Friday, July 22, 2005

News Flash: Richard Hell Is An Asshole

This is from the introduction to an interview with Richard Hell on a reader forwarded to me.

Dear Reader, strap on your bullshit bullshit guards, strap them on tight, and double check 'em, because this is going to be a bumpy read...

Here's the intro to the piece, which was written by someone I've never heard of, Adam Travis;

Interviewing Hell

During a recent trip to New York City, I stopped by Richard Hell’s apartment in the East Village. We had coffee, made literary small talk, and recorded an interview. Several days later I sent him a transcription of the interview along with an unfinished introduction to the piece. What follows is Hell’s spirited response and critical comments to my introduction.

25 February 2005

Yo, Travis,

Listen, last night I looked at the interview. I'm pretty inured to ignorant journalism, and the second half of my double take regarding your introduction to the interview took about twenty minutes to fully develop, but once it occurred it was energetic enough that it resulted in the attached annotated version of your intro.

Dude, I don't know what remedy there is for your condition but some hard knocks. Anyway, for the record, the line that really ignited my slow burn was, "As a poet now, Richard Hell is perhaps not as good as he could have been had he not spent upwards of twenty years playing music." Though as indicated in the attachment, the whole intro is consistent with the obnoxiousness of that line.

To be fair, I have to admit that when I was around your age, I was nearly as bad, maybe worse. When I was 18 and had started that literary magazine I mentioned, I wrote Allen Ginsberg for a poem and then when he sent one I rejected it.

But, you know, this interview is nothing special. Under the circumstances I'm really not going to break my butt to have it ready for you. It might be interesting to include this exchange with it. If you want to suggest a simple way to salvage it, I'd consider it. The cool thing would be to take an extra week and include this exchange (with the attachment below), but I don't expect that. Otherwise, if you're determined to go on with the process, I'd suggest you write a new slightly more appropriately humble intro, and I'd do the work I'd need to on the interview proper over the weekend when I can find the time. Otherwise, let's just write it off to experience and forget about it.



First off, Richard's use of terms such as 'Yo', 'Dude', and 'Later', instead of terms more suited to someone his age, such as 'Oxygen Mask', 'Assisted Living' and 'Irrelevancy' is pretty fucking silly. Let's get a few things straight here: first and foremost, let's be honest with ourselves here: Richard Hell's novels are lousy. If he didn't used to be a rock star with a small bag of tricks and big sack of pretension, whose principle claim to fame was his association with more talented people and a song lifted from an old McFadden record (also, he was on heroin! wow!) nobody would give him the time of day. You see how horrible most of the writing be published now is, right? Richard Hell isn't even that interesting. Honestly, I'm surprised that Hell's books aren't coming out on Henry Rollins's imprint, which is the most mean spirited, hateful thing I can say about a writer (I'm being perfectly serious). Richard Hell made a few lousy albums and was lifted by the tide of a very specific time period into a cultural position he doesn't deserve in the least. When was the last time you pulled out a Richard Hell record? When was the last time you perused a Richard Hell book? Shit, the guy wrote a novel when he thought he was a vampire. Let me repeat that:


Have you read of his sophomoric, quasi autobiographical, horridly unoriginal novels? His poetry by numbers? Just because shit for brains teenage theorists on the smokey end of a bong sing his praises to high heaven, doesn't make him any good. Richard Hell's music is no great shakes, and his writing's a snooze. Up his.

Okay, on to the aforementioned, much ballyhooed intro (Hell's comments are in brackets).

If Richard Hell had died fifteen years ago he would only be remembered for his essential contribution to the beginnings of punk rock in New York in the 1970s. No small feat, I’d say.

[You would? You'd say? You would say? You'd say both those things? You? Mr. Adam Travis?]

Okay, even though I find Richard Hell's comments here surprisingly funny for someone that appears totally devoid of a sense of a humor, the writer is essentially accurate. If Richard Hell died right now (and if he was in front of me and I had a handgun, he would) his writing would be a footnote. I'm not saying that to fit my argument, it's a fact. Do you think his obit is going to read:

Late last night, famed novelist and well regarded poet Richard Hell (actual name Richard Myers) died. After a long battle with near deadly levels of ego, he finally succumbed to fatal levels of self delusion. Oh, he was also in this band called Television, as well as his own band, called Richard Hell and The Voidoids, as well as being a founding member of The Heartbreakers, but nobody gives a shit. His book 'L'Oeil du Lexard' has been universally loved by readers the world over and has been universally admired as one of the crowning achievements in all of literature. Even God was quoted as saying 'you spend a week creating the universe, but when one of your children goes and writes a book like that, it makes it all worthwhile'...

No, it's going to be something like:

Late last night, musician Richard Hell, one of the founders of New York's 'Punk' movement, and a member of seminal punk groups Television, and The Heartbreakers, as well as his own group Richard Hell and The Voidoids, died. Oh, Hell also managed to somehow publish some shitty little books that nobody read that only he and a few morons through were good (they aren't)...

Okay, back to the interview:

Many rock and rollers become rich and famous, but few can claim to have also had a significant impact on culture at large.

[I don't think it's a real interesting subject, but how about Elvis Presley, James Brown, the Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Sly Stone, The Sex Pistols, Run-DMC, and Madonna? It's absurd and embarrassing for you to place me among those who "can claim to have also had a significant impact on culture at large" as a "rock and roller" with a throwaway line like that. I do not make that "claim." On what basis do you? You think you're flattering me, but you're just being a condescending twat.]

Okay, Adam made a pretty stupid comment. Not only is it not especially relevant, but let's be serious here. It's not good writers that are going to be commenting on Hell's literary work in anything but a dismissive way in the first place, so Hell should just keep his lips zipped. Calling the guy a twat? What is he, ten?

What's that? Serious writers do like Richard Hell? William Gibson? Dennis Cooper? You mean, William Gibson, inventor of the genre of cyberpunk? Give me a minute, I have to laugh for a good half hour before I can sit back in front of the keyboard. Oh, wait? Dennis Cooper likes Richard Hell's lit, too? You want to see my Dennis Cooper impersonation?

"Then I fucked the hole I made in his neck, did I mention that I'm gay? Because I am." - Dennis Cooper

Back to the interview:

That kind of accomplishment, especially in such a here-today-gone-tomorrow genre of music,

[What?--more poetry survives than music? And/or--what?--poets have anywhere near the "impact on culture at large" as pop musicians?]

Adam is pretty much right, although he didn't articulate his argument very well. Musician's fame, notoriety, and fortune can dissipate frighteningly quick. Just ask the Von Bondies.

More interview:

can be a major obstacle to being taken seriously in any other medium. Since music Hell has devoted himself almost entirely to writing (mostly novels), and occasionally poetry. In fact, poetry was the first thing he did seriously (before music) when he came to New York in the late sixties.

[The first thing I did seriously at that time was get drunk, the second was try to figure out how to support myself financially. Poetry was a distant fourth or fifth.]

Oh, wait, don't you mean the first thing you did was breathe? Or eat? Or act like an asshole? You did write poetry (excuse me while I point in the general direction of New York and laugh) before you were a musician, asshole.

More interview:

As a poet now, Richard Hell is perhaps not as good as he could have been had he not spent upwards of twenty years playing music.

[Fuck you. If you want to say something like that, say it to my face. You don't hear me making claims about how "good" my poetry is, but who the fuck do you think you are? All this writing of yours is presented as if you're a person called upon to make judgments from some position of earned respect. That's not who you are. You're a callow kid with a job reading slush for a pretentious irrelevant "poetry" magazine {Poetry, not Bookslut} ([previous bracket comment's Travis's not, Hell's or Honolulu's]). You sought an interview from me, I was kind enough to grant it, and now you're being an asshole by exercising some grotesquely deluded misapprehension that your role in this includes some call to fucking critically assess my skills. Also, it was not twenty but ten years I spent with bands.]

Wow, as someone that routinely gets really upset over trivial matters, this outburst of Hell's is still really surprising. Yeah, that Adam Travis sure is the asshole here, not Hell. In fact, Hell's being a really nice guy. Sure Adam's mental meter may hover towards nitwit with surprising regularity, but he's directly paying a guy he admires a soft compliment (hey Hell, notice the qualifier of 'perhaps') that while, not true, isn't nearly as sweeping of a statement as he made it out to be. Actually, it doesn't matter if Richard Hell spent ten or twenty years playing music, he would still be just as pretentious and bland of a poet and novelist as if he had never picked up his bass.

More interview:

That statement is so obvious of any occupation it probably doesn’t even need to be made.

[Except by an incomprehensibly self-satisfied fool.]

That's not especially good writing, but not deserving of Hell's jerkisms. I think Hell has the fourth tier rag that nobody reads confused with some big outlet, so he should give the only type of people that want to interview him anymore (idiots) a little leeway.

More interview:

But whereas most poet-rockers’ involvement with poetry doesn’t go beyond one or two volumes of crappy verse,

[Again, who gives a shit what your opinions are concerning "crappy" verse? What have you said or done for us to have any reaction but baffled impatience at your presumptuous, casual, throwing-around of such epithets? This writing of yours is what's crappy: it betrays nothing but unearned self-importance and a complete lack of understanding regarding the nature and purpose of the journalism it's purporting to practice.]

Adam's absolutely right. How many musicians contribute well crafted prose or verse to the world of literature? It's not a matter of opinion here, it's cold hard fact. Hell is living proof, no wonder he's upset. Hell's attitude is also total bullshit, sweeping statements aside, the argument of having to do something in the first place to be in a position to comment on it is totally intellectually invalid.

poetry seems actually to have been a significant part of Hell’s life and work.

[Thanks for your prized approval.]

Well, it is/was, right? Also, I don't see any approval on behalf of Adam Travis being offered in this statement.

More interview:

Even his forthcoming novel Godlike is all about poets and poetry. It is a commonplace to say that poetry does not matter to the rest of culture – and true, most writers, musicians, painters, and even actors, lead careers that are influenced almost not at all by poetry. It is hard, though, to imagine Hell’s work without his involvement with poetry.

[Gee, does that mean I'm accepted into your approved pigpen of the cognescenti?]

It is hard to invoke Hell's work without his misguided ambitions and misplaced literary aspirations. Adam Travis's statement seems accurate to me, but then again, I'm someone that doesn't read much poetry and thinks 'Surfin' Bird' is as good of a song as anything Dylan ever came up with, shit, we are dealing with rock music, aren't we?

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