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At Home With Richard Hell

By Harriet Staff

Richard Hell

The Wall Street Journal paid a house-call to rocker and poet, Richard Hell, at his apartment on the Lower East Side to find out what makes him feel cozy. He’s lived at his current spot since 1975. As told to WSJ’s Marc Myers, Hell explained:

I live with my wife, Sheelagh, in a two-bedroom tenement apartment in the East Village. The landlord doesn’t maintain it very well, but to a certain extent I don’t mind. I like things that are worn, decayed and going to pieces. I’m like a tenement apartment myself. I can’t imagine living anywhere else. Also it’s rent-stabilized.

I moved into the apartment in 1975—a couple of years after I started my first band. I was in three—Television, the Heartbreakers, and Richard Hell and the Voidoids. I wrote songs and sang and played bass. I conceived the bands as alternative worlds—from the songs and posters to the musicians’ names and clothes and ragged haircuts. Those worlds were some of what ended up being called “punk.”

Back then I met a clothing designer at CBGB who told me she was moving out of her apartment and that it was available. I jumped on it. For the first decade I lived here, it was hardly furnished. You can see how the bedroom looked on the cover of my 1982 album “Destiny Street.” The designer had covered the living-room walls with corkboard for pinning up patterns and fabric, and that came in handy since I like rotating art and souvenirs and photos on the walls.

The apartment is in the back of the building on an upper floor, so it’s quiet and full of light, with a great cross breeze. It has a funkiness that you don’t find in Manhattan much anymore—worn unvarnished wood floors that groan when you walk on them, cracks in the plaster walls, sagging original moldings. The place only improves with degradation, as long as you don’t try to tart it up.

When you walk through the front door, you’re in a narrow kitchen with an ancient exposed claw-foot bathtub. Then comes our living room, where two of the walls are covered floor to ceiling with shelves packed with books. Books are everywhere. I’ve kind of hit my capacity there. My wife tries to persuade me to get rid of a book for every new one I buy—a practical policy, but it’s not working for me.

I converted the small second bedroom into my office. Sheelagh’s workspace is set up in the main bedroom. She works at the Morgan Library & Museum curating shows. She’s always doing research. I like seclusion—being in my own environment, you know? Personal living spaces are often thought of as reflections of their occupants’ brains. I’ll accept that—though it would be fun to really design my own place from the ground up. I’d have a couch shaped like Kentucky.

I wrote most of my songs in this apartment. Not “Blank Generation” or “Love Comes in Spurts” though—they were written before I moved in. I just streamlined them here. But I pretty much wrote everything else in these rooms—songs like “Time” and “The Kid with the Replaceable Head.”

Learn more about Richard Hell’s crib at Wall Street Journal.

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Posted in Poetry News on Monday, July 22nd, 2013 by Harriet Staff.