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Josh Bell Finds a Muse in Vince Neil
See this Harvard Gazette feature on Josh Bell where he talks about, among other things, bringing Mötley Crüe lead singer Vince Neil into his poems.
As a boy, poet Josh Bell says he was “quiet, timid, nervous … the same as I am now.”
So it’s a tad surprising that Bell, the new Briggs-Copeland Lecturer on English, has been inspired by bad boy and Mötley Crüe vocalist Vince Neil for the past few years, turning the onetime god of late ’80s hair metal — eponymously bedecked in studded leather and a rotating assortment of women and bandanas — into a poetic vehicle to explore, well, Josh Bell.
“All the poems I write are autobiographical,” he admits, “but I can’t get interested in a poem if I start talking about anything actually happening in my life verbatim. So I always have to create a distance in order to be able to write at all. It’s easier for me to get interested in myself if I see it from the outside somehow.”
The Vince Neil poems make up Bell’s as-yet-untitled second book, which he’ll likely publish during his five-year stint at Harvard. His first collection, “No Planets Strike,” has become a sort of cult classic, composed, in part, of “a series of poems that were sort of an epic sequence, but an epic in reverse,” Bell explains. “So instead of the hero going down to the underworld to speak to the dead, I had one of the dead come to the over-world to speak to the living.” In addition to the zombie poems, Julia Roberts has a poem dedicated to her, and a character named Ramona appears again and again.
The affable Neil continues Bell’s affinity for winding sagas as the rocker rants his way through Chinese dinners and flights to writers’ conferences and, in one poem, accompanies Josh (a character who “is me, but also isn’t”) to a dinner with poets where he “starts speaking strangely.”
“I wanted Vince Neil because Mötley Crüe peaked at a certain time, and Vince Neil is still out there kicking, and I like that idea of a hero, post-heroic,” Bell says. “So I wanted to borrow him. I like him for the idea of potential creepiness; I like him for the leatheriness. I don’t speak easily. In social situations, I get a little nervous or anxious or off to the side, and I wanted this figure who would walk into those situations and speak ridiculously but confidently. He has a license I feel like I don’t have a lot of the time.”
Much more, including sound bites, here.