Richard Hell

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Richard Hell
Richard-Hell.jpg
Richard Hell live at the Club Chitta Kawasaki Japan
Background information
Birth name Richard Lester Meyers
Born (1949-10-02) October 2, 1949 (age 64)
Lexington, Kentucky, United States
Genres Punk rock, rock & roll, protopunk
Occupations Musician, singer, songwriter, writer
Instruments Vocals, bass guitar
Years active 1972–present
Labels Sire, Warner Bros., Red Star, Matador, Rhino
Associated acts Richard Hell and the Voidoids, Television, Neon Boys, The Heartbreakers, Dim Stars
Website www.richardhell.com

Richard Hell (born Richard Lester Meyers) is an American singer, songwriter, bass guitarist, and writer.

Richard Hell was an innovator of punk music and fashion. He was one of the first to spike his hair and wear torn, cut and drawn-on shirts, often held together with safety pins.[1] Malcolm McLaren, manager of the Sex Pistols, has credited Hell as a source of inspiration for the Sex Pistols' look and attitude, as well as the safety-pin and graphics accessorized clothing that McLaren sold in his London shop, Sex.[2] Hell was in several important, early punk bands, including Neon Boys, Television, and The Heartbreakers, after which he formed Richard Hell & The Voidoids. Their 1977 album, Blank Generation, influenced many other punk bands. Its title song was named "One of the 500 Songs That Shaped Rock" by music writers in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame listing[3] and is ranked as one of the all-time top-ten punk songs by a 2006 poll of original British punk figures, as reported in the Rough Guide to Punk.[4]

Since the late 1980s Hell has devoted himself primarily to writing, publishing two novels and several other books. He was the film critic for BlackBook magazine from 2004 to 2006.

Biography[edit]

Early life and career[edit]

Richard Hell grew up in Lexington, Kentucky, in the 1950s. His father, a secular Jew,[5] was an experimental psychologist, researching animal behavior. He died when Hell was seven years old. Hell was then raised by his mother, who came from Methodists of Welsh and English ancestry.[6] After her husband's death, she returned to school and eventually became a professor.

Hell attended the Sanford School in Delaware for one year, where he became friends with Tom Miller, who later changed his name to Tom Verlaine).[7] They ran away from school together and were arrested in Alabama for arson and vandalism a short time later.

Hell never finished high school, instead moving to New York City to make his way as a poet. In New York he met fellow young poet, David Giannini, and moved to Santa Fe, New Mexico for several months, where Giannini and Meyers co-founded "Genesis:Grasp". They used an AM VariTyper with changeable fonts to publish the magazine. They began publishing books and magazines but decided to go their separate ways in 1971, after which Hell created and published Dot Books. Before he was twenty-one his own poems were published in numerous periodicals, ranging from Rolling Stone to the New Directions Annuals. Along with Tom Verlaine, in 1971 Hell also published under the pseudonym Theresa Stern, a fictional poet whose photo was actually a combination of both his and Verlaine's faces, in drag, superimposed over one another to create a new identity.

The Neon Boys, Television, and the Heartbreakers[edit]

In 1972, Verlaine joined Hell in New York and formed the Neon Boys. In 1974 the band added a second guitarist, Richard Lloyd, and changed their name to Television.

Television's performances at CBGB helped kick-start the first wave of punk bands, inspiring a number of different artists including Patti Smith, who wrote the first press review of Television for the Soho Weekly News in June 1974. She had an affair with Tom Verlaine, and formed a highly successful band of her own, The Patti Smith Group. Television was one of the early bands to play at CBGB, and persuaded owner Hilly Kristal to book rock bands there on a regular basis. They also built the club's first stage.

Hell started playing his song "Blank Generation" during his stint in Television. In 1975, Hell parted ways with Television after a dispute over creative control. Hell claimed that he and Verlaine had originally divided the songwriting evenly but that later Verlaine refused to play Hell's songs. Verlaine remains characteristically silent on the subject.

Hell left Television the same week that Jerry Nolan and Johnny Thunders quit the New York Dolls. In May 1975 the three of them formed The Heartbreakers; not to be confused with Tom Petty's band, which adopted the same name the following year. After one show Walter Lure joined The Heartbreakers as a second guitarist.

Richard Hell and the Voidoids[edit]

A year later, in early 1976, Hell quit The Heartbreakers and started Richard Hell and the Voidoids with Robert Quine, Ivan Julian and Marc Bell. The band released two albums, though the second, Destiny Street, retained only Quine from the original group, with Naux (Juan Maciel) on guitar and Fred Maher on drums, and suffered from Hell's distractions, narcotics especially, during recording.[citation needed] Hell's best known songs with the Voidoids were "Blank Generation", "Love Comes in Spurts", "The Kid With the Replaceable Head" and "Time". In 2009, the guitar tracks on Destiny Street were re-recorded and released as Destiny Street Repaired, with guitarists Marc Ribot, Bill Frisell, and Ivan Julian playing with the original rhythm tracks.[8] Also in 2009, Richard Hell gave his blessing to the public access program Pancake Mountain to create an animated music video for "The Kid with the Replaceable Head".[9] It would be the Voidoids first, and only, official music video. The cut used for the animation appears on Hell's 2005 retrospective album, Spurts, The Richard Hell Story.

Dim Stars and Hell's books, further life[edit]

Hell's only other album set to date was in the band Dim Stars, for which he came out of retirement for a month in the early 1990s. Dim Stars featured guitarist Thurston Moore and drummer Steve Shelley from Sonic Youth, Gumball's guitarist Don Fleming, and Robert Quine. They formed only to record the one album and one EP, both titled Dim Stars, and played one show in public, a WFMU benefit at the The Ritz, in Manhattan. Hell played bass, sang lead vocals and wrote the lyrics for the album.

Hell also co-wrote and sang lead vocals on the song "Never Mind" by The Heads, a 1996 collaborative effort between three former members of Talking Heads.

Hell at home in the East Village, 2008

In 1996 Hell wrote a novel, Go Now, that was drawn largely from his own experience, and released a collection of short pieces (poems, essays and drawings) called Hot and Cold in 2001. His second novel, Godlike, was published in 2005 on Dennis Cooper's Little House on the Bowery Series on Akashic Books. All three books have been highly praised[citation needed]. Also published in 2005 was a book of thirteen poems, written in collaboration with David Shapiro, Rabbit Duck. Hell's non-fiction has been widely anthologized as well, including a number of appearances in "best music writing"[10] collections.

Hell's archive of his manuscripts, tapes, correspondence (written and email), journals, and other documents of his life was purchased for $50,000 by New York University's Fales library in 2003.

Hell has appeared in several low-budget films, most notably Susan Seidelman's Smithereens. (Other acting appearances include Uli Lommell's Blank Generation, Nick Zedd's Geek Maggot Bingo, Rachel Amadeo's What About Me?, and Rachid Kerdouche's Final Reward. Hell had a non-speaking cameo role as Madonna's murdered boyfriend in Susan Seidelman's 1985 Desperately Seeking Susan.) In 2007 he began making a movie which he wrote and acts in as well as directs.

Hell was married to Scandal's Patty Smyth for two years, 1985–86, and they have a daughter, Ruby. Hell married Sheelagh Bevan in 2002 and lives with her in the East Village, New York City.

Discography[edit]

  • 1977: Blank Generation
  • 1982: Destiny Street
  • 1984: R.I.P
  • 1989: Funhunt [live]
  • 1992: Dim Stars
  • 1992: Dim Stars EP
  • 2002: Time (expanded version of R.I.P.)
  • 2005: Spurts, The Richard Hell Story
  • 2009: Destiny Street Repaired

Books[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ "Kentucky born Richard Hell deserves credit (or blame) for originating much of the punk imagery and style associated with the London scene" --The New Rolling Stone Album Guide by Nathan Brackett, Simon and Schuster (2004), p 373. "He [Richard Hell] even gave an artistic spin to his torn shirt and cropped hair look, soon to be imported to England as the emblem of punk." --Between Montmartre and the Mudd Club: Popular Music and the Avant-Garde By Bernard Gendron, University of Chicago Press (2002), p. 252. Extensive documentation of Hell’s ripped and drawn-on and safety-pinned clothing, spiky short hair, and “punk” musical style as it existed in 1974–1975 (one-two years before English punk existed), with descriptions of Hell by Debby Harry and Chris Stein of Blondie, and Richard Lloyd of Television as well as the book’s author --From the Velvets to the Voidoids by Clinton Heylin, Penguin Books (1993), pp. 120–125.
  2. ^ "I came back to England determined. I had these images I came back with, it was like Marco Polo or Walter Raleigh. I brought back the image of this distressed, strange thing called Richard Hell. And this phrase, 'the blank generation'. [...] Richard Hell was a definite, 100 percent inspiration, and, in fact, I remember telling the Sex Pistols, 'Write a song like Blank Generation, but write your own bloody version, and their own version was 'Pretty Vacant'.” --Malcolm McLaren in an interview in Please Kill Me, the Uncensored Oral History of Punk by Legs McNeil and Gillian McCain, Grove Press (1996), p. 199.
  3. ^ [1][dead link]
  4. ^ These British punk-scene figures were as follows: Glen Matlock, original Sex Pistols bassist and composer of most of their music; Mark Perry, founder and editor of the first British punk fanzine, Sniffin' Glue, as well as founder of punk group Alternative TV; Geoff Travis, founder of Rough Trade, the main British punk record shop and early label; and Kris Needs, editor of ZigZag magazine and its famous Rock Family Trees. "Blank Generation" was the only American song listed by all four polled.
  5. ^ Steven Lee Lee Beeber (2007). The Heebie-Jeebies at CBGB's: A Secret History of Jewish Punk. Chicago Review Press. p. 136. ISBN 9781569762288. "Richard Hell: "My father was born a Jew but he didn't believe in that. He didn't have anything to do with religion....[he] raised me as a communist and atheist."" 
  6. ^ family records, Richard Hell Papers, Fales Library, NYU
  7. ^ "We'd met at a little school right outside of Wilmington. It was a mediocre boarding school, co-ed, called Sanford Prep. I'd been sent there because I'd been getting in trouble in school since I was fourteen, and things were looking pretty dire...I arrived a little after the start of the school year of 1965–1966, when I was in the 11th grade." --Richard Hell (describing how he and Tom Verlaine met) in the first chapter of Hell's autobiography-in-progress, as published in Vanitas magazine No. 2, 2006, p. 153.
  8. ^ Michaels, Sean (July 10, 2009). "Richard Hell remakes album 27 years after first release". The Guardian (London). Retrieved May 22, 2010. 
  9. ^ ""The Kid with the Replaceable Head" animated music video". Retrieved October 8, 2012. 
  10. ^ such as The Penguin Book of Rock and Roll Writing (1992) and Best Music Writing 2007 (Da Capo)
  11. ^ "PrintedMatter.org". PrintedMatter.org. Retrieved July 10, 2011. [dead link]
  12. ^ "Indie | Literary | Books". Akashicbooks.com. Retrieved July 10, 2011. [dead link]
  13. ^ "PrintedMatter.org". 38street.com. Retrieved July 10, 2011. 
  14. ^ J.C. Maçek III (June 6, 2013). "Fashionably Anti-Establishment: 'Punk: From Chaos to Couture'". PopMatters. 

Further reading[edit]

  • The Richard Hell Papers are located in the Fales Library at New York University. The Fales Library Guide to the Richard Hell Papers
  • Nathan Brackett. The New Rolling Stone Album Guide, Simon and Schuster (2004)
  • Mallory Curley. A Cookie Mueller Encyclopedia, Randy Press (2010)
  • Bernard Gendron. Between Montmartre and the Mudd Club: Popular Music and the Avant-Garde, University of Chicago Press (2002)
  • Clinton Heylin. From the Velvets to the Voidoids, Penguin Books (1993) ISBN 0-14-017970-4
  • Legs McNeil and Gillian McCain. Please Kill Me, the Uncensored Oral History of Punk, Grove Press (1996) ISBN 0-8021-1588-8
  • Al Spicer. The Rough Guide to Punk, Rough Guides/Penguin (2006) ISBN 1-84353-473-8

External links[edit]