I Dreamed I Was A Very Clean Tramp by Richard Hell

I read Please Kill Me: an Uncensored Oral History of New York Punk when I was in seventh grade, and let me tell you, it was formative. It fucked me up real good. It made me who I am today.

There’s an interview in there with Richard Hell from Punk Magazine (the old collected volume which I also checked out from the library in seventh grade) where he quotes Nietzsche. I thought that was just the coolest thing. I still do.

So, that’s where I’m coming from re: Richard Hell.

It isn’t surprising that I dug this book. It was like hanging out with someone who I don’t necessarily like-like but who I like hearing talk. He’s an interesting dude. He was a founding member of Television, was in the Heartbreakers with Johnny Thunders, and then started his own band, the Voidoids. This book starts with his childhood, and goes to when he quit drugs and music, which works really well as an ending point. It’s the story of him growing up, becoming someone, being someone, doing something with his life, and then coming to the realization that he needs to do something else.

Reading this made me want to read other books and see films. He’s an intellectual rocker, kinda, except he would probably hate being called that. There’s a lot about the early days of punk, but just as much about literature and art. I love that he didn’t set out to be a rock’n’roller. He wanted to be a poet, but then this seemed like a better way to get girls to pay attention to him. The whole idea of wanting to be a poet feels so dated/romantic/revolutionary.

I didn’t always enjoy how he framed some of his relationship with women, and know that I’m forgiving this because he’s someone I’m already a fan of. I can’t tell if it was misogyny that made me uncomfortable, or if it’s just that his general misanthropy seemed worse when sex was added to the equation.

There’s definite growth shown between how he acted as a young man and how he views these actions now as a middle aged writer. Some of the best parts of the book are when he looks back and comments on this difference. I was particularly enamored by parts about his evolving relationship with Tom Verlaine.

The writing is really enjoyable. He has a great aesthetic. He started the whole spiky hair and clothes look. I guess that isn’t much of a recommendation for him as a writer, but he’s a cool looking dude, and I respect that.

It’s a really good memoir about one of my favorite corners of punk music. It made me feel like I understand an artist I enjoy better than before, both because of the biographical aspects, but also because of the way he discusses art and music. Go listen to the Voidoids and give it a read.

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