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I Dreamed I Was a Very Clean Tramp: An Autobiography [Paperback]

Richard Hell
4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
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Book Description

27 Mar 2014

From an early age, Richard Hell dreamed of running away. He arrived penniless in New York City at seventeen; ten years later he was a pivotal voice of the age of punk, cofounding such seminal bands as Television, The Heartbreakers, and Richard Hell and the Voidoids—whose song "Blank Generation" remains the defining anthem of the era, an era that would forever alter popular culture in all its forms. How this legendary downtown artist went from a bucolic childhood in the idyllic Kentucky foothills to igniting a movement that would take over New York and London's restless youth culture—cementing CBGB as the ground zero of punk and spawning the careers of not only Hell himself, but a cohort of friends such as Tom Verlaine, Patti Smith, the Ramones, and Debby Harry—is a mesmerizing chronicle of self-invention, and of Hell's yearning for redemption through poetry, music, and art. An acutely rendered, unforgettable coming-of-age story, I Dreamed I Was a Very Clean Tramp evokes with feeling, lyricism, and piercing intelligence both the world that shaped him and the world he shaped.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Ecco; Reprint edition (27 Mar 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0062190849
  • ISBN-13: 978-0062190840
  • Product Dimensions: 20.1 x 13.2 x 2.3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 72,499 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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“A rueful, battle-scarred, darkly witty observer of his own life and times.” (New York Times)

“In his poetic memoir, I Dreamed I Was a Very Clean Tramp, Hell takes us on a tour of a lost world and stakes out his place in cultural history.” (Los Angeles Times)

“Hell brings to his new autobiography more literary experience than your typical rock memoirist…I Dreamed I Was a Very Clean Tramp ultimately celebrates passion, in all its complicated, sometimes dangerous forms.” (USA Today)

“This valuable book... is not only an absorbing cultural history but also a clear-eyed story that superbly channels the attitude expressed in the first blurt to his best-known song ‘Blank Generation’: “I was saying let me out of here before I was even born.” (Boston Globe)

“Mr. Hell has an excellent new memoir, I Dreamed I Was a Very Clean Tramp, that describes that wild, reckless and important era in downtown Manhattan with candor, wit and reverence.” (The Observer)

“His book shines its own dirty light. Which means it has lots of sex, drugs, and rock’n’roll. Pick up I Dreamed I Was a Very Clean Tramp, if you want poetry and insight.” (Spin)

“There are many shivery, illicit pleasures in this louche memoir… Hell was a virtuoso of taste, a critic with a sensibility so fine and unconventional it bordered on its own form of art… weird and singular and superbly self-aware.” (BookForum)

“Hell is an enthusiastic reporter of the critical artistic crossover of the avant-garde art scene and the world of punk rock... his account rings true and it entertains... a treasure both to those present during gritty, heady ‘70s NYC and to those not.” (Time Out New York (4 Stars))

“Hell brings his searingly honest songwriting style to this candid and page-turning memoir... [Hell’s] portrait of the artist searching for himself offers a glimpse into his own genius as well as recreating the hellishness and the excitement of a now long-gone music scene in New York City.” (Publishers Weekly (starred review))

“A skilled writer…In recalling the days when love came in spurts, Hell is precise, telling a lot without ever seeming to tell too much. He nails the essence of both scenes and people, from rock peers to exploitative record producers…A deft, lyrical chronicle.” (Kirkus)

“Hell is a fine writer and full of self-knowledge, and part of the pleasure of this randy, drug-addled memoir are his descriptions of New York during the bad old days when crime was rampant and the streets filthy. A compelling and entertaining memoir.” (Booklist)

“[Hell] almost single handedly created ‘punk’ as we know it.... Few people have been as important--yet as underappreciated as Richard Hell. Poet, musician, fashion icon and terrific, terrific writer. Chances are, you have been deeply influenced by Richard Hell your whole life. You just didn’t know it.” (Anthony Bourdain)

“Richard Hell designed and executed a sustained performance of rock stardom as if he had invented the concept himself. Radically self-aware, he wields prose keen as a diamond knife, sharpened by the light of the moon.” (Luc Sante, award winning author of Low Life)

“An exquisite snapshot of early punk possibility--that so beautifully captures the exuberance of starting a band!” (Legs McNeil)

“Charming and impossible, Hell is the first (and best!) name in punk rock. His insights are informed by the romance of running away to the mystery heard in the rowdy grooves of a dirty LP or in the pages of a thumbed book of verse.” (Thurston Moore)

Tramp gave me the same feeling I had as a kid... I cozied up and fell in love with a world that wasn’t mine. There are very few books that make me want to start writing my own; this is one of them.” (Kathleen Hanna)

“Other rock bios are tasteful and cautious — you feel the writer take you to a certain point but then pull back... Hell will take you right there, and that is why this book is an honest and special treat.” (Dean Wareham)

About the Author

Since retiring from music in 1984, Richard Hell has focused primarily on writing. He is the author of the journals collection Artifact; the novels Go Now and Godlike; and the collection of essays, notebooks, and lyrics Hot and Cold; as well as numerous other pamphlets and books. Hell has published essays, reportage, and fiction in such publications as Spin, GQ, Esquire, the Village Voice, Vice, Bookforum, Art in America, the New York Times, and the New York Times Book Review. From 2004 to 2006 he was the film critic for BlackBook magazine. He lives in New York City.

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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Memories of a Blank Generation 5 April 2013
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I found his early life story quite boring until he reached New York, from then on the story livens up, providing an interesting account of life in the arty underground scene of the time. The story of a chancer who happened to be at the right place at the right time, found a niche, created a scene and exploited it successfully. I particularly liked Richard's description of the band's tour of the UK supporting THE Clash in 1977. His distainful, culture shocked view of a junk sick New Yorker far from home and so far out of his comfort zone in potato obsessed Blighty and the burgeoning UK punk scene (brought back memories of my youth) was very entertaining. Also surprising that he sees Britain in 1977 as more depressed and poverty stricken than bankrupt 70's New York, the British youth rallied to share their situation to create a scene allowing them to feel part of something important, where as the impression he gives of NY's scene is one that is far more "dog eat dog" and brutal, fed by hard drugs and alienation. Richard gives a descriptive account of his descent into the nasty, selfish and wasteful world of opiate addiction, gradually dissolving what he created until he gets a second (and third) bite of the cherry to build a career for himself as a writer. He's lucky he came through all that and I'm very happy to have read his life story. If you were around in the 70's punk era, then this is a recommended read.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars King of the runaways. 8 April 2014
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Richard Hell is a good writer because he's honest. Most of the important details have been previously covered, particularly in the excellent 'Please Kill Me', yet this is still a pleasure to read and that's down to Hell's style. I particularly enjoyed his tales of England including his frustrated respect for John Lydon, elsewhere, for someone so opiated, he has killer recall and can reminisce over the smallest of details.

If there is a criticism, it seems to end rather abruptly and for such a visual character I would have preferred many more pictures. Overall this is not a great book but it is a good one. Perhaps I expected too much but can you blame me when you consider the man played a key role in the bands Television, The Heartbreakers, The Voidoids, as well as having written a number of highly acclaimed poems and books. There will always be a place in my heart for Mr. Hell, how could there not be when he still finds the phrase 'Let's run away' full of excitement.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A book I never wanted to end !!! 18 July 2013
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I've read a few biographies of the Punk era but this one stood out as it was a very personal and frank recollection of the early life and for most readers, the main story 1973-1984. As it ended I kept flicking through the pages to find more but it ends rightly with his retireal from music in 1984. If helps to listen to his music as you read the book. What lifted me was in his description of the infamous tour of the UK with the Clash in 1977/1978, when he was "junk sick" an hated the Brits preoccupation with the potato, he did have a kind spot for Scotland , where he said he loved the crowds and the places. I was lucky enough to see two gigs on that tour in Dunfermline and Edinburgh.
Not too sure I agree with his claim that punk was a New York movement mainly in CBGB's and only lasted a couple of years. Most of the audience in there were either in bands, went out with band members or were writers and artists. In the UK Punk was a youth movement that spread like a plague rat to every small outpost of the country. Great read though and I'm currently re reading Go Now, his first novel and trying to get a hold of his other short novel, God Like but it is currently out of print, or available at a whacking price on this very site. Buy it read it and then read it again.
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5.0 out of 5 stars I've always liked Richard Hell 12 July 2014
By Klausk
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I've always liked Richard Hell. I remember buying the first Stiff single of Blank Generation [ including a superior version of Another World ] and the album of the same name is one of my favourites. However regarding this book I found Hell's writing style and self deprecatory manner to be quite re-assuring - giving the book a down to earth quality. Its really interesting to read about the early bond between Tom Verlaine and the author. Such a shame that the alliance did not last { thanks to control freak Verlaine mainly ] Although it has to be said that when one hears the bass of Hell on the Eno demo's it does sound clunky, out of place and just wrong.
There are some great if cautionary tales of life on the road and how the drudgery of the tour of the UK gnaws at Hell's enthusiasm for music. However the book ends on an upbeat note which bodes well for a future that was, I think, always meant to literary. I wholeheartedly recommend this book to anyone interested in Hell, early Television, and the punk scene in the USA and the UK at the time. Excellent!
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