Magazine article The New Yorker

To Hell and Back

Magazine article The New Yorker

To Hell and Back

Article excerpt

To Hell and Back

Though better known as Richard Hell, the punk-rock persona he created in the mid-seventies, Richard Lester Meyers has spent more years as a small-press publisher and a poet than as a professional musician. In 1966, he arrived in New York, a prep-school dropout from Lexington, Kentucky, and started a literary magazine called Genesis : Grasp. He typeset some of the issues himself on a Varityper machine. He followed that with Fun, a folder of poetry broadsheets, all written by him.

Meyers’s best writing, published under three different noms de plume, Richard Hell, Ernie Stomach, and Theresa Stern, evokes the lushness of youth and its excesses. His work has improved as age has relieved him of having to be the living embodiment of a generation—the Dionysus of the East Village, shirtless in unbuttoned black jeans, as he appears in the booklet that accompanies a new fortieth-anniversary edition of “Blank Generation,” the seminal Richard Hell and the Voidoids album, from 1977. As a writer, Meyers hit a high point with his fine 2013 memoir, with its Philip K. Dick-ish title, “I Dreamed I Was a Very Clean Tramp.”

His small-press publishing career was recently the subject of an exhibition at the White Columns gallery, in the West Village. The opening, on a cold Tuesday evening, was a reunion of sorts for the demimonde of the Max’s Kansas City era. Meyers, who has lived in the same East Twelfth Street walkup since 1974, looked youthful. His iconic spiky coif was mostly still intact and unsilvered, though it lacked a bit of the original’s wispy, Bowie-ish glam.

That epoch-making haircut, complete with wispy, Bowie-ish glam, was nevertheless present at the opening, on the head of a thirty-two-year-old man. “I do it myself, in the mirror,” he was overheard saying, when one of the oldsters asked. His outfit was a straight copy of Hell’s lounge-lizard look from “Blank Generation,” complete with tinted glasses.

Danny Fields, the Ramones’ first manager and a stalwart of the old Max’s scene, asked Meyers about the doppelgänger. “He wants to be me!” was all Meyers would say.

When approached, the young man introduced himself as Kyle Void. He said that he was a poet, a small-press publisher, and a major Richard Hell collector. He was born Kyle Halstead, in Whittier, California, and ran away from home at sixteen, wanting to be Rimbaud. …

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