Interviews > Joey Ramone/Mickey Leigh Interview
Joey Ramone/Mickey Leigh Interview
Interview by Athena Schaffer

The Crowgrrl has a confession to make – I’ve always had a huge crush on Joey Ramone. I’ve always loved The Ramones’ music, and even have collectibles such as The Ramones shot glasses, and there’s a Joey Ramone doll in my office. Hearing Joey’s distinct voice from the CD speakers or even unexpectedly on the radio always brings a smile to my face.

For instance, check out a couple of my favorites: I Wanna Be Sedated and Pet Sematary.

I’ve been lucky enough to cross paths with the Ramones many times in my journalistic career. I’ve interviewed Joey, Johnny, and Marky for outlets I’ve worked for including Performance Magazine, Amusement Business Magazine, and, Marky for The Crowgrrl’s Perch. I did a story on the first Joey Ramone Birthday Bash for Amusement Business in 2001. And I was at the show at the Bayou in Washington, DC, that was mentioned in the book – the Ramones opened for Blue Oyster Cult …BOC have been like brothers to me since my radio days when I first got into this industry, and they were the ones who introduced me to the raw brilliance of the Ramones!

So, of course, I couldn’t wait to get my hands on a copy of the book I Slept With Joey Ramone written by the person who probably knew Joey best – his younger brother Mickey Leigh (along with the brothers’ long time friend Legs McNeil .) And I was NOT disappointed! Mickey bares his soul to give us the clearest portrait ever of this great musical icon!

This dynamic book is an intimate look at the triumphs and tragedies that defined the lives of both brothers. In reality, this is actually Mickey’s biography although his brother plays a huge part in it. But it does show how Joey ultimately triumphed over overwhelming obstacles to become an icon that defined the Punk genre of music. It’s an incredibly inspiring story!

The Crowgrrl caught up with Mickey to find out more about not only this brilliant book, but also Mickey’s own irons in the Entertainment Industry fire, including but not confined to music.

Excellent and very moving book!

Of course you'll never hear me say that it's excellent, but I'm certainly flattered that you think so. I have no problem saying that I am extremely proud of it. It doesn't suck, there's nothing in it that makes me cringe. It certainly moves me to tears. I'd have to say it's the best book I've ever written.

Oh, how many books have you written?

This is the first.

It must’ve been hard to write, right?

It was the hardest thing I've ever done in my life, aside from actually living it. Especially hard though, due to deadlines and just pure coincidental timing, was having to write about the days leading up to my brother dying on those same exact days, of course years later, but still. And then having to write about my mom only a week after I'd found her in her bedroom in a horribly tangled position after having passed away from a massive heart attack. We were supposed to go the movies that day, and when she didn't answer the phone I knew something was wrong. So, I went to her house and found her there. But, I had to forge on. I honestly don't know how the hell I even did that. Yeah, it was hard. Possibly the only thing harder I've ever done aside from writing this book, was eating my grandmother's borscht.

You really bare your soul in there!

I knew I going into it I was going to bare my soul, or not even bother. I was going to be totally honest, about myself, about my brother, my father…about every character in the book. But my plan was to balance every negative with a positive. Just the way it is in real life. So, I bared my soul first, then I poured my heart out, Then I poured a few bottles of Vodka into my belly. I also had to inject as much humor into it possible, for several reasons. One was so as to be able to continue, and also to make it entertaining, for myself as well as the reader. But when I say I dropped tears on every page of that book, I aint lyin'.

How long did it take you to write?

It seemed like forever, but it was only a little over 6 years.

Tell us about the 2011 Joey Ramone Birthday Bash?

All the Birthday bashes are pretty much the same for me, very sad. But the upside is that It's such a tremendous amount of work it keeps me preoccupied in the months for leading up to it, and of course, having all those people there, our remaining family, all of Joey's closest friends, our mutual friends, and so many of his fans surrounding me and sharing the sadness of his passing, the gladness of his birth, and celebrating his life in an atmosphere so filled with love and respect it is truly a blessing for me to have this happening as opposed to possibly just being alone and somber. However, believe it or not, there is always the issue of money. Some of the contributors are just wonderful and don't want a penny more than their expenses, but some want to get paid just as they would for any show. And surprisingly, for all the artists you hear say how much they loved, admired, were influenced by and even owe their careers to Joey, and the Ramones, it is very hard to get them to contribute a performance, or even participate to the degree of getting on the stage and saying a few words, or even simply attending the event at all. The cost of flying people in from all over the country and other parts of the world, and the expense of the venue, crew, insurance etc etc coupled with the bad economy has prevented the event from even being a break even venture the past few years, so when that happens I wind up donating $10-15,000 out of my own funds. So, the next one will be at a smaller venue, and the performers will just all be New Yorkers, unless anyone wants to fly in on their own volition. And though maybe it won’t have the profile of being in a larger venue such as Irving Plaza, or Webster Hall, I'm sure it will still be a wonderful tribute, maybe even better.

Can you tell us more about the charity this annual event benefits?

Prior to 2004 we donated the proceeds directly to the National Foundation for Lymphoma Research. The funds raised were significant during those years at the time, in fact we raised significant amounts of money just about every year- except for 2003 when the Misfits demanded quite a hefty fee - until only a few years ago. In 2004 I formed the Joey Ramone Foundation for Lymphoma Research, got the non-profit status, the seal, the whole deal. My thought was that having his name involved might compel more people to donate throughout the year, but the JR Foundation is mainly an account where the money that comes in is held only until all the numbers are calculated and the money that comes in via credit cards from t-shirt and other merch sales are in, then it is passed right over to the National Foundation.

There was a mention in the book about a 2nd Joey Ramone Solo CD. Any news along those lines?

The work on the album itself is done, it is currently being shopped to labels, and I am still hopeful it will be out in 2011. There is not title yet, but I can tell you it is a fucking great album. Way better than his first solo album, which he unfortunately had not quite finished. Of course there is plenty of drama regarding the reasons why this one is coming out 10 years after the first. that story is in the epilogue of the paperback edition of the book.

Now, about your own music. Do the lyrics come first? Does the music come first? What is the songwriting process like for you?

I have a very simple formula, it's called "whatever works."

Please tell us more about your New Yorkestra ? (Great name!)

Well, as I haven't had time over the past 10 years as it has been devoted to. I guess, at least three full time jobs. First, though my mom was the executrix of my brother's estate, she designated me to run the businesses for her. I say businesses because there is the 100% percent of Joey Ramone Productions, which is quite involved, then there is his 50% share of Ramones Productions, which due to the co-owner of that company and the manager my "partner" hired is a nightmarish, thankless, bottomless pit of time consuming grief of a job that I can't begin to describe it, politely, so I'll leave at that. Figure in the 6 years writing a book and I've really had to put my own life and music on the back burner.

The New Yorkestra was a concept I had oh at least a half dozen years ago in which I was going to attempt to gather New Yorkers of various ethnicity and musical cultures, and write songs melding all those different musical styles that we have here in NYC. THAT is one huge undertaking, and I wanted to start playing again, NOW. So, as I realized I was not going to be able to follow through on that original concept I decided to use the name anyway, and at the least still try to keep the multi-ethnic part of it, but with luxury of being able to pull material from the vast catalogue of songs I've written with Lester Bangs in our band Birdland, The Rattlers, a short lived band called Crown the Good, STOP and a slew of songs I've written over the past ten years but haven’t been able to record, and a slew of new ones I'm working on now and will continue writing moving forward.

We were supposed to do our first show on Aug.24th opening up for Cheap Trick in a big parking lot at Coney Island, but we got lightning, thundered and rained out..on. But look for us to be coming to a parking lot in your area very soon.

You’re reforming your band STOP?

No, this is the forum I'll play STOP songs in.

New music for it?

No, the new music will be for the New Yorkestra. I do have a few other musical projects in the works though. One is called The Forest Hillbillies, which will be comprised of the many, many musicians who reside in the Forest Hills area, and some non-musicians as well. In fact, anyone who wants to join is welcome. And my friend Michael Bieber and I started a psychedelic Bubble Gum called Y, which we have some great songs for. It is just pure fun, and we'll perform replete with vintage 60's strobe lights, 60's lighting effects of the variety we used when playing Battle of the Bands shows during that era, girls in mini-skirts and we'll just have a ball, but not a disco ball.

Tell us about some of the music videos you’ve produced. Any favorites?

I've only directed one music video, For my brother's version of What A Wonderful World. Youtube Video And it wasn't something that was just handed to me. I had to compete for it with several other video directors to get the job. Everyone handed in their treatments to Sanctuary Records, they liked mine the best, and gave me the job. The budget was a whopping $10,000, but I had some tremendous help from some good friends, and it came out great.

You’ve got a proposed TV series in the works?

Well, I do have a treatment for a TV show, also called The Forest Hillbillies. It's kind of like All In The Family, except this family is one of the few lower-middle class Jewish families left in the neighborhood. Instead of Archie Bunker, the father is a blue collar working stiff named Arnie Blumberg. He works in a car parts warehouse, drives a 1978 Caddy that fizzles, booms and shoots black smoke out of the exhaust. Of course you always know when Arnie's coming home. And of course he's always complaining about his daughter, Sheila who's marrying a "Goyim", the son Harold just got his "shicksa" girlfriend pregnant, and Arnie's constantly yelling to his wife Stell to bring him another glass of Manishewitz. Something like that.

There is a movie being made of my book though. I signed a deal with major studio in Jan of 2010, the screenplay was greenlit this past Jan. 2011, and they are currently narrowing down the list of directors they've been interviewing since then. When they sign the director is when the studio will make the official announcement, but until then I'm not supposed talk much about this movie being made... by FOX Searchlight. whoops.

I've written treatments for a few other TV shows I hope to someday have the time to shop, but there's only so much one person can do, ya know?

You’re also an actor? Any upcoming tv or movie appearances?

Nah. That's too easy.

Is there anything I didn’t ask that you’d like to tell our readers?

Ummm, oh, well, now that you didn't mention it, The name of my book is I Slept With Joey Ramone. It's in public libraries across the country.