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Richard Hell

+ {Dim Stars}

Cited as the purveyor of punk rock, at least in his original “ripped T-shirt” fashion sense, RICHARD HELL is up there with the best of them. From The Neon Boys, TELEVISION, The HEARTBREAKERS, The VoidOids and DIM STARS, new wave’s troublesome RICHARD HELL has been on a mission to rock’n’roll since running away from boarding school in Delaware.
Born Richard Meyers, October 2, 1949 in Lexington, Kentucky, HELL began his musical trail in 1967 with like-minded TOM VERLAINE (then known as fellow ROLLING STONES acolyte Tom Miller). Finally relocating to New York in his late teens, he wrote poetry and experimented with drugs. Reuniting with his sidekick, Miller/VERLAINE and drummer Billy Ficca, Richard formed The Neon Boys in 1971, inspired by the NEW YORK DOLLS and The VELVET UNDERGROUND. By 1973, and with only a handful of recordings behind them, they’d metamorphosed into TELEVISION, Meyers adopting his RICHARD HELL moniker and helping to initiate the city’s new wave/punk scene. As legend has it, a sharp eyed MALCOLM McLAREN was rather taken by the bassist’s dragged-through-a-hedge-backwards attire and mop of spiked hair, initially attempting to secure his services for his new baby, The SEX PISTOLS. When this failed, well, at least MM could go back to England with a few ideas…
HELL duly split with Verlaine and Co, briefly joining JOHNNY THUNDERS (formerly of NEW YORK DOLLS) in The HEARTBREAKERS, where he co-penned (along with a RAMONE!) the seminal `Chinese Rocks’; like Johnny, HELL was well acquainted with the pleasures of heroin, which no doubt accounted for his haphazard career.
HELL subsequently formed his own outfit, RICHARD HELL & THE VOIDOIDS, along with future LOU REED guitarist Robert Quine, Ivan Julian and Marc Bell. They hastily recorded an independently released debut EP, `(I Could Live With You In) Another World’ (for Ork Records), before signing to Sire Records.
On the resulting BLANK GENERATION (1977) {*8} album, HELL had finally succeeded in capturing his brutally nihilistic poetical/musical vision, if only fleetingly. Chaotic and brittle, there were definitely hints of NEW YORK DOLLS all over the show, the full-frontal assaults of the classic title track and others such as `Love Comes In Spurts’, `Liars Beware’, `Who Says?’ and a fresh 8-minute version of `Another World’ were pure gold. But for the couple of lazy, rainy-day covers in the shape of the FRANK SINATRA nugget `All The Way’ and CREEDENCE CLEARWATER REVIVAL’s `Walking On The Water’, the record might’ve been improved. A subsequent support slot to The CLASH around the British mainland helped boost sales of the album, although it never quite reached the charts.
With his drug problems reaching critical levels, HELL’s only release over the next four years was `The Kid With The Replaceable Head’, a 1978-issued, NICK LOWE-produced single platter. Looking like he was heading down the same heroin-infused dead end street as SEX PISTOL, Sid Vicious, the doomed poet was thankfully beating his addiction by the early 80s.
A belated VoidOids follow-up album, DESTINY STREET {*6}, eventually appeared in spring ‘82, although his momentum had long since dissipated. Retaining only Ivan Julian and enlisting drummer Fred Maher and guitarist Naux, the album opened with their previous 45 and boasted punk covers of The KINKS’ `You Gotta Move’, DYLAN’s `Going, Going, Gone’ and THEM’s `I Can Only Give You Everything’. Of his own compositions, `Downtown At Dawn’, group composition `Ignore That Door’ and the closing title track had any bite and substance.
HELL was absent from the music scene for the next ten years, although he did star in the film, Smithereens, as well as scoring a cameo role as MADONNA’s boyfriend in Desperately Seeking Susan. For fans of his recorded material, one had to make do with a couple of odds-and-sods live/outtake cassettes/CDs in R.I.P. (1984) {*7} and FUNHUNT (1990) {*5}, interesting in the fact the first of these contained a handful of covers by way of ALLEN TOUSSAINT’s `Cruel Way To Go Down’ and FATS DOMINO’s `I Live My Life’, while THUNDERS collaborations came thick and fast through `Can’t Keep My Eyes On You’ and `Hurt Me’. Recorded at the CBGB’s and Max’s in 1978 and ’85 respectively, the murky document that was “Funhunt” squeezed out several more covers in The ROLLING STONES’ `I’m Free’ and `Ventilator Blues’, JIMI HENDRIX’s `Crosstown Traffic’, The STOOGES’ `I Wanna Be Your Dog’ and the nostalgic nugget, `Hell Has Left The Building’. Meanwhile, his biography, Artefact: Notebooks from Hell, was issued by Hanuman in 1990.
Richard finally re-emerged in 1992 with art-noise veterans, Thurston Moore (SONIC YOUTH) and Don Fleming (GUMBALL) for an eponymous solo EP, before adding Moore’s SY buddy, Steve Shelley and recording a full album under the DIM STARS {*6} moniker. Highlighting also, the guitar work of Robert Quine on half the cuts, HELL certainly does not freeze over on the regurgitated `All My Witches Come True’, `Baby Huey’ and `Downtown At Down’, while there were two covers of T. REX’s `Rip Off’ and JOHNNY BURNETTE’s `Natchez Burning’.
HELL subsequently published severed books and concentrated on furthering his career as a punk poet; the spoken-word CD, GO NOW (1995) featured Quine giving his guitar a workout. With not a hint of a comeback in the pipeline, Richard’s only solo song of late, `Oh’, made it on to a download website, while it duly registered on a various artists compilation, `Beyond Cyberpunk’, in 2001.
© MC Strong 1994-2003/GRD // rev-up MCS Sep2012

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