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I Dreamed I Was a Very Clean Tramp: An Autobiography

Richard Hell

Reviewed by Tim Stegall, Fri., June 21, 2013

Twisting by the Pool

I Dreamed I Was a Very Clean Tramp: An Autobiography

by Richard Hell
Ecco, 304 pp., $25.99

The last decade has birthed many a punk rock autobiography: Dead Boys' Cheetah Chrome, D.O.A.'s Joey "Shithead" Keithley, Johnny Ramone, Patti Smith, Bob Mould. Richard Hell's might be the best of them all, and for the same reason Smith's Just Kids was so distinguished: Hell's a poet, his punk-rock persona derived from consciously acting out Arthur Rimbaud's script. Much of Tramp's power derives from contrasting native Kentuckian Richard Meyers' bucolic-unto-boring childhood and escape with fellow boarding school miscreant Tom "Verlaine" Miller to late-Sixties/early-Seventies bohemian New York City. Hell catalogs the various literary, musical, and visual ideas that inspired him, and, yes, what became known as spiky hair evolved from what my grandmother called an "old, ragged crew cut." Few writers have so vividly captured the excitement in the formation and rise of a local rock & roll band, or the building of a scene. That makes it all the more heartbreaking when Hell peaks early and loses interest, descending into drugged indifference. The book ends when he gets clean, marking the end of Hell and the return of Meyers. The brief ride is a thrill, though.

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