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Joey Ramone, As His Brother Remembers Him
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Joey Ramone, As His Brother Remembers Him
Joey Ramone, As His Brother Remembers Him
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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

The punk band The Ramones never won a Grammy, despite their strong influence on rock music. There is a new book out about lead singer Joey Ramone, who died of lymphoma nine year ago. It's called "I Slept with Joey Ramone." It's by Joey's brother, Mickey Leigh. Reviewer Meredith Ochs thinks the book has as much to say about family as it does about music.

MEREDITH OCHS: All his life, Mickey Leigh lived in the shadow of his older, taller, weirder brother, Joey Ramone. Both worshiped rock 'n' roll, both became musicians, but only one became a rock icon.

(Soundbite of song, Hey Ho, Lets Go)

THE RAMONES (Music Group): Hey, ho, let's go. Hey, ho, let's go. Hey, ho, let's go.

OCHS: Their story begins in Forest Hills, Queens, with a sweet, brotherly relationship as the two boys guide one another through the complexities of childhood and adolescence. Mickey emerges as an ordinary kid, while Joey suffers from numerous health issues.

Mickey details his brother's obsessive-compulsive disorder and weak physical constitution, but he also succeeds at putting them into the context of Joey's life.

Joey feels and looks like a freak, but he turns his condition into one of rock's most enduring images: the long, gangly front man, hanging on his mic stand in a black leather jacket, ripped jeans and his trademark round glasses.

Mickey watches the birth of punk rock from the sidelines. As his brother ascends to fame, Mickey puts band after band together, only to see each one fall apart. Joey hires his brother as a roadie, a backup singer, a musical collaborator.

But while The Ramones' legend grows, Mickey works odd jobs, from cab driver to bartender to pot dealer. Mickey asks for royalties, for contacts, for help with his own music projects. Joey says no. For the most part, their family sides with Joey, who is at once more powerful and more needy than his little brother.

Mickey may have longed for Joey's rock-star status, but here we learn that Joey may have longed for the relative normalcy of his brother's life. Sibling rivalry is a great metaphor for the complex relationship between bandmates, particularly in this book; the infighting within The Ramones was even more bitter and agonizing than the squabbles between Mickey and Joey.

At times, the brothers would be spotted in New York City nightclubs standing back to back and not speaking. But when Joey becomes terminally ill, Mickey is there for him; his bandmates are not. Death may be the great equalizer, but Mickey Leigh makes the point that in the end, your family love them, hate them or both is all you've got.

(Soundbite of song, Were A Happy Family)

THE RAMONES: (Singing) Were a happy family. Were a happy family. Were a happy family, me, mom and daddy.

SIEGEL: Our reviewer, Meredith Ochs, is a talk show host on Sirius Satellite Radio. She reviewed "I Slept with Joey Ramone" by Mickey Leigh.

(Soundbite of song, Were A Happy Family)

THE RAMONES: (Singing) We're in all the magazines, gulpin' down thorazines. We ain't got no friends. Our troubles never end. No Christmas cards to send, daddy likes men. Daddy's telling lies, baby's eating flies, mommy's on pills, baby's got the chills. I'm friends with the President. I'm friends with the Pope

MADELEINE BRAND, host:

It's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.

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