I 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’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.