I Dreamed I Was a Very Clean Tramp by Richards Meyers
(2013, Harper Collins)
Richard Hell would tell you he invented New York Punk Rock. And he does tell us this along with many other tales of sex, poetry and drug addiction in his autobiography I Dreamed I Was A Very Clean Tramp (IDIWAVCT). It is New York knee jerk reaction to write off such a brazen claim and demand verification. It is a New York mean streak that rejects its artists as competition as fast as the city can make them. And in IDIWAVCT no doubt, there is an agenda; to slam a spike into the bedrock of the city so there is just no mistaking or forgetting Hell’s name as a game changer. Can we forgive him that he knows it? And true too, the imitators, con artists and record producer/thieves have cut from him their pound of flesh. Everybody got a piece. So now it’s just about getting the story straight.
In IDIWAVCT, Richard Meyers leads us on a journey from his childhood in 1950’s Kentucky where he “probably peaked as a human in sixth grade” through his teen years of car theft, dangerous pranks with explosives and school suspensions. By the time he was 17 he was expelled from school and living in New York City. He would write poetry take writing classes at The New School and publish a journal. He would hang out at St. Mark’s Church with Ted Berrigan and embrace the joyous decrepit wilderness of New York’s Lower East Side. IDIWAVCT documents a New York of the 1970’s that is in an utter shambles from decay, lawlessness and neglect. This is the fertile ground into which a club like CBGBs could open on the Bowery and stay open. Where a band like Television could claim the stage for a new genre of music already in progress. This is as much of a New York story as it is Hell’s. The city and Hell are interchangeable as muse and storyteller. Does Meyers deserve his bragging rights or is he just an expert witness in the right place at the right time? Yes.