background img

Cool Shit: Richard Hell


Every one needs some sort of reoccurring reminder that they are in fact an imbecile. For me it happens when I read something and realize that it expresses a very rudimentary thought or opinion I’ve had, but will never be able to articulate as well as the author did. It’s also a reminder that my writing tends to be endlessly self centered, bizarre considering I have no artistic or literary integrity to speak of.

Richard Hell’s origin story is so mythologized and repetitiously covered in Punk anthologies, interviews etc that it’s almost futile to retell. It’s not that his story is boring — it’s isn’t, but because his stunning autobiography I Dreamed I Was A Very Clean Tramp covered it better than anyone else will ever be able to. And because it’s a subject that’s been bludgeoned to death. I think I’ve read about five out of like hundreds of interviews where he hasn’t been asked about his hair. As interesting of a topic as it is, there are only so many ways to describe a haircut.

Richard Hell’s writing career has made it clear(er) that he is among the most important figures in contemporary American culture. I’v decided to skip his autobiography because there’s a ton of material on it and I’d rather focus on some other highlights.

Film Column: Travel Issue: The Criterion Collection — Massive, Pissed, Love

What I meant with the imbecile bit is this — Lost In Translation has always irked me and I have no idea how to describe why. You can tell that the director and characters all think they are somehow being profound, but they’re not and it’s painfully dull and cliche. That’s the closest I’ve ever gotten to formulating a cohesive opinion on why I hate it other than “it sucks.” In Massive, Pissed, Love in a Film Column about the state of American cinema and the Criterion Collection, Richard comments on Lost in Translation in passing.

I didn’t like Lost In Translation. S. Coppola’s world view is that of a bright, highly-entitled, sentimental-in-the-world-weary-way-of-a-fifteen-year-old, preppy girl. The flick was cute but I think a few weeks in Detroit without credit cards or phone privileges would have had a more enlightening effect on her.

They’re only two sentences but they’re disarmingly funny.

Weird, What Reviewers Call Me — Massive, Pissed, Love

In this essay Hell deals with the reviews of his autobiography. It’s great because I feel like artists tend to have a sort of stubborn belligerence and resentment any time they discuss “critics” or reviews of their work. If the artist even acknowledges critical reception of their work it’s shrouded in anger, contempt and doubt regardless of the positive or negative nature of the response — as if acknowledging an opinion other than their own cheapens the work. Hell acknowledges that not only does he read them but that he also, to some extent, cares. Hell reflects on the reception of his autobiography without a shred of feigned embarrassment or fake humility. Below is one of my favorite quotes.

Twice it occurred to me that the natural and interesting upshot would be to kill myself: that would be a great story, the person whose autobiography drove him to suicide. But there’s a limit to my artistic ambition.

Thinking about what I did or said last week gives me an aneurism so I can’t really imagine the emotional stability and fortitude it takes to spend years writing about yourself. It’s funny because the idea of an artist being driven mad by their Magnus Opus usually conjures image of Michelangelo painting the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel not reflecting on their life.

Interviewing Hell — Bookslut

I came across a Richard Hell interview on the back alleys of the Internet on a website called Bookslut (yeah not really a great name). The interview is from 2005 and was conducted by a man named Adam Travis. The interview itself is average, the fun part is the email exchange between Travis and Richard that was included in lieu of the obnoxious, smug and condescending introduction Travis had originally written. I tried to pick a best part but the whole email exchange is worth a read.

Go Now

SPOILER ALERT. Actually, if you haven’t read Go Now yet then this is your fault, the book’s been out for 20 years. Go Now taught me to be a better reader. The similarities between the protagonist and Richard Hell are extensive down to biographical details like originally being from Lexington, Kentucky. It’s very easy (and lazy) to mentally associate them with each other which is essentially what I did for most of the book. It wasn’t until I finished it and tried to reflect on that Billy-fucking-his-aunt scene that I realized what I had done. The book is a work of fiction but I had grossly misread it in some sort of attempt to gain insight into Richard Hell the person. Once I got over my own impotence as a reader I reread the book and was able to process it accordingly. It’s uncomfortably funny at times but the more impressive part is that Hell managed to create such a multidimensional character in a fairly short book. Billy is sympathetic, I found myself acting like an apologetic mother trying to justify his behavior, but ultimately proves himself to be a vile and ultimately reprehensible character.


Other articles you may like

Leave a Comment