Coming Up @ the SPECTACLE: Richard Hell!
Richard Hell is a writer. I spent a long time obsessed with his book Go Now. It was one of those books you want to read fast, because like all my favorite literature it makes you feel compulsive, but then you got to slow it down to make the feelings last forever. And he has also written the novel Godlike and in case you either very, very young or locked in a sad cultural box for the whole of your like you know that he pretty much was punk rock’s North American outpost with the bands Neon Boys, Television and of course Richard Hell and the Voidods. He was the first punk to wear safety pins okay? So every punk rock association you have with those little tools are thanks to him – the Sex Pistols were ripping him off! Let us have some counterculture historical justice! Anyway he’s not going to talk about safety pins, he’s had enough, c an you blame him? In addition to creating serious literature and being a cultural treasure he is a visual artist and has generously donated a really excellent piece that is half re-appropriated advertising half a romance about a girl who is a sexually mutated albino doe. It’s lovely and you can bid on it at the SPECTACLE this Friday and have not only a piece of the master’s art but of his literature as well. BONUS! And he let me interview him for a moment. I am a FAN.
Michelle Tea: Hi, what is your astrological sign and do you think it is bullshit or what?
Richard Hell: am a Libra which I guess means that I am enough of a prig and a snob that I can’t take seriously anybody who asks me what sign I am.
Michelle Tea: What book/s are you in the midst of right now? And what books do you keep meaning to read that you haven’t?
Richard Hell: I bought four books this week–three small new books of poetry: Ron Padgett’s *How Long*; the collection called *Frank O’Hara* which gathers that poet’s pamphlets (including his first real “book” publication) that were originally published by Tibor de Nagy art gallery; and Elaine Equi’s *Click and Clone*. They are all so good I feel like a genius for buying them, even if I’m not a poet. The fourth book is *Farber on Film*, Manny Farber’s collected film criticism. I have to quote two lines from it, where he’s describing the old 42nd Sreet (Times Square) in the fifties when it was lined with theaters showing cheap double features: “These theaters roll action films in what, at first, seems like a nightmare atmosphere of shabby transience, prints that seem overgrown with jungle moss, sound tracks infected with hickups. The spectator watches two or three action films go by and leaves feeling as though he were a pirate discharged from a giant sponge.”
I still want to get through *Don Quixote* though I got stalled about a third of the way through when I tried a couple of years ago. There are lots of other books I want to read too. I hope to get through most of the main classics of world literature, or the ones that I have any hope of being able to get engaged by, such as The Odyssey and The Inferno and those Shakespeare plays I haven’t read yet (or maybe I’ll just rent the movies of those). I did finally read *In Search of Lost Time* and it was sure way worth it, to put it mildly.
Michelle Tea: How does making art feel different than writing?
Richard Hell: They’re both hard work that can have nice payoffs. The main difference is that I’ve acquired some chops writing, since I’ve been working at it pretty steadily for a pretty long time, so I’m more inclined to do that. In making artwork I’m still at the stage where I can’t tell at all how worth while anything I do is half the time. I always think I’d like to try harder to make interesting visual art as my literary skills decline due to senility, but I’ll probably still be too lazy.
Michelle Tea: Being in a band is such a constant collaboration, do you miss it or are you happy to be captain of your own ship? Have you done writing or art collaborations?
Richard Hell: It’s really a blast to work up songs with a band. The part of it that was wearing was having to be responsible for everyone economically. If you’re going to have a band, they have to be paid, and I don’t like the gigging stretches, or whatever, that entails. So I’m definitely happier just being responsible for and to myself as a writer. But I’ve collaborated a lot with artists and writers and I’ve always loved it. I’ve written books with high-school friend and band partner Tom Verlaine, New York poet David Shapiro, and made a book of word images with New York painter Christopher Wool, along with collaborating on the odd poem with Patti Smith, Cookie Mueller, actor Will Patton, Michael DeCapite and others.
Michelle Tea: What food are you into these days? Do you cook?
Richard Hell: I just did a back road gumbo and etc. and barbecue loop from New Orleans through cajun Louisiana, into east Texas (Houston/Austin/Fort Worth), and back to NO. Desert was important too. I remember one roadside restaurant that had out a big sign that said, “Pie Happy Hour!”
I don’t cook.
Michelle Tea: Do you write by hand or computer? Or, per chance, a typewriter?
Richard Hell: Computer, though I like to take a journal when I’m traveling.
Michelle Tea: What is the last piece of art you acquired?
Richard Hell: I bought for $5 this really strange item in Chinatown. If anybody can explain to me what it was intended for, please write. It’s a cellophane covered open box displaying what looks like a complete, if outrageously clashing, business suit, life size, showing just the shirt and tie and jacket, the portion that’s the equivalent of a folded shirt from a laundry (like ten
inches across and eighteen inches down), and all made of different wildly patterned paper. Oh yeah and there’s a cheap imitation of a gold watch laid across it too. It goes well with the Mattel similarly display-type box of Barbie as Tippi Hedren in *The Birds* being attacked by what looks like solid black sea gulls in a whole little tableau that includes a cardboard wooden fence that I got as a present for my wife a couple of years ago (though she doesn’t seem to like it as much as I do).
Also the very generous Josh Smith gave me a nice painting.
Michelle Tea: Who will play you in the inevitable biopic about your LIFE?
Richard Hell: That’s a really gruesome idea. I’m glad I’ll be dead. I hope everybody else is too.
Michelle Tea: If you had to assign someone a movie to watch in order to understand your soul what would it be?
Richard Hell: Wha? Hm. I don’t have a soul that’s different from anybody else’s. So maybe that immortal film known as *Gurgling Black Jell-o* (that’s a poetic allusion that I’m not going to identify ha ha).