Monday, March 29, 2010

Another fine Ramones biography

I never get tired of them. Ramones biographies just keep coming in book and documentary form. The most dysfunctional-functional band seemingly of all time, how they managed to produce anything at all for more than a decade is a major miracle. The melding of all of their addictions, neuroses, mental illnesses and sociopathic tendencies, really created some beautiful rock and pop music.

The latest I've picked up (and can't put down) is Mickey Leigh's and Legs McNeil's "I Slept With Joey Ramone." Mickey is Joey's little brother and has been playing in bands for...ever. Bands even more hapless than the Ramones. Leigh is an intelligent, funny writer, (OK, OK, so is McNeil--contributing from his rock-historian storehouse brain).

All the classic Ramones biographical tales are here: their unlikely formation and prolific songwriting junkets, their early apocalyptic CBGB shows, the drugs, the booze, the girls, Joey getting third-degree burns on his face backstage while steaming his vocal cords, Johnny's admiration of Manson, Hitler and Reagan, Dee Dee's in-your-face nuttiness, Marky's missed concert and subsequent firing due to his impromptu drinking binge with baseball great, Roger Maris; being held hostage in the recording studio by gunpoint by manic Phil Spector--yes it's all here. The formation, duration and heartbreak of the Ramones.

Leigh adds much more about Joey's close-knit and tragic family life, his influences, his early struggles with OCD and fitting in with their peer group. And then eventually, the twisted family rifts caused by bickering, fame, money, credit-where-credit-was-due, all coming from a knowledgeable musician and composer who worked on quite a few Ramones songs and never got proper credit. And never got paid, except for the $50 a week he made as their first roadie. No one said the Ramones were fair. You'll laugh, you'll cringe, you'll definitely cry. I did (a lot).

Sometimes Legs acts like a jerk. And sometimes he's not acting - Mickey Leigh and Legs McNeil read from the book and take some questions in Tribeca, 2009.

Some Mickey Leigh bands:

Mickey Leigh & Stop - Questioningly / Ring of Fire

The Rattlers - Slug (a Ramones song given to The Rattlers)

On The Beach on the Uncle Floyd Show

Mickey was in a band with Lester Bands called Birdland. I can't find any Birdland on YouTube but here's Lester Bangs and the Delinquents doing his ode to agoraphobia, I'm In Love With My Walls. Birdland played this too.

Joey wrote I Wanna Be Sedated after he got third-degree burns on the lower half of his face and throat from a very unfortunate steam-kettle malfunction back stage. He went to the emergency room, returned, and sang a great show anyway, before swelling up like a balloon, which required more hospitalization. He was an artist.

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