NIGHT OUT WITH RICHARD HELL
Richard Hell is about half way through his Symphony Space curation series NIGHT OUT WITH RICHARD HELL. I’ve attended all of them, and it’s really been fantastic thus far.
He kicked off the series with Lydia Loveless, a 23 yr old alternative country singer from Columbus, Ohio. – dubbed “alternative” due to the way she fuses honky tonk and classic country with punk rock. Richard had sworn up and down for some time that she was amazing, so Alison and I made sure to attend, bringing 8 other friends with us.
Lydia is definitely intriguing. As an interviewee, she’s snarky and sarcastic and very reminiscent of many an awkward art school punk girl I knew in my day. She and Richard waded through an offbeat biographical recounting during which she seemed to prefer he do most of the talking. But that really did suit her introvert demeanor. Many of her responses were much like an adolescent kid who just wants to say as little as possible so that they can stop talking again.
I couldn’t help but think it a bit sad that I grew up so close to country music in Cincinnati but had absolutely zero exposure to it. Lydia grew up just 2 hours north, with one foot in the Columbus punk scene and one in the honky tonk bar scene just outside of town. Then again, perhaps such crossovers were more accessible 10 years ago as compared to 30. In my day, rednecks and punks were bitter enemies.
Her live show this night was nothing short of breathtaking. She came out a did a bunch of acoustic solo numbers before being joined by an incredibly-skilled upright bass player (who looked like Will Ferrell doing Encino Man) and her rhythm guitarist.
Her voice was haunting, possessing an innate rawness one can only be born with. In a few songs, the way she let one word sort of bleed into the next kind of reminded me a bit of Michael Stipe on REM’s first album, when they still sounded almost country.
It certainly helped that the lower theater at Symphony Space is wonderfully intimate. There couldn’t have been more than 100 people there. My friends and I sat in the 3rd row and I’m sure every person present felt like Lydia was singing directly to them. By the end there wasn’t a dry eye in the house. What a joy it is to be so moved by music that your emotions involuntarily elicit physical responses like chills and tears. Such talent is quite rare. Richard had not exaggerated. She was that good. I don’t know if the live recording can possibly do it justice, but you can listen below.
This is a live recording from 2012 of a song she wrote when she was 15.
The second night was poet, playwright and sometimes performance artist Ariana Reines, whom Richard had described as confrontational and disruptive. Alison and I were intrigued enough by this characterization to make it back up to 96th st.
Their interview was much more lively, with Ariana very comfortably jumping from one literary reference to another – discussing her own translation of Baudelaire while making jokes about being Slavoj Zizek’s sex slave and claiming herself as both a poète maudit and a Lesbian Separatist – i.e. her desire to live in a man-free world of blissful, endless sex with women. I would imagine such a notion appeals to most men as well.
She spoke a bit about her fascination with “manliness”, in the Teddy Roosevelt, outdoorsman sense of hunting and killing and charging up blood-soaked San Juan Hill. I thought about raising my vice to remind her that Roosevelt’s mother dressed him as a girl until he was 7, so he was obviously compensating, but I realized this was perhaps fairly basic information and would not end well for me in a public setting with a wit such as hers. Moments later I remembered that the sissy boy was, in fact, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, not Teddy, so my hunch about being embarrassed and outwitted was indeed well founded. She has a cool, sly confidence that assures you that she is most certainly the smartest person in the room.
As Ariana was reading her work, some of which bordered a bit too close to “dear diary” for me, I couldn’t help but consider that poets may be the ultimate self-absorbed assholes, but as long as they’re interesting enough, its somehow forgivable – or at least it was this particular night.
I used to want to be a saint but I only became a poet.
I try not to do what I don’t want to do because of the love
That creeps into things even in their misery. I try to fly
Over what I feel and see it but sometimes I have no choice
And can only be it like an animal. I try to be honestly
Outside what does not include me and honestly inside
What does. I think a lot about what a dandelion in a junk heap
Does compared to a dandelion in a tender garden whose every
Leaf is beloved, and what such flowers which are weeds feel.
Things like that are what I think a lot about.
Sometimes I think there isn’t any feeling
I like quite so much as the one I get
From having written a poem, a poem that I like. It’s a peaceful
Feeling that I can’t find any other way. Loving you doesn’t give
Me a peaceful feeling at all. Or writing to you. Or writing
At all, mostly. There is the panicking feeling I like of being about
To blow my brains out. Genocidal shame that makes me dream
Of stuffing my own organs in my mouth for sweetness
when the opacity of certain people gives me
a nauseating whiff of their dead souls.
The worlds I had to cross to see this. The things I had to do
To myself to write this. The breeze on the fine white
Hairs of my typing forearms, the lupine flopped over
Out my window, another one bites the dust, another
Surrender to spring. It’s the new moon, and according
To all the art people who are into astrology lately it’s gonna
Be a good one. And it isn’t my window
At all. In two days it’ll be somebody else’s. But we’re
Together right now, like you and me, and right now
I love you completely
The third installment of the series was with maverick film director Kelly Reichardt, perhaps best known for Wendy & Lucy (2008). She was there to talk to Richard and screen her highly acclaimed but rarely seen Meek’s Cutoff (2010).
She and Richard had a nice back and forth about her development as a film maker. I think I was most amazed that ANYTHING of artistic value could ever have arisen from Dade Country Florida. Pattton Oswalt once said that the only reason one should ever visit Florida is to identify your daughter’s dead body.
The film was beautiful and mesmerizing. It’s basically just a few days in the struggle of 3 families who are lost with their wagons in the Oregon desert, trying to make it to the coast. It’s a rare look at the American West through the eyes of the women – left out of all decision making, but tasked with holding their families intact under extremely harsh mental and physical conditions.
There’s very little dialogue and even less action. A lot of meditative walking and the hypnotic squeaking of wagon wheels. The minimalist nature of the whole film reminded me of the 2007 Mexican movie Silent Light, which I highly recommend if you like movies with lots of space between dialogue.
Reichardt made very specific choices in the way the film is shot, shunning the standard visual tropes of movies about the west. No wide vistas. No gorgeous sunsets. She even shot it in 1:33:1 aspect ratio to keep the camera focused in on the families and their desperation. All of this made for a very moving experience few directors could achieve with such reductiveness. Do check it out if you get the chance.