Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Reading Library Books About The Rock & Roll part two - Richard Hell and The Runaways

"I've been inside of more libraries
Than I have dope houses"
- from the song "A Life Of Rock & Roll" © 2009 Ricki C.

People don't go to the library enough anymore.  I suppose that's because everybody has a computer for research, a Nook or something similar for reading and are streaming movies on their totally cool new iPad.  I, however, have loved libraries ever since I was a hopelessly shy, backward, book-loving child and I love them to this day.  And since lately I find more & more that I would rather READ about rock & roll than LISTEN to rock & roll (not a good situation), here's the second installment of Reading Library Books About The Rock & Roll.  (Part one appeared April 6th, 2013.)

1) I Dreamed I Was A Very Clean Tramp by Richard Hell.  Truthfully I was never all that crazy about the band Television.  I know other music aficionados love 'em, think Marquee Moon was a masterpiece and all that, but my favorite Television artifact is the first article I ever about them, by Patti Smith in the October, 1974 issue of Rock Scene magazine, LONG before they had a record deal.  (And in those days, rock kids, there was no Internet or YouTube where you could see & hear bands before they were signed, you had to actually GET IN A CAR AND DRIVE TO SEE A BAND AT A CLUB OR AN AUDITORIUM in order to experience a their music.)  (Said article is reproduced below, complete with period ads for "Incense Magic," which, I believe, was purported to be sufficiently aromatic so as to get you laid.  Classic 1974.)

Anyway, my original plan for this book was to sit at Barnes & Noble and read the the parts about Television.  I wasn't all that interested in Hell growing up as Richard Meyers in Kentucky and all that - as Holden Caulfield would term it - "David Copperfield kind of crap."  I was fairly well-briefed on Hell's departure from Televison at the hands of Tom Verlaine and the formation of The Heartbreakers with former  New York Doll Johnny Thunders.  (Has there EVER in the history of rock & roll music existed a more underperforming, lackadaisical, waste-of-talent of everybody involved band than The Heartbreakers?)  And Hell putting together The Voidoids with Bob Quine was fairly well-covered in the rock press of the 1970's.

Still, as I sat in Barnes & Noble that Sunday I had to admit Hell had a certain writing style: poetic but relentlessly factual at the same time, not something that's easy to pull off.  The Television segment of the book was painfully brief, even terse (I get the feeling it's touching WAY too many nerves for Hell to talk about that band even now, 39 years later) but I was interested enough to get the book out of the library to determine if I was hooked enough to buy it.  (My typical book-buying modus operandi.)

In the end there's a little too much "Well, I wrote poetry in my crummy New York City apartments and took a bunch of drugs and then I was in rock & roll bands in my crummy New York City apartments while taking a lot of drugs and then I was briefly an actor while taking a bunch of drugs in my crummy New York City apartments before I became a writer taking drugs in my slightly nicer New York City apartments" to sustain the narrative over 293 pages.  I will say this, though, either Hell has an astonishing memory for details given all of the drug-taking or else he kept a KILLER set of journals & notebooks that he's managed to hold onto over all these years and all those moves between crummy New York City apartments.

Here's my two biggest takeaways from this book: 1) Richard Hell HATES Tom Verlaine TO THIS DAY - probably for very good, sound reasons, and hates him in the scorching, searing way you can only hate someone whom you once truly loved as a best friend - for breaking up the band that was the early Television that Patti Smith writes about below, and 2) I would LOVE to have witnessed that band first-hand.

2) Queens Of Noise - The Real Story Of The Runaways by Evelyn McDonnell.  The subtitle of this book - The Real Story of The Runaways - derives largely from author McDonnell attempting to dispel a lot of the misinformation delivered by director Floria Sigismondi's 2010 film, The Runaways.  And there's certainly no shortage of misinformation to be dispelled from that trainwreck of a movie.  I wrote a little bit about that picture in blog entry The Best Of Everything - part 2, January 22nd, 2012, but to synopsize: It just might be the worst rock & roll movie ever made.  It manages to take a fairly interesting subject - rock & roll's first all-girl teenage rock band - and make the entire project so abjectly BORING that it boggles the mind.  EXCITEMENT is the lifeblood of the rock & roll movie.  Ms. Sigismondi, please take note of Almost Famous and Rock & Roll High School.

Author McDonnell makes the same mistake here.  At 342 pages, Queens Of Noise is the rock bio equivalent of a Quentin Tarantino film - entertaining, with a lot of really good ideas, but too long by at least a third.  A myriad of points get belabored.  The joy of reading is the first casualty of tedium.  I'm starting to think all rock books should be capped at 209 pages.  If you can't pack in all your stories and exposition in that length, you don't get to write rock & roll books.  Authors, you are writing about a genre built on the three-minute song, you do realize that, don't you?  (editor's note; Ricki, take a look at the length of some of your blog entries.  Physician, heal thyself.)

So, to recap: If you're wearing a beret while you're reading this and like stories of poetic abject pain & misery, get yourself the Richard Hell book.  If you like stories about little girls running amok with rock & roll under California sunshine, grab The Runaways (no pun intended).  Either way, read a book.  Would it kill ya?

(ps. It boggles my mind that Runaways bass player Jackie Fox (nee Fuchs, who I always thought was the cutest member of the band) and President Barack Obama were classmates at the Harvard University Law School.  Did they ever cross paths?  Did they ever have a conversation?  Did Obama ever say, "Hey Jackie, I always loved your bass lines on 'Neon Angels On The Road To Ruin'"?  As I said, mind-boggling.)  

appendix to Reading Library Books About The Rock & Roll - part two

from Rock Scene magazine, October 1974

© 2013 Ricki C.


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