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Richard Hell Doesn't Like Punk?

3/16/13 10:18 Home
Richard Hell autobiography has been published, I Dreamed I Was A Very Clean Tramp which is on Harper Collins.  He was in Huntington's Book Revue for a signing.  Arriving about twenty minutes early last night I was dismayed by sparse audience.  There may have been six of us.  The others were older than me, discussing their children in their twenties, divorces and lives they’re living outside of the book store.  One man had a Long Island Duck’s jacket and brought an album to get signed.  You like punk?  Maybe you need a little background of the man?  Richard Hell was a staple in the New York punk scene in the late seventies to the early eighties.  He has the reputation of being the person to influence the punk fashion style of the Sex Pistols.  He was in Television, The Heartbreakers (Not Tom Petty’s band) and Richard Hell and the Voidoids.  His story is different, running away from private school in Delaware, getting arrested in Alabama after setting fire to a field (because he wanted to see it burn) and eventually arriving into New York where he wanted to make a name for himself as a poet.  The fact he is alive is a miracle since the book will depict his struggles with drugs and eventual retirement from music back in 1984.  I am not familiar with his music as I should be, so I checked YouTube and watched the Blank Generation.  I will see if I can link it to this entry.  If not, do yourself a favor, it’s a good clip and has excellent audio and visual that was shot at CBGB’s.  Hell is the man who helped build the stage at CB’s and made an appeal to the owner of the venue to recruit other bands to play there like Patti Smith and her band, as well as Blondie and Talking Heads.  So I wanted to hear him read and describe the book in some detail.  I was disappointed.  Hell was late for the signing, close to twenty minutes, “They picked me up late.”  By the time he arrived there was a decent showing, around thirty bodies of various ages and identities.  But he seemed less prepared than what I would expect for a reading.  For most readings and/or signings, the writer will share some stories of the book and make the reader want to read it.  It only makes sense.   They may actually read from the book, but did not. So when Hell was introduced and walked up to the microphone he seemed nervous and awkward.  His voice was sort of muffled maybe the influence of the southern drawl he may had.  He said, “I should describe the book, but I’ve never done that.”  Instead he referred to a recent interview.  The journalist did not want to ask him the typical question.  Richard thought this was different - the reporter cared what questions he was asking.  “Why did you write the book now?  It came time to write another book.  I regard myself as a novelist, I’ve been out of music for thirty years and I wanted to be a professional writer.  Finish one book and start the next.  It’s truly my vocation.  For fiction, I’m not very good at the plot.  I need a strategy.  For instance my first novel is a road novel.  The characters travel across the country.  It has momentum.  I didn’t have to conjure up a story.   My second novel, Godlike is based on a pre-existing story in history.  A couple of poet s from the 19th century, so I took advantage of their interesting story and set them in New York City in the seventies.  I never thought I’d do an autobiography.  It’s easier to write fiction.  With fiction, you don’t have the constraint of describing things, following something that actually happened….when you hit your forties you assess who you are and what you’ve been through and get a handle on it.  I could work through that problem or question by writing about it.  My purpose is to write a good book.  The point is to write well.  It’s almost incidental what the story is.  Richard said his writing style is clear and concise.  Hell is also a voracious reader, has an extensive poetry collection which is described and referenced some of his favorites writers like Raymond Chandler and an obscure British writer (hope to get the name) as well as William S. Bourrough’s later novels (not the cut and paste works)…the audience was allotted a few minutes for a Q&A and had some good questions.  I was curious if he wrote his autobiography after reading Patti Smith’s very popular book, Just Kids.  A woman asked this.  He said he was afraid of the comparison, but her book was a memoir.   A memoir can be a book about having a disease like cancer or having a relationship, like Patti and Robert’s love.   What was surprising was Richard’s taste for music.  “I don’t listen to punk music.  I’d listen to rockabilly or something else for entertainment.”  He discussed how long it took for punk to gain popularity, more than twenty years.  He did not see any royalty checks till years after his albums were released and what was a shocker, The Ramones who are a legend today did not have the status back then, they toured constantly and were frowned upon back then.  After waiting a few minutes to get my book signed - the line was fairly short, I got up to the table and took my picture as he signed my book and CD.  I asked him, “Why did you quit music?”  He glanced away from the book and looked up and said, “You have to read the book.”  I’m curious what he has to write about Johnny Thunders who was influenced so many, played in the NY Dolls as well as The Heartbreakers.   Another guitarist, Robert Quine who I met before a Lou Reed concert at Stony Brook back in the late eighties.  I was told Quine was a legend and I remember how he was down to earth, a gentleman who was short and bald with dark glasses and smiled from embarrassment when I was told he was a legend.  Both men are dead, but were important friends in Richard’s life and have most of the space within the book…

Thank you for reading this


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