lot, on and off, during those days.

I wasn’t ever trying to force my way into my brother’s work. If he called me and asked me to help with him something I would, but I always wanted to have my own body of work and my own career and my own identity and that was like a real struggle, because everything always started off with ‘Joey’s brother.’ So I was not looking to get… I liked to see him doing what he wanted to do with the people he wanted to do it with, you know?

What was it like being in Birdland with Lester Bangs?

That was like an acid trip, from what I remember of acid. But Lester was… I mean, you could love him one minute and hate him the next. He was so intent on changing the world, you know? He had to wind up being hypocritical at some point because everybody, nobody does everything right. But Lester was a very righteous guy and he meant well, but he would get very fucked up on Romilar, speed. He was really hard to deal with, and musicians kept coming in and going out like there was a turnstyle. And a week later they’d be out, so it was really hard to keep a band going. But I loved Lester. Lester was like a really great friend of mine and became a good friend of the whole family, and I miss him terribly, too. It was fun being in a band with him. I liked it a lot, but ultimately it just blew up because Lester was just too overbearing for everybody else. I didn’t seem to have a problem dealing with him but all these other musicians couldn’t handle it.

Who’s on the lineup for the Joey Ramone Birthday Bash this year?

The New York Dolls are doing it. Glen Matlock has a new band with Clem Burke from Blondie, and Bill Slick, a guitar player who did a lot with David Bowie’s tours, more of like a studio guy but kind of well known. Some fashion designer named Kieran I think is the lead singer. Slinky Vagabond is the name of the band. So they’re playing. And a band called Chesterfield Kings. They’re on Little Steven’s label. Little Steven always lends his support as the MC of the event so I figured we’d put one of his bands on there. And a band called The Bullys, which is my favorite New York punk band. Richie Ramone is coming to play. I’ve got Jayne County coming up to do “I Wanna Be Your Girlfriend”. At the end we always try to keep it to Joey’s friends to do a little tribute section.



Store : Music : Stop (Featuring Mickey Leigh)

Joey Ramone and Mickey Leigh - "On the Beach" - Sibling Rivalry





Search Thirsty for:

© Stay Thirsty Media, Inc. 2006 - 2007
All Rights Reserved

Privacy Policy | Terms of Use | Terms of Sale | Site Map

нерухомість Львів оголошення . Cheap Dell Inspiron 1000 laptop battery.