Richard Hell’s “Massive Pissed Love”

Imagine, if you will, that Richard Hell had never helped form the seminal band Television, that his two albums with the Voidoids were not among the strongest releases from the New York bands circa ’77-’82, that he’d never played on a stage with Johnny Thunders in the original version of the Heartbreakers.  See him instead as one more smart, off-kilter kid drawn to the bright lights and the big city, Manhattan as the world’s greatest university, culture coming at ya from the Film Forum, Village Voice, museums uptown, galleries downtown, oh yeah, and a cast of characters all around you that would inspire artists from Weegee to Warhol to Dylan.

Imagine he absorbed it all, heightened his critical faculties through exposure to the best essayists on rock’n’roll, film, and art, and that he found his place in the city as a writer.  Imagine that along the way he wrote a really excellent first novel, Go Now, and became a writer in demand by small magazines and large, and that he amassed a body of critical work that was original, insightful, and genuinely well written.

Okay now we can go back to appraising Hell in full, we can add the fact that, yeah, the guy really was an exciting frontman for multiple bands, and that when he writes about music, he does so from the perspective both of a fan and critic, but also as what has to be called a rock star.  Add this all up and you get a sense of just how fantastic a book Massive Pissed Love is, Richard Hell’s collected nonfiction written since the Millennium.

His essay, “The Velvet Underground vs. The Rolling Stones” was published in the book Rock & Roll Cage Match, and collected here, we got to read it again and could only marvel.  Hell’s view on Keith and Mick and Lou is fundamentally different, more focused, than ours would be, because we’ve never stood on a stage, as he has, and watched a crowd go wild.  It is one of the single greatest pieces of rock writing ever, and trust us, we’ve read a lot.  His eulogies and memorials to Bob Quine and Joey Ramone are worth the cost of the book, and then some.  We’re a little less enamored with artists like Christopher Wool than he is, but who cares, the writing is strong, whether he casts his eye on film, photography, or fiction.

And along the way he tells stories, really fun stories, that make some of this collection as entertaining as his 2013 memoir, I Dreamed I Was A Very Clean Tramp, which we put up there with Keith Richards’ Life and Dean Wareham’s Black Postcards as the best rock-star memoirs of all time. (Can’t wait to read Elvis Costello’s.)

Buy the book.  Skip to “Sex On Drugs,” or “Jim Carroll Memorial Remarks,” or his essay on Lester Bangs.  For Godsake read the essay on the Stones and the Velvets.  Yeah, if Hell had come to New York and simply become a writer, we’d be celebrating him now.  That he has the insights borne of being one of our favorite rock stars too is just icing on the cake.

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