Skip to main content
  1. Arts & Entertainment
  2. Books

A Hellish and Loveless Existence

See also

*On March 14, I went to see the proto punk visionary and street poet, Richard Hell, in Hyde Park, along with my friend Lynn Fitzgerald, who was kind enough to tell me about the event (Another friend, Anita Lathrop alias Annabelle Echo also met us there). Hell read from his terrific biography (it’s now out in paperback), I Dreamed I Was a Very Clean Tramp (which I discussed in an earlier blog.)

His reading focused on three chapters focusing mostly on three topics: his meeting with Susan Sontag, groupies, and the Ramones (he was very good friends with their main songwriter Dee Dee.)

He spoke about his friendship with his fellow junkie, Dee Dee, who played bass and wrote many of the Ramones best songs. Hell spoke about how in the beginning, Dee Dee wrote a whole bunch of songs that started with “I don’t wanna….” These include “I Don’t Wanna Walk Around with You,” “I Don’t Wanna Go Down to the Basement,” and of course, “I Don’t Wanna Get Involved with You.” The punchline in the book is that the first affirmative song that Dee Dee wrote was “Now I Wanna Sniff Some Glue.”

Hell acknowledged that Dee Dee was some kind of great tale teller or supreme fabricator of stories. Dee Dee’s stories did not always correspond exactly to what really happened or reality. I had noticed a similar thing about a few people I knew in Italy (and some in the US for that matter) including my mom. When they tell a story of something that was allegedly real (sometimes I witnessed the actual event) the quality of the fiction and the theatricality of the story telling is always more important than whether it corresponds with the facts. I don’t mean that the stories are all lies, but they are clearly from a somewhat distorted or embellished viewpoint, and sometimes they are subtly altered to fit a particular pattern or to arrive at a superior outcome.

Hell also went on about some of the groupies (or band aids as they were called in Almost Famous) that surrounded the early punk scene including Nancy Spungen (who he briefly dated if that’s the word) and Sable Starr. He spoke somewhat positively about them as if he had some kind of grudging respect for them mixed with contempt. Although society labeled them as prostitutes, Hell referred to them as “humanitarian benefactors.” Actually, when you come to think of it why are prostitutes considered ethically inferior to congressman who sell their votes for campaign contributions? It can be argued the politicians do more to harm society.

Sable Starr (like Marianne Faithfull before her) was a star in her own right, and photos of her sometimes appeared in the then current rock mags such as Creem. He said that like many of the other women in the scene she wore interesting thrift store clothes that were sometimes inspired by 40s Hollywood films.

For intellectuals, the highlight of the reading was when he read from the chapter about the essayist/philosopher Susan Sontag. Sontag has written some of the finest essays and books I have ever read (the 11 hour interview she did with a Rolling Stone writer which was just published is also brilliant).

Hell was asked to have dinner with Sontag with a journalist that wanted to write a story about the conversation (Hell thought he was basically a clod.) The most interesting thing that she said to Hell was that she wanted to free herself completely from opinions, and Hell thought that was curious since she basically made her name writing down her opinions. She added that she wrote the essays to free herself from her opinions to make “space for other things,” before they become prejudices.

There were other great parts of the book that Hell did not read, but I’m sure there was a time limit on the show. In the book he mentioned that the New York Dolls seem to buy completely into the whole hippy communal ethic whereas Hell’s old band, Television (who emerged slightly after the dolls), were part of a shift towards the more punk emphasis on alienation and anger. In the great documentary, Punk Attitude, one commentator commented that when the Dolls were breaking up, it was the end of glam and the beginning of punk.

One of the most interesting things that Hell and Tom Verlaine did was fuse their images into a female persona and they wrote poems under the name of Theresa. One of the poems begins with “Though human hands are scissors/it’s not a question of perception/but of prehistoric love...”

Hell and Verlaine were in a great band called Television (coincidently I am going to see a Hell-less, Lloyd- less lineup at the Metro this Thursday.) There was some bad blood between Verlaine and Hell, but there was a surprisingly mellow reunion that took place in a book store (like me Hell loves books), and it was mentioned towards the end of Hell’s book.

**After the Hyde Park reading, Hell answered questions from the crowd. One person asked whether Hell saw any of old friends from the old CBGBs days in the ‘70s (Hell still lives in East Village). He replied that most of them died a long time ago (I assume he is talking about Johnny Thunders, Jerry Nolan, Dee Dee Ramone, and Robert Quine.)

I asked Hell what he was listening to now. Although he admitted that he did not follow current music closely, and to my surprise, he highly recommended the music of country singer, Lydia Loveless.

To be honest, I am not a big country fan. Whenever I watch one of those country specials, they seems to be filled with flavorless country cheese whiz (I especially hate Toby Keith). It seems to me that that the great classic country singers such as Marty Robbins, Lefty Frissell, Hank Williams, George Jones, Hank Williams Sr., Loretta Lynne, Tammy Wynette, and Johnny Cash almost represent a whole different species. I do enjoy the music county inspired people of Neko Case, The Flatlanders, and the Mekons (everyone should own Fear and Whisky), who most country purists see as inauthentic.

Anyway, I picked up Lydia Loveless’s new CD, “Somewhere Else,” which was just released on Bloodshot Records, and it’s quite wonderful. Although she does not have a giant name or big following, her stuff is far superior to the musical waste manure they play on the big country radio stations (the Americana stations or alt country stations are much better).

I could see right away why Hell admires the work of Loveless besides her top notch singing and song writing. They clearly share a love of French Symbolist poetry (Hell’s old bandmate in Television, Tom Verlaine even named himself after the great poet, Paul Verlaine, and some of Richard Hell’s fashion choices were inspired by Arthur Rimbaud.)

Loveless‘s new CD contains a long quotation from “Aspiration,” a terrific, evocative, Paul Verlaine poem that almost anyone who creates art should be able to relate to.

The CD reproduces the following long line “… take me from this tainted world where statistics murder dreams , where art, beauty, love, everything’s money, where anything worthwhile is booed off stage by vulgar ciagues….” These lines could apply to the worlds of poetry and music as well as most of the schools I have taught at.

And the best song on the CD (although they are all good) presents the tortured love affair between Arthur Rimbaud and Paul Verlaine as some kind of ideal for modern romance. The song Verlaine shot Rimbaud contains the line, “Verlaine shot Rimbaud because he loves him so/and that’s the way that I want to go.”

Loveless recently appeared at Scuba’s for two sold out shows and Peter Margasak covered her in this week’s Reader cover story.

*** Listeners who enjoy Loveless’s work might also want to check out the new CD, Here Be Monsters,” by Jon Langford of the Mekons, which is on Bloodless, the same label that put out the Loveless record. He doesn’t much sound like Loveless, but they clearly share a love of American roots music, and they both possess an authenticity, passion, and sincerity that’s clearly missing in much modern music.

Although I am not a Langford completest, I have been following his career for years, and I have picked up recordings from many phases of his career including Mekons stuff (including their bizarre collaboration with Kathy Acker), his solo stuff, and the Pine Valley Astronauts recordings. He does not possess what most people would consider a beautiful *On March 14, I went to see the proto punk visionary and street poet, Richard Hell, in Hyde Park, along with my friend Lynn Fitzgerald, who was kind enough to tell me about the event (Another friend, Anita Lathrope alias Anabelle Echo also met us there). He read from his terrific biography (t’s now out in paperback), I Dreamed I Was a Very Clean Tramp (which I discussed in an earlier blog,)

He read from three chapters focusing mostly on three topics: his meeting with Susan Sontag, groupies, and the Ramones (he was very good friends with their main songwriter Dee Dee.)

I asked Hell what he was listening to now. Although he admitted that he did not follow current music closely, and to my surprise, he highly recommended the music of country singer, Lydia Loveless.

To be honest, I am not a big country fan. Whenever I watch one of those country specials, they seems to be filled with flavorless country cheese whiz (I especially hate Toby Keith). It seems to me that that the great classic country singers such as Marty Robbins, Lefty Frissell, Hank Williams, George Jones, Hank Williams Sr., Loretta Lynne, Tammy Wynette, and Johnny Cash almost represent a whole different species. I do enjoy the music county inspired people of Neko Case, The Flatlanders, and the Mekons (everyone should own Fear and Whisky), who most country purists see as inauthentic.

Anyway picked up Lydia Loveless’s new CD, “Somewhere Else,” which was just released on Bloodshot records, and it’s quite wonderful. Although she does not have a giant name or big following, her stuff is far superior to the he musical waste manure they play on the big country radio stations (the Americana stations or alt country stations are much better).

I could see right away why Hell admires the work of Loveless besides her top notch singing and song writing. They clearly share a love of French Symbolist poetry (Hell’s old bandmate in Television, Tom Verlaine even named himself after the great poet, Paul Verlaine, and some of Richard Hell’s fashion choices were inspired by Arthur Rimbaud.)

Loveless‘s new CD contains a long quotation from “Aspiration,” a terrific, evocative, Paul Verlaine poem that almost anyone who creates art should be able to relate to.

The CD produces the following long line “… take me from this tainted world where statistics murder dreams , where art, beauty, love, everything’s money, where anything worthwhile is booed off stage by vulgar ciagues….” These lines could apply to the worlds of poetry and music as well as most of the schools I have taught at.

And the best song on the CD (although they are all good) presents the tortured love affair between Arthur Rimbaud and Paul Verlaine as some kind of ideal for modern romance. The song Verlaine shot Rimbaud contains the line, “Verlaine shot Rimbaud because he loves him so/and that’s the way that I want to go.”
Loveless recently appeared at Scuba’s for two sold out shows and Peter Margasak covered her in this week’s Reader cover story.

*** Listeners who enjoy Loveless’s work might also want to check out the new CD, Here Be Monsters,” by Jon Langford of the Mekons, which is on Bloodless, the same label that put out the Loveless record. He doesn’t much sound like Loveless, but they clearly share a love of American roots music, and they both possess an authenticity, passion, and sincerity that’s clearly missing in much modern music.

Although I am not a Langford completest, I have been following the band for years, and I have picked up recordings from many phases of his career including Mekons stuff (including their bizarre collaboration with Kathy Acker and a choir), his solo stuff, and the Pine Valley Astronauts recordings. He does not possess what most people would consider a beautiful voice, but his recordings rarely disappoint. Also his live shows at Delilah’s and the Hideout proved he is a savy, vibrant, and terrific live performer.

To see an earlier article I wrote about Langford go to http://www.artinterviews.com/Jon_Langford.html.

Advertisement