Nobody asks to be born but once you’re here, you may as well lean into it. And if what you were born as doesn’t thrill you too much, you can always take your cue from a proactive Buddhist and reincarnate yourself into something cooler. Of course, second guessing God’s plan does require a certain amount of chutzpah. Arrogance, even, so lean into that as well.

Say you’re born in Lexington, Kentucky, to Ernest and Carolyn Meyers, and all you want to be is a cowboy, but that’s not an option. Then your father dies, and it turns out you’re only good at masturbation and running away from home, so you go to New York City. In for a penny, in for pound, may as well change your name from “Meyers” to “Hell,” and go right ahead and invent the concept of ripped t-shirts. Why not, right? It’s not like getting a job will make you a cowboy or bring your dad back.

Nobody asks to be born but once you’re here, you may as well lean into it

Before this music journalist realized that Nick Cave cosplay paid out higher dividends (and long before he settled into a cozy and lucrative aping of Lester Bangs/Chuck Eddy), I was just one out of the approximately ten dozen NYC garage punk singers who polluted the newly colonized Williamsburg, doing a mean/limp Richard Hell impersonation, as the man provided me and every other surly bookstore employee with a torn t-shirt, a libido, and a dream—the template of untethered yelping in the first place.

Of course, Richard Hell is innocent, as far as a few things go. He can actually sing; in the way that David Thomas, Bon Scott, and literal angels in heaven can. And, along with his famous disclimation of existential intent, Richard Hell didn’t ask to be influential. Not in so many words. Rather, his intention to shape a stupid world in his own image was pretty clear, but it was always coupled with a hedge of, “I’m freeing my own ass, and you’re free to follow if you want.” It can hardly be put on his doorstep that he made something so incredibly difficult—playing rock 'n' roll, hating rock 'n' roll, and getting free in the process—seem so easy.

Vernon Gibbs' 1983 piece on Richard Hell in CREEM.
Vernon Gibbs' 1983 piece on Richard Hell in CREEM.

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