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Richard Hell in London -review.

Posted by:james reich (‘reich1955@btopenworld.com’)
Posted on: 10 Mar 2002
Richard Hell, at The Garage, London, Thurs. 7th March.
Upstairs at The Garage pale scars of plaster show against the greenish paint, smell the toilets behind the stage, and the draught beer atrophied in the skinny pipes that are supposed to drag it up through the floor. These punks are here, squatting on empty crates and cocking their elbows with their bottles and cigarettes. The boys all have the same hairstyle, except for this drunk blonde guy who will later call himself Rodent, and the pony-tailed bootlegger from the U.S. with his camcorder. Hubris be thy name. More of these two later. Girls with short mod bangs catch your eye coming out of the toilets, lipstick no longer ripped up, and nodding to the blues and garage rock the DJ is playing. His girlfriend is in the booth. Someone discovers more empty crates -there are only four real tables and the real chairs are all taken- and the punks accelerate towards them and bear them back like corpse parts, like I got this cuz I got the guts to get up and get it. The stage with its mic, music stand and frail round table is flanked by two speaker columns, one has ASS written on it. Finally, Richard Hell emerges, as if from the toilets where everybody had been and no one had seen him, and he stands waiting while he is introduced by a guy who looks like David Crosby would have if he pumped gas and who pronounces co-ool with too many o's. Hell takes off his angular, dark rimmed glasses as he steps up, carrying a copy of Hot and Cold, some loose manuscript sheets and a small bottle of mineral water. Under the yellow lamps he is wearing a slate coloured suit and a translucent brown shirt. Tonight, his torso is naturally fuller and his throat is slacker than the invented flesh we all presume we know from dog-eared record sleeves, or jewel cases, but there is no Bukowskian rot, no arrogant paunch. Hell is alive. Twenty-five years after punk rock broke in Britain, the genre's first genius stands in a tiny club preparing to do what started it all years before in the U.S.: reading. Well, at first it comes from memory as he does his "my favourite book is/your butt" poem. He wants to appeal to and dissipate our Britishness, which he kind of overestimates, but then not as badly as art-shrew Victor Bockris in NYC Babylon. Most people are laughing. Hell is laughing. He seems young, like the perpetual teenager he wants to be, because he is doing again what he used to do when he was a teenager, before his friends started dying. Everybody relaxes. Without his glasses, Hell holds out his copy of Hot and Cold almost at arm's length and reads the eighteen month old Winter Poem, the last poem in the book. He holds it like Richard Burton holds Yorick's skull in Hamlet, somewhat in tenderness, somewhat in horror. Now, he's not goofing around, the Richard Hell that is concerned with the visceral, the elegiac, the mordant realities of his art and its consequences for him, comes on. His diffident pout is closer to the microphone, his tone richer. His sniffing and the catches in his throat become part of the rhythm of his reading. The anecdotal tale of Chuck and the Japanese HM kids from the television station in Hands Across The Ocean gets Hell more laughs, before he kicks everyone in the guts with the denouement. Flashbulbs regularly punctuate the reading now. Hell flirts with the girls, says he gets fewer phone numbers thrust into his hand, fewer kisses at literary events than he used to, and provides a litany of the ways in which he has been surprised to learn that polite girls actually do love cock -really love it, sucking it, sticking it up their ass, etc.- before he reads Not That Kind Of Girl, where blank generation metamorphosis and furtive sex return to haunt him in scorned punk girl Eva. Hell is enjoying himself, digressing, laughing and grooving. He pushes his fingers through his hair. He wants to read what he refers to as a a really sweet poem (Untitled,Hot and Cold p.235). He starts to introduce it. A voice comes out of the darkness: "Fucking shut up and get on with it!" Everyone inhales. Hell lowers his book to his hip. "Excuse me?" he says. "I said 'Why don't you fucking shut up and get on with it?'" Several audience members tell the heckler to fuck off. Hell says: "Who the fuck are you? Why don't you give me some background?" The guy says "I'm Rodent." Hell: "Then why don't you back your fucking face out of the door and come up here?" Rodent does not. Here is some background: Rodent is a pseudonym extremely common amongst tedious bedroom anarchists and bad poets in Britain who think that their masturbatory illiteracy, the dirt beneath their fingernails, and their dislike of burger chains make them great writers. Most people called Rodent can't cut it in the real world, unlike real rodents. Also, Rodent seems to be wearing Gap khakis and a red sweatshirt. Hell interrupts his next reading to explain that he hates to have to get aggressive. No one was offended, except maybe Rodent. Then, the pony-tailed bootlegger from the U.S. with his camcorder calls out "At least you lived up to your image!" and simultaneously stumbles into the table in front of him, spilling four pints of beer all over himself, the floor and perhaps, if there is a God, his camcorder. The entire room turns to look at the bootlegger and gales of laughter blast across the room. Hell laughs too. Why do I cruelly mention all this hubris? Well, I have this vision of this guy posting the video file on the internet, editing this moment out with a caption like: at this point my power supply failed for a few seconds. Shame. The last thing that Hell reads is from his novel in progress, a Symbolist picaresque which has it's roots in the French Modernism that first inspired Hell to write, and which all the best punk rock depends upon, rather than the hard-boiled Blank Generation/Junky Americana that grew out of it for Go Now. He jokes about his intentions to make the new novel very different from the scenario of Go Now, "the story of a burnt-out, womanising junky." The scenario he realises for the new novel is that of "homosexual poets taking psychedelic drugs." The novel comes first-person from David, a fifty year old poet and concerns his relationship with his louch, slutty, precocious young boyfriend T-. (T-'s name is not yet established). Within this is the meta-novel that David is writing during the action of the narrative about T-. The relationship between David and T- is reminiscent of that between Paul Verlaine (David) and Arthur Rimbaud (T-). I asked Richard Hell about this and he confirmed that the informal working title of the novel is R-V. Hell reads about six pages, letting each sheet fall to the floor to rest against the monitor speakers close to his feet. There were several people in the audience near me when the reading ended that clearly didn't get it. Light My Fire is probably their favourite Doors record. They want to call their rock stars poets, but don't understand that being a poet involves writing, and that good writing is rarely as straightforward as they would like it to be. Hell was never going to stand up and read his lyrics to Fuck Rock & Roll, or Love Comes In Spurts in self-reverent tones...we have Lou Reed for that. Hell is still cool, yes, but more importantly, he is a writer. And Richard Hell is still a young man.

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Message thread:

         Richard Hell in London -review. by james reich, 10 Mar 2002 (9)
                 why do I even bother... by ladybyron, 14 Mar 2002
                         Hell in sex shock probe! by james reich, 14 Mar 2002
                                 self something by ladybyron, 14 Mar 2002
                                         "between thought and expression..." by james reich, 14 Mar 2002
                 Great review by Philip P. Obbard, 15 Mar 2002
                         some kinds of love... by ladybyron, 15 Mar 2002
                 heckle by Roadent, 24 Apr 2003
                 expanded/revised version... by james reich, 12 Aug 2002
                         hey, roadent by Hannah, 25 Apr 2003

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