This morning, in his amusing pan of Chrissie Hynde’s Reckless, Dwight Garner* reminded us that most rock stars’ memoirs are pretty bad. (“With her new memoir, “Reckless,” Ms. Hynde proves that she can compete with male rock stars in another essential way. She’s written a book that’s just as slack and disappointing as so many of theirs have been.”) The way it should work but doesn’t is that the quality of the memoir should match the quality of the music, that the great rock stars write great autobiographies and the bad ones should write bad ones. While the latter is certainly true, or so we believe without having actually read, you know, Nicki Sixxe’s opus, only a few rocker memoirs we can think of — Keith Richard’s Life, Dean Wareham’s Black Postcards — are of a quality equal to their output and meaning as musicians.
And then there is Richard Hell, whose literary output at this point certainly exceeds in volume what he accomplished on his albums with the Voidoids, or his work with Television, Dim Stars, and The Heartbreakers. Beginning with his novel Go Now all the way up through his superb memoir I Dreamed I Was A Very Clean Tramp, Hell has done something remarkable: he has produced writing that thrills me every bit as much as his albums did. And remember, his albums had Bob Quine playing guitar on them…
We thought his memoir was one of the best autobiogs ever, and not just in comparison to *real* rock’n’roll autobiographies, but even posted up against those literary works like Emmett Grogan’s Ringolevio or Jim Carroll’s The Basketball Diaries. It’s great because the story’s great, even if you didn’t witness some of it, as we did, and know some of the characters in it, as we do. It’s one of the best books ever about moving to the Bright Lights, Big City, and this particular city was New York in the ’70s, and Hell didn’t just move there and noodle around, though he did a bit of that; he helped create some of the best music of the era in the hands-down best era of music. Uh, New York in the ’70s. And then he became a writer. A good one.
Last year we marveled that the very best thing about New York Magazine‘s series of essays about New York musicians was Hell’s piece on the Velvet Underground. And through a subsequent email Richard led us to his essay in Rock And Roll Cage Match, which depicts the whozebetter battle between the Stones and the Velvets — one of the best essays about two of our favorite bands, ever.
So imagine how thrilled we were to get notice that Hell’s Massive Pissed Love: Nonfiction 2001-2014 will be published on October 12th, and that Richard will do a launch reading/signing at The Strand on the 14th. We can’t wait.
* Jesus, Dwight Garner wins the day, also publishing this about the 40th Anniversary of Greil Marcus’s Mystery Train.