“People talk about how bad-off the U.S. was economically in those years of the seventies and how filthy and crime-ridden New York was. It’s true, but my friends and I in the East Village didn’t know any better, and terms like “recession” and “stock market” were meaningless to us. The streets of the city were smelly with both garbage – sanitation workers were striking – and dog shit (the scoop law wasn’t passed until 1978). On the Lower East Side, people assumed their apartments would be burglarized every two or three years. Many buildings and sometimes whole blocks in the area were burned out and abandoned, others staked by squatters. Drug-dealing gangs ruled districts. Sidewalks for blocks would be matted with blankets of housewares and junk peddled by the jobless. It was a slum, but it was where we wanted to live because it was cheaper than anywhere else while also hosting the best bookstores and movies and drugs and people and music.”
Here at Mean Street Cinema, we’re going to be dealing with not only films, but also music and books. I’m currently reading Richard Hell’s I Dreamed I Was A Very Clean Tramp, and the above quotation from the book sums up the inspiration for this website as well as anything. Hell is also the perfect character to kick off this site because of his presence in the films, music AND books of 1970s and 80s New York City.
Hell was a founding member of Television, along with Tom Verlaine. Television was among the very first of the CBGB’s bands in the mid-seventies – in fact, they’re the ones who discovered the place and convinced owner Hilly Kristal to let them play music there. After he and Verlaine split, Hell joined The Heartbreakers, along with Johnny Thunders, and co-wrote the classic anthem “Chinese Rocks” with Dee Dee Ramone. Then he went on to form The Voidoids and released two classic records of the late seventies and early eighties: Blank Generation and Destiny Street. A single album retrospective of his music was put out by Rhino Records, called Spurts: The Richard Hell Story.
What I didn’t know until I started reading this book was that Hell started out as a poet, sending in his youthful scribblings to James Laughlin at New Directions and even printing his own books with a cheap printing press in his apartment. Why is that so much cooler than publishing your own website?
After becoming a famous rock star – through a process which he offers a very detailed and fascinating account of in the book, so much so that aspiring stars could use it as a blueprint the way wannabe pimps use Iceberg Slim – Hell went on to become a movie star too. Well, he never quite became a star, but he did play Madonna’s mobster boyfriend in Desperately Seeking Susan, and his most famous song lent the title of not one but TWO films documenting the New York scene in the late 70s. Reviews of all forthcoming.
Mean Street Cinema. The best movies and books and music and people. In New York. In the 70s. And 80s. And drugs.
Review by Joey Mook