Dear Richard Hell, I Think There’s Been a Communication Breakdown

A guest post by my friend Daniel De Wolff. If you need a writer he's available.

On July 9th I was supposed to attend a free show by Ted Leo and the Pharmacists as part of the Village Voice's 4Knots Music Festival Kickoff at Pier 17 on the South Street Seaport. And then I was going to write about it. It was going to be a piece of relevant up-to-the-minute reporting. But it was hot out and I was tired so I took a nap instead. I’ve been told I’m too young for naps. Maybe I am. But then again maybe I’m not. All I know is I missed that show.

My good friend Ivan went, and was kind enough to send me a few notes. He told me I should write something about Ted Leo’s obsession with the idea of the sin eater. But I’m not in the mood to deconstruct. Instead here’s a video of Ted Leo doing “Ballad of a Sin Eater". Ivan also sent me what he called a quote from the scene: “Ted Leo’s owning it.” I don’t doubt that he was in fact owning it. But I honestly don’t feel bad about having missed that show. And it’s not because I don’t appreciate Mr. Leo or his Pharmacists.

Rather, my lack of desire to attend shows of late has something to do with an inability to connect. Perhaps I’ve developed a fear of letting go. Because that is the ideal, I think. We go to a show and we let go of our hassles and fears. If we’re lucky we experience a moment of transcendence. But this requires a loosening of the reins. This view casts club or concert hall as cathedral, concert goers as fellow believers. And maybe this is where it’s fallen apart for me. I feel like I’ve lost my faith. But in what I’m not exactly sure. I haven’t stopped loving music, the slight hissle and pop of the needle on my records before the first note kicks in and everything is alright. I still get get that giddy melancholy feeling in my gut like I’m the big bad Hulk about to do some damage when I hear Johnny Cash singing “Folsom Prison Blues,” that vicious fist tightening, jaw grinding jerk of fireworks tingling in my spine and the base of my neck when I hear Throbbing Gristle’s insistent, heavy “Something Came Over Me.” But this is all in the comfort of my home.

Richard Hell once said that he didn’t understand why audiences went to concerts: “I was very suspicious of that. I was pretty scornful of the whole apparatus. It was just so clear how hollow it all fucking was.” It’s an interesting thing to say--especially for a performer. He doesn’t trust the apparatus, the adulation, being watched. I’m pretty suspicious too, Richard.

I’m suspicious of bands that go up there and half-ass it while audiences go through the motions, glassy eyed drones in love with an idea that’s turned to ash. The last good show I saw was a little band called Bear Hands. Wintertime at the Knitting Factory in Brooklyn. I felt it there. The place was nearly empty. I stood right in front, let the bass apply its pressure and wash over me till everyone else disappeared. But lately, more often than not, I’m disappointed. So much tripe, so little time.