Remembering Rene Ricard

renegof2I wonder how many people had their lives changed by Rene Ricard? I arrived in New York City in 1979 and was struggling to find a job in journalism while snooping around the art scene for something to write about. Then I read an article called “Not About Julian Schnabel” in ArtForum and pretty soon, I was doing the first magazine profiles of Julian Schnabel and Mary Boone. I still have those interview tapes around here somewhere.

But it was Rene’s next article that really set my brain on fire. It was titled “Radiant Child” and was all about the rise of Jean Michel Basquiat, Keith Haring and how hip hop culture was about to transform the world.

Of course, Rene didn’t use the words “hip hop,” since virtually nobody outside the South Bronx knew those words in 1981. Funny how I got a chance to see Rene just a few days ago, at what I imagine was his last public performance, a reading for an East Village Eye party. Before he left the party, Rene came over to me and said, “Your Voice article on Bambaataa, that introduced the words “hip hop you know!” he said. “I know, I know,” I replied. Rene and I were on that scene longer than almost anyone else from downtown, except for Fred Brathwaite, Patti Astor and Charlie Ahearn. But it was Rene’s Radiant Child article that opened my eyes that a real cultural revolution was going on. And Rene was the first to understand the revolution concerned not just music, but gesture, movement, dance, fashion and art as well. There was a whole new style emerging from b-boy culture, and Rene was the first to pick up on that.

When I published my book Hip Hop in 1984, I included a picture of Rene and also gave him props for his groundbreaking essays in ArtForum. This made Rene my friend for eternity. Seems like he had some enemies in the art scene at the time, probably because he was famous for throwing hissy fits at gallery openings. He knew how to make himself the center of attention and some people were a little afraid of him because he was so moody and confrontational.

Rene-Ricard-at-his-knockout-LA-opening-last-ThursdayRene’s most famous scene happened at Jean Michel’s Fun Gallery opening. Paul Simon showed up unexpectedly and was interested in buying the best painting in the show, something that would have saved the gallery at the time. But Rene had already asked Jean for that particular painting and when he saw Simon wanted it, he started screaming and bolted from the gallery. Seconds after he departed we heard what sounded like a car accident outside. No one was sure if Rene hadn’t just run out into traffic to commit suicide, but we later found out he was okay.

I was really touched by Rene’s last reading just a few days ago, as he read his poem about Stephen Crichlow, who was Futura 2000’s best friend when he unexpectedly died from a heart attack at a very young age. Rene rented a limo to take a bunch of people to the funeral service in Brooklyn. I don’t think anybody ever gave Stephen much props, except for Rene. Stephen was a young photographer who’d been following the hip hop scene and his death was an unexpected blow. What Godlis was to the CBGB’s, Cricholow was to the Fun Gallery, but today hardly anyone remembers him. Leave it to Rene to keep his memory alive.

Apparently Rene died of cancer and was about to undergo chemo, which is sad for me, because had I known he was suffering from cancer, I would have sent him to Colorado to take some cannabis oil, which might have saved his life.

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Author: Steven Hager

I'm a writer, journalist, filmmaker and event producer.

8 thoughts on “Remembering Rene Ricard”

  1. Rene was incredibly special. I came here about the same time as you. I was 17. I met him in ’81 when I was 19. He used to follow me around romantically. He sang underneath my bedroom on 3rd between Ave A and B and recited poetry loudly in the middle of the night. I told my roommates at the time NOT to let him into the flat because he intimidated me. When I’d get home from class, he’d be in my living room holding court with my roommate and his friends. He could charm rust off a sunken ship. I’d go out with him and Cookie Mueller and have waaaaaay too much fun for words and certainly too much for WordPress. I only recently reconnected with him since the “dark days” of the early 90’s when young friends were still dropping like flies. I could never find him and my life got very busy. So happy and lucky that I saw and grabbed him. He had tunnel vision in the street and told me he’s as blind as a bat outside. I was on a corner in Chelsea with the candidate Bill de Blasio doing a “visibility event.” Once Rene and I started talking the event became very secondary. I told him what I was doing there then before you knew it press was interrupting us asking questions about the race. Rene got right into it bashing Christine Quinn who had grossly disappointed the tenants remaining in the Chelsea Hotel. He gave some amazing quotes naturally. They took a picture of us together. They were clueless about who he was, eventho I tried to tell the reporter. Rene said he’d never done that before. We didn’t make the next days paper to my knowledge. After the reporter left we didn’t miss a beat continuing where we left off. We promised to see each other the following week but only spoke on the phone. I wished I’d gone to his recent reading. I wish I went straight to the hospital, where I was myself about 6 weeks ago, to visit when I heard about his hip surgery. I know for myself that I don’t socialize well when I am in pain and would prefer to suffer alone. One never knows when they will see friends for the very last time. THAT’s the moral of this story. I will ALWAYS Love Rene and NEVER forget him. Thanks for you piece on him. I look forward to reading more recollections of our friend Rene Ricard.

    1. Thank you ALL for your memories! I was born in New Bedford, MA and first met Rene when I was a teenager via our shared mentor poet John Wieners. Rene’s ashes were buried in New Bedford’s Rural Cemetery yesterday April 30, 2014 by Lola Schnabel and others. ALBERT Bierstadt and a boy who lived across the street from his New Bedford studio, outsider eccentric ALBERT Pinkham “Pinkie” Ryder, and now ALBERT Napoleon “Rene” Ricard… the 3 Alberts buried nearby each other…fitting.

  2. Beautiful memories from Steven and Desmond, of which I am sure there will be many more. EVERYONE has a story about Rene, so we can laugh through our tears as Rene would wish. Patti Astor

    1. Absolutely Patti. I forgot to mention that I live on the 5th floor when he used to sing to me from the street in the middle of the night. Nobody had done that to me before or since. I’m was a lucky lad to have a brilliant and lovely man like him have a little crush on impressionable me. He made a tremendous impression on me.

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