I Dreamed I Was a Very Clean Tramp: An Autobiography

I Dreamed I Was a Very Clean Tramp: An Autobiography

3.6 3
by Richard Hell
     
 

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From an early age, Richard Hell dreamed of running away. He arrived penniless in New York City at seventeen; ten years later he was a pivotal voice of the age of punk, cofounding such seminal bands as Television, The Heartbreakers, and Richard Hell and the Voidoids—whose song "Blank Generation" remains the defining anthem of the era, an era that would forever

Overview

From an early age, Richard Hell dreamed of running away. He arrived penniless in New York City at seventeen; ten years later he was a pivotal voice of the age of punk, cofounding such seminal bands as Television, The Heartbreakers, and Richard Hell and the Voidoids—whose song "Blank Generation" remains the defining anthem of the era, an era that would forever alter popular culture in all its forms. How this legendary downtown artist went from a bucolic childhood in the idyllic Kentucky foothills to igniting a movement that would take over New York and London's restless youth culture—cementing CBGB as the ground zero of punk and spawning the careers of not only Hell himself, but a cohort of friends such as Tom Verlaine, Patti Smith, the Ramones, and Debby Harry—is a mesmerizing chronicle of self-invention, and of Hell's yearning for redemption through poetry, music, and art. An acutely rendered, unforgettable coming-of-age story, I Dreamed I Was a Very Clean Tramp evokes with feeling, lyricism, and piercing intelligence both the world that shaped him and the world he shaped.

Editorial Reviews

The New York Times - Dwight Garner
In his new autobiography, I Dreamed I Was a Very Clean Tramp, Mr. Hell…comes across as a rueful, battle-scarred, darkly witty observer of his own life and times…Hell is a real writer…and his book has traction from its first pages.
The New York Times Book Review - Rachel Kushner
…[a] mesmerizing rumination on his life…If Patti Smith's…Just Kids…is a more controlled and elegiac enterprise, it is also a final burnish on Smith's past. Hell's book is more searching and blunt, and this gives it its own power. He's committed to the unvarnished truth, about himself and others, and yet he's fair and, when it's called for, also restrained. For instance, on the early deaths of so many of the people who figure prominently, he remains mostly silent. The book is not about tragic ends. It is, instead, an earnest but never maudlin attempt to look closely at a potent and magical and rather brief era, now gone.
Publishers Weekly
Starred Review.

Hell's fashion style-torn clothing and the ubiquitous safety pins, spiked hair-and the protopunk music of his bands Television and the Heartbreakers, influenced numerous early punk rockers, such as Sid Vicious of the Sex Pistols. Hell brings his searingly honest songwriting style to this candid and page-turning memoir of his life, from childhood until the end of the 1970s. Hell takes us on a journey through his youth in Lexington, Ky., his boredom with school, his attempts at running away, his to move to New York in the 1970s, and his struggles with drug addiction. Hell recalls that when he started having a band in the late 1960s, the Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, and the Kinks provided what excited him most in music: "It was fast, aggressive, and scornful, but complicated and full of feelings." He recounts seeing Patti Smith for the first time and being blown away by performances that were seductive and funny; she was like a "bebop artist... off to a whole other plane beyond the beyond." Hell's memoir spills over with recollections of his times with Andrew Wylie, Sid Vicious's girlfriend Nancy Spungen, and rock critic Lester Bangs. In 1976, the Voidoids debuted at CBGB; the following year, Hell descended into drug addiction. Hell's refreshingly candid portrait of the artist searching for himself offers a glimpse into his own genius as well as recreating the hellishness and the excitement of a now long-gone music scene in New York City.
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(4 Stars) - Time Out New York
"Hell is an enthusiastic reporter of the critical artistic crossover of the avant-garde art scene and the world of punk rock... his account rings true and it entertains... a treasure both to those present during gritty, heady ‘70s NYC and to those not."
Kirkus Reviews
The life and wild times of a punk avatar. Besides being a rock legend, Hell has long been a journalist and novelist (Godlike, 2005, etc.), and this memoir reveals a skilled writer. Born in Kentucky in 1949 as Richard Meyers, he became a fledgling poet who ditched home and high school for the New York art world, where he trawled through galleries and beds, winding up as the boy toy of the wife of sculptor Claes Oldenburg. He also co-founded the band Television with his contentious pal Tom Verlaine, although he left before the band's first album, as would also be the case with his brief stint with Johnny Thunders and the Heartbreakers. He hit his peak instead with his own band, The Voidoids, creating both a classic album ("Blank Generation") and a fashion style he wore on his torn and safety-pinned sleeve. The Brits noticed. Punk was born. In recalling these days when love came in spurts, Hell is precise, telling a lot without ever seeming to tell too much. He nails the essence of both scenes and people, from rock peers to exploitative record producers. Nodding on heroin "was like the dream of a dream, a dream you could manipulate--in other words, paradise on earth." Sid Vicious "wasn't really vicious," just someone who "saw that there was a crazy opening into fame and money that required only that he relax into full loutish negativity." He can also be bitter, as when he writes that Thunders' lyrics "were half-assed in never having an original idea or turn of phrase." A deft, lyrical chronicle by a punk with perspective.
Anthony Bourdain
“[Hell] almost single handedly created ‘punk’ as we know it.... Few people have been as important—yet as underappreciated as Richard Hell. Poet, musician, fashion icon and terrific, terrific writer. Chances are, you have been deeply influenced by Richard Hell your whole life. You just didn’t know it.”
Luc Sante
“Richard Hell designed and executed a sustained performance of rock stardom as if he had invented the concept himself. Radically self-aware, he wields prose keen as a diamond knife, sharpened by the light of the moon.”
Legs McNeil
“An exquisite snapshot of early punk possibility—that so beautifully captures the exuberance of starting a band!”
Thurston Moore
“Charming and impossible, Hell is the first (and best!) name in punk rock. His insights are informed by the romance of running away to the mystery heard in the rowdy grooves of a dirty LP or in the pages of a thumbed book of verse.”
Kathleen Hanna
Tramp gave me the same feeling I had as a kid... I cozied up and fell in love with a world that wasn’t mine. There are very few books that make me want to start writing my own; this is one of them.”
The Observer
“Mr. Hell has an excellent new memoir, I Dreamed I Was a Very Clean Tramp, that describes that wild, reckless and important era in downtown Manhattan with candor, wit and reverence.”
Spin
“His book shines its own dirty light. Which means it has lots of sex, drugs, and rock’n’roll. Pick up I Dreamed I Was a Very Clean Tramp, if you want poetry and insight.”
Booklist
“Hell is a fine writer and full of self-knowledge, and part of the pleasure of this randy, drug-addled memoir are his descriptions of New York during the bad old days when crime was rampant and the streets filthy. A compelling and entertaining memoir.”
New York Times
“A rueful, battle-scarred, darkly witty observer of his own life and times.”
Los Angeles Times
“In his poetic memoir, I Dreamed I Was a Very Clean Tramp, Hell takes us on a tour of a lost world and stakes out his place in cultural history.”
USA Today
“Hell brings to his new autobiography more literary experience than your typical rock memoirist…I Dreamed I Was a Very Clean Tramp ultimately celebrates passion, in all its complicated, sometimes dangerous forms.”
Boston Globe
“This valuable book... is not only an absorbing cultural history but also a clear-eyed story that superbly channels the attitude expressed in the first blurt to his best-known song ‘Blank Generation’: “I was saying let me out of here before I was even born.”
BookForum
“There are many shivery, illicit pleasures in this louche memoir… Hell was a virtuoso of taste, a critic with a sensibility so fine and unconventional it bordered on its own form of art… weird and singular and superbly self-aware.”
Dean Wareham
“Other rock bios are tasteful and cautious — you feel the writer take you to a certain point but then pull back... Hell will take you right there, and that is why this book is an honest and special treat.”
Time Out New York (4 Stars)
“Hell is an enthusiastic reporter of the critical artistic crossover of the avant-garde art scene and the world of punk rock... his account rings true and it entertains... a treasure both to those present during gritty, heady ‘70s NYC and to those not.”

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780062190833
Publisher:
HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
03/12/2013
Pages:
293
Sales rank:
1,131,831
Product dimensions:
6.20(w) x 9.10(h) x 1.20(d)

What People are saying about this

Luc Sante

“Richard Hell designed and executed a sustained performance of rock stardom as if he had invented the concept himself. Radically self-aware, he wields prose keen as a diamond knife, sharpened by the light of the moon.”

Kathleen Hanna

Tramp gave me the same feeling I had as a kid... I cozied up and fell in love with a world that wasn’t mine. There are very few books that make me want to start writing my own; this is one of them.”

Thurston Moore

“Charming and impossible, Hell is the first (and best!) name in punk rock. His insights are informed by the romance of running away to the mystery heard in the rowdy grooves of a dirty LP or in the pages of a thumbed book of verse.”

Anthony Bourdain

“[Hell] almost single handedly created ‘punk’ as we know it.... Few people have been as important—yet as underappreciated as Richard Hell. Poet, musician, fashion icon and terrific, terrific writer. Chances are, you have been deeply influenced by Richard Hell your whole life. You just didn’t know it.”

Legs McNeil

“An exquisite snapshot of early punk possibility—that so beautifully captures the exuberance of starting a band!”

Meet the Author

Since retiring from music in 1984, Richard Hell has focused primarily on writing. He is the author of the journals collection Artifact; the novels Go Now and Godlike; and the collection of essays, notebooks, and lyrics Hot and Cold; as well as numerous other pamphlets and books. Hell has published essays, reportage, and fiction in such publications as Spin, GQ, Esquire, the Village Voice, Vice, Bookforum, Art in America, the New York Times, and the New York Times Book Review. From 2004 to 2006 he was the film critic for BlackBook magazine. He lives in New York City.

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I Dreamed I Was a Very Clean Tramp 3.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 3 reviews.
CelticGoddess More than 1 year ago
Beautifully written and a swift read...  Hell keeps it spare and raw with sometimes brutal observations.  Doesn't let himself off the hook but also doesn't waste time on regret... Fabulous for music lovers, especially of the punk scene...
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Mr. Hell is the authentic "Mr. JITTERBUG" of Carmine Street. If only for a moment, makes u heed the immortal words of Cosby's Mushmouth: "Dont-buh be-buh a fool-buh; shtay-buh in-buh school-buh!!"