‘My favorite thing to do was run away,” Richard Hell writes about his younger self on the first page of his acute and acerbic autobiography “I Dreamed I Was a Very Clean Tramp.” He adds: “The words ‘let’s run away’ still sound magic to me.” In many ways, his almost but not quite quintessential coming-of-age tale, like the punk rock music he helped pioneer, is a testament to the unfettered drive to escape a world you don’t want any part of with self-reinvention. It’s also a cautionary one of a life that momentarily came unhinged.
Born Richard Meyers in Lexington, Ky., Hell depicts growing restless with suburbia, ditching high school and running off to the city for a life of outsider otherworldliness. “A day after Christmas in 1966,” writes Hell, “I left home permanently on a bus to New York.” In short order, he’s joined in seedy vagrancy by his old schoolmate Tom Miller. “We shared pretty much everything we had, except girlfriends,” writes Hell. “Since we didn’t have anything, it evened out.”