Two out three gone. The needle and the damage done.
Richard Hell makes an appearance on Seattle morning talk show New Day Northwest. The host/interviewer is Margaret Larson and I think she’s quite charming.
My first encounter with Richard Hell was seeing his band the Voidoids at CBGB in 1977. The group was intense, complex and exhilarating. In the years following ‘77, I became aware of Hell’s decline into junkiedom. He seemed like a prime candidate for an early death. Had you told me he’d be appearing on a morning chat show in the year 2013 I would have called you “crazy.” Had you told me I’d be alive and reporting on it, well…
With I Dreamed I Was A Very Clean Tramp, Richard Hell now joins Patti Smith and John Lydon among a growing number of ageing punk musicians that have written memoirs of real merit.
Rock ‘n’ roll survival tip number one: Put down the needle and pick up the pen.
This is rather special - pages from John Holmstrom and Legs McNeil’s revolutionary Punk magazine, as held by The San Francisco Academy of Comic Art Collection and the Ohio State University Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum.
These pages come from issue No. 6, which featured The Legend of Nick Detroit, a fumetti or photo-story written and directed by McNeil and edited by Holstrom, with Roberta Bayley as director of photography.
The fictional Nick Detroit was a “...former top international Agent and super-killer now become world-weary mercenary battling the infamous Nazi Dykes and their schemes for world domination.” The strip starred Richard Hell as Nick Detroit, with David Johansen as Mob King Tony, and Debbie Harry as Debbie Nazi Dyke. There were also appearances by Lenny Kaye, David Byrne, and “a ton of others including Terry Ork, Anya Phillips, and Nancy Spungen (in a crowd scene).”
Ulli Lommel’s Blank Generation is not the movie it could have been but what it is will have to do. Imagine a lower tier Fassbinder lensing a movie about the angst and ennui of New York’s Lower East Side as embodied in the life of disheveled punk rocker Richard Hell as he struggles to struggle with an emotional attachment to a Godard-spewing French film maker named Nada (Carole Bouquet looking more like a Bond girl than a Bond’s girl). If life in the New York City of the late 1970s was this dull and depressing, we’d have all left for Brooklyn a whole lot sooner.
While there’s some good footage of Hell performing with the legendary Voidoids, there’s little else to indicate that there was a burgeoning music scene right up the block from where the movies non-action occurs. This was 1979 and CBGB was alive with the sound of music…and the aroma of beer and piss.
When he’s not singing, Hell spends most of his time sulking. But who can blame him? With his dour Parisian girlfriend spewing lines like “What are you afraid of?” “We’re all going to die anyway, so who cares?,” who wouldn’t be feeling a bit blank. The bellicose ice queen Nada makes Nico look like Laurie of The Partidge Family.
Blank Generation isn’t a bad movie. It’s just fucking inert and filled with the sort of angster posturing and world weariness that makes you wonder if gravity has a heavier tug below 14th street. Ultimately, it’s all kind of inconsequential and as Richard Hell himself put it “there’s not a single authentic, truthful moment in the movie.” Still, you should watch it for Hell and the Voidoids, the best of the Bowery.
P.S. - I had a chat with Hell a couple of months ago in Austin. He’s a big supporter of film-preservation and was hosting a screening of a re-stored 35mm print of King Kong at the Alamo Drafthouse for Martin Scorsese’s Film Foundation. It was a thrill to see one of my favorite rockers looking and sounding good as he enters his mid-sixties. He was planning a road trip through Texas and in his black suit and boots he cowboy-walked down Sixth street with the self assurance of a post-modern gunslinger in a spaghetti western where blood comes in spurts and men do have names like “Hell.”
Fun, fun, fun cartoon music video of Richard Hell And The Voidoids “The Kid With The Replaceable Head.”
The version of “...Replaceable Head” used in the cartoon is the remixed and partially re-recorded version that appears on the Destiny Street Repaired album which was released in 2008, a reconstruction of 1982’s Destiny Street. The history of the record is an interesting one. In his review of Destiny Street Repaired, Bill Meyer gives us some insight to the album’s resurrection. Here’s an excerpt from Meyer’s article:
It took Hell five years to get around to recording a follow-up to Blank Generation. The Voidoids had been defunct for over a year and the man was soul sick, junk sick, and ready to give up the rock game. But he had some songs, a label ready to give him some money, a palpable need for that cash, and guitarist Robert Quine’s phone number, so in 1982 they pulled together a band — Hell on bass, Quine and the one-named Naux on guitars, Fred Maher on drums — to make one more record. Things went as planned for a week or two, but after cutting the backing tracks Hell lost his nerve and refused to come into the studio for a week and a half. According to Quine, he and Naux spent that time overdubbing every idea they’d ever wanted to try, which depending on your perspective turned the music into either “high-pitched sludge” (per Hell in the liner notes to the Spurts career retrospective) or the aforementioned glorious mess. After Hell finally dragged his sorry ass into the studio to finish the record, it sat in bad business limbo for another year before Line Records finally put it out.
Ever since then he’s expressed his disappointment with the result, and in 2008 Hell geared up to put it right by re-recording the vocals and lead guitars over rough mixes of the rhythm tracks.”
Hell brought in Bill Frisell, Ivan Julian and Marc Ribot to contribute to Destiny Street Repaired and the result was an album shocked like Dr. Frankenstein’s monster into new life. As Meyers puts it, the album is “more full and satisfyingly full-on.”
Despite the fact that overall there are fewer guitar tracks, the guitars are actually louder on Repaired than they are on the Line LP, and any record that showcases Ribot, Julian and Frisell in a rocking mood is nothing to ignore. The weirdly striated frequency spectrum of the original mastering job, which seemed as thin as mountain air in the higher frequencies, has been replaced by something much more full and satisfyingly full-on. And as a singer, Hell Mk 2008 manages to hit more of the notes with more force than his more desperate and debilitated self a quarter century earlier without going for any misguided notion of perfection.”
Bill Meyer’s entire review of Destiny Street Repaired can be read at Dusted.
Update 4/25: Meyer gives credit to German label Line Records for being the first label to release Destiny Street, which may be true for Germany but not the USA. In fact, it was released in the States on Marty Thau’s legendary Red Star records. In France, it was released by Celluloid. All in 1982. As to the source of the money for the making of the record, my bet is on Thau. I’ve e-mailed Marty and am waiting to hear back.
Update 4/25: The always gracious Marty Thau responded to my questions regarding Destiny Street and its intriguing history:
Red Star financed the original version of Destiny Street and eventually licensed it to Line Records in Germany, who didn’t pay royalties until they were caught years later.
Not only did Red Star finance the original version of “DS” but it’s distributor, Jem Records, manufactured it for Red Star before anyone else in the world. History must not be rewritten no matter how bad the vibes might be.
Red Star’s version of “DS” was chosen as the #3 best record of the year by the NY Times in ‘82 by Robert Palmer. I believe that Richard’s new version of “DS” doesn’t improve upon the original, as much as he’d like to think it does.
Back in the day Richard was a useless drug addict who didn’t live up to his promise. He’ll admit to that.”
“The Kid With The Replaceable Head (2008)” is available as part of the Richard Hell retrospective cd and can be purchased here.
Here are both versions;
Personally, I prefer the sludgy, raw basement sound of the original recording. The re-recorded version is a little clean with a slick sheen and the poppy background vocals up in the mix work against the punk Voidoid vibe. But, either way, it’s a great song and Richard Hell is undoubtedly a legend not to be messed with…unless he doin’ the messin.
“Horizontal Ascension” is an early recording by Television from a 1974 rehearsal, when Richard Hell was in the band. It appears on the bootleg Poor Circulation.The title “Horizontal Ascension” was ” ...lifted from an Elevators album’s esoteric notes,” and as Richard Hell recalled:
“I was in the band for a year…But the peak of my participation in it probably came at about three or four months…It sounds more like what the Neon Boys sounded like than like Marquee Moon-era Television. As great as the guitar playing is on Marquee Moon, the original band was more to the point. It’s more like…it came at a time when music was really…boring, you know? It was a return to the values of the Kingsmen and the Sonics and Them and the Velvet Underground. It still had this really beautiful guitar talent — ecstatic, explosive guitar — going on as well as this lyrical quality, but it was more driving and crazed.”
The Heartbreakers in their original incarnation - Johnny Thunders, Richard Hell, Jerry Nolan and Walter Lure - performing “Chinese Rocks” and “Pirate Love” at CBGB in 1975. The absolute essence of snarling New York gutter punk.
Hell left the group in 1976 before The Heartbreakers recorded their first and only album, L.A.M.F.. So, for those folks who are only with familiar with that album, it’s a bit strange hearing Hell singing lead on “Chinese Rocks.” But Hell’s distinct wail in tandem with Thunders’ is as urgent as rock and roll gets. The Unrighteous Brothers. Seeing this band on the Bowery in the mid-70s was a shock to the system.
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