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I Dreamed I Was a Very Clean Tramp: An Autobiography Hardcover – Deckle Edge, March 12, 2013

3.8 out of 5 stars 88 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

Richard Hell (born Richard Meyers in Lexington, Kentucky), the punk-rock musician with the seminal punk bands Television and the Voidoids, presents an autobiography that ends in the early 1980s, when Hell stopped playing music and became a full-time writer. From an early age, Hell knew what he wanted: a “life of adventure.” He remembers growing up in suburban America in the 1950s and feeling like an outsider. He was bored with school, got into small scrapes with the law, and generally wished he were somewhere else. He eventually made his way to New York. He writes about the jobs he had (including stints in such iconic bookstores as Gotham Book Mart and the Strand) and the musicians he met, from Debbie Harry to Patti Smith. 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 by a punk-rock pioneer. --June Sawyers

From Bookforum

"Half of the beauty of rock and roll," Hell writes, "is that 'anyone can do it' in the sense that's it not about being a virtuoso but about just being plugged in in a certain way, just having an innocent instinct and a lot of luck." So much of Tramp is just a recounting of where that instinct took him. Mostly you read I Dreamed I Was A Very Clean Tramp for Hell's mind, which is weird and singular and superbly self-aware. He's a scumbag with an intimate, articulate understanding of scumbag psychology. "Being a rock and roll musician was like being a pimp," he writes, "It was about making young girls want to pay money to be near you." This isn't nice, but it's true—something you could say about most of this memoir. Hell's gift, then and now, is for finding a redemptive kind of ugly in otherwise blank, beautiful things, himself very much included. —Zach Baron
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Ecco; First Edition edition (March 12, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0062190830
  • ISBN-13: 978-0062190833
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (88 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #707,101 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
While I enjoyed reading this book, it abruptly stops in 1984 and leaves you wanting more.
Although I'm a decade younger than Richard Hell, I lived in New York and hung out in the East Village during the 1980's. I went to these clubs, did these drugs and had similar experiences.
His descriptions of the neighborhood and drug scene took me back to a time when the city was exciting and had that artsy, bohemian yet combat zone feel.
Now as I look down Second Avenue, all i see are Banks, Starbucks and other corporate chains;
I wonder how Richard feels as he continues to live in the same neighborhood.
More than anything, this book made me grieve for the New York I knew and loved.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
As someone who has read and appreciated Richard Hell's previous works, TRAMP is a most rewarding read for the primary reason that this is as intimate and unabashed as I've ever seen him on the page. He sustains it and as a result we get to see different shades of him, even the unflattering ones. What is unmistakeable is that he seeks truth (being an avid journaler, for one, and because he is a disciplined researcher and collector of minutiae) - most especially, emotional truth. He can only speak for himself, and that's what he accomplishes in his deft, unapologetic, wonderfully wry way.

He wants to be known and the thrill of this book and truly, the tenor of all his work, is that in reliving defining moments of his life, he riffs on himself in a way that is fresh and iconoclastic. It's alchemy - this is a literary book, and its values speak to and argue with the whole historical genre of autobiography. He's saying his piece, not to win a pissing match, but because he's acutely aware that the printed page is his best - and perhaps now, the only - chance for him to come fully alive.

Specific high points:
- His portraits of the people in his circle. Even his most damning critiques are so intriguing that one can't help but think that scorn and affection are but two sides of the same coin for him. Anyone not worth his interest is simply not mentioned.
- His cultural references. If all you do is go through the book and highlight any reference to an historical site (say, a bygone NYC bookstore), or a piece of music, or a poet, or a movie, or whatever -- and then spend all day on Wikipedia looking everything up - that alone is worth the price of admission.
- His explanation of his creative achievements.
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
I confess up front to being very excited to get ahold of this book. Richard Hell was an important part of an important era of music at a time when I was most actively involved in music myself and the NY underground scene was pivital in my own musical development. The Ramones, Patti Smith, and most significantly, Televsion created music that profoundly influenced me as both listener and practitioner. That Hell is an intelligent, thoughtful commmentator and writer only upped the ante.

I now confess disappointment. That Hell decided to end his book at the point he jettisoned active music making and drug addiction (in the mid-1980's) is fair and the reasons he gives for that are fair enough as well. However, this cursory treatment of what he does write about as frustratingly scattershot and mostly shallow.

The book, more memoir than "autobiography", begins with some charming and interesting material covering his childhood, his father's death when Hell was only 7 years old, and his initial relationships with his sister and mother. Unfortunately, both of them completely disappear the moment he leaves home. Are either still alive? What, if any, relationship does he have with either past the age of 16? He doesn't tell. He does give an enjoyable, if still rather shallow picture of his life as a young man in NYC, writing and editing poetry, working odd jobs and developing the friendship with Tom Verlaine that would eventually lead to the Neon Boys, and through them, to Televsion.

At this time, too, however, the book becomes a loose chronology of women he slept with and drugs he took, with an ocassional asisde into a song or two he wrote.
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
"I wanted to have a life of adventure. I didn't want anybody telling me what to do. I knew this was the most important thing and that all would be lost if I pretended otherwise like grown-ups did. "
(Richard Hell reflecting on his childhood)

If you lived in that restricted universe that was the New York rock scene from 1969-1980, you'd know the name Richard Hell. With prep school friend TomVerlaine he formed the Neon Boys in 1969. (Both of their last names were made up. Hell was born Richard Meyers and Verlaine was Tom Miller but, but how can you become a rockstar with names like those?) In 1974, Neon Boys transmuted to Television. Then Hell left the group -there was a terminal disagreement with his old buddy Verlaine--and joined up with New York Dolls players Jerry Nolan and Johnny Thunders to form the Heartbreakers. And then, a year later, in 1976, Hell came into his own with the group that for a short while blazed across the avant garde Rock scene in New York like a flaming meteor, Richard Hell and the Voidoids. The band released two albums and played in an auteur-like but pretty rotten movie named after one of the group's most famous songs, Blank Generation. (Another of his songs was entitled "Love Comes in Spurts.") The group fell apart as Hell became increasingly addicted to hard drugs.

Hell eventually got off the drugs -partly by leaving music. He came out of retirement briefly in the 1990s in a group called Dim Stars, which featured Voidoids' guitar player Robert Quine, two refugees from Sonic Youth and one from a group called Gumball. But mostly now he writes.

He doesn't sugarcoat his past life in this intriguing book and he doesn't pretend to be a genius musician when he wasn't.
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