Monday, September 15, 2014

I Dreamed I Was a Very Clean Tramp - An Autobiography - Richard Hell

Of course, I picked up Richard Hell & The Voidoids Blank Generation when it first came out and dug its catchy tunes and wild guitar playing (Robert Quine and Ivan Julian), although there is a certain pretentiousness to it all, that didn't - and doesn't - particularly bother me. After that debut, though, Hell kinda fell off of my radar, other than seeing his name in print every once in a while, usually as a writer, instead of musically. This book tells his story and what happened to him before and since.

Even at a young age he appears to be quite narcissistic and he was easily bored at school, hence him bouncing in and out of several - one where he met Tom Verlaine (Miller) and became friends - before eventually quitting for good as a teenager and moving to NYC. Here he dreamed of becoming a poet and did start writing and started publishing, as well. Tom followed him to the city and they rekindled their friendship, worked in bookstores together, wrote separately and together (their famous pseudonym, Theresa Stern, being released by Hell), and shared a love for music and its power. They would see bands like the New York Dolls and like so many others, they figured that they could do that too and decided to start their own band (he claims that he goaded Tom into it).

Hell has kind words for Patti Smith and her early offerings (though later lambastes her group) and says that she was an inspiration, as well. He talks of coming up with the look & style that was to signify punk – spikey hair, torn clothes, black jeans, safety pins, etc. – which others admit was his idea initially. This was all part of their transformation into the rock'n'roll alter egos for Television (a name he also claims that he came up with, not realizing that TV was Verlaine's initials). This is one of the most fun and exciting parts of the book – as it seems to be one of the most fun and exciting time of Richard’s life. Trying to describe that excitement is almost beyond him and he shows that he really does believe in the power of rock’n’roll.

Clashes with Verlaine caused it to fall apart though and from there he moved on to the Heartbreakers. His time with the band lasted only a year or so, but he says that it is some of his happiest musical times, with good camaraderie and good music – though he later talks some smack about Johnny’s songwriting. But, this band was popular enough that he lived off of it and got plenty of women (he continually talks about the women that he's fucked) and drugs. Hell says he wanted more than the Heartbreakers could supply in terms of creativity and new sounds, so he then formed the Voidoids with Robert Quine.

He has a chapter about Lester Bangs and how an interview with him caused one of the biggest misconceptions about “Blank Generation” – which was actually caused by Hell’s own words.
After the album Blank Generation, his life degenerated into a wasted drug haze, coming well past the point of dabbling and into a depraved addiction. He threw away everything for junk and is lucky to still be alive. I had to literally laugh out loud at his declaration that he had been drug free and “had no drug problems since” quitting with the help of NA, other than a “two-or-three-year period of relapse”! That’s not quite like saying “I tried it once more and didn’t like it” or something! Cleaning up meant that he left music, though, and he eventually made his living with his writing.

Hell is definitely talented and he has contributed a lot to this music that we call punk, but he is not a particularly likable guy (based on his writings), though his story is compelling. Worth reading for the historical value!