Hell Ain't A Bad Place To Be
Born, Richard Meyer, in 1949, Richard Hell came to NYC in 1967, aged 18. Edukation had him marked down as a bad boy, no skool had ever held him, his arrival in The Big Apple coincided with his abscondment from a Delaware boarding skool. Meyer's homeboy, Tom Miller, followed a year later, & the former skool pals & semi pro-pranksters found the reality of bright lights/big city very much to their liking. The aspiring young poets had many things in common, neither were strangers to the dangers of junk & both were working hard on their habits. They wrote, they got high & they worked in book stores to fund their lifestyle. Richard Meyer soon became Richard Hell & Miller was not far behind, chosing the surname Verlaine (after french symbolist poet, Paul).
The pair recruited drummer Billy Ficca, already an accomplished performer, & formed The Neon Boys in deference to William Burroughs. By 1974, Richard Lloyd (previous applicants had included Chris Stein & Dee Dee Ramone) had joined on gtr & the name had changed to Television. The band debuted @ CBGB's in the same year & were soon established as prime movers on the new scene. Verlaine's idea of what Television should sound like differed greatly from Hell's, Verlaine's love of Coltrane (he aktually blew himself, after a fashion) & his intended marriage of poetry & music left Hell cold. The pair's relationship deteriorated as rapidly as Hell's songs were skrapped from the set. The tension within the band grew until Hell walked outa the rehersal room door straight into the arms of Johnny Thunders & Jerry Nolan, recently band-less due to the demise of The New York Dolls.
The new band was christened The Heartbreakers, the sound was skull & crossbones, stripped down rock & roll running on a heroin fired engine. Hell had the look; bug eyed, spiked hair, ripped "Please Kill Me" tee, smack thin. Thunders had the suss, the experience & the rep - on paper in looked like a good idea - after 12 months with two of NYC most vociferous junk monsters, Hell was skint, fucked up & further away from the spotlight of fame than he had been on his arrival in the city of dreams, nearly 10 years earlier.
Hell soon set about forming his own band around his own talents. He pushed the novel & varoius short stories he'd been working on to the back of his desk & began to concentrate & focus on his musical career. Recruiting old buddy, Robert Quine (long time Velvets freak & archivist), on gtr & stealing drummer Marky "Ramone" Bell from Wayne County's Electric Chairs, the Voidoids line up was complete with the hiring of Ivan Julian. The band immediately recorded "The Blank Generation EP" (Instant Rekkids - 1976) which was issued in the UK by a nascent Stiff Rekkids (Buy 7). The song's hook, written in 1975, was litterally a blank; "I belive in the ..... generation", a suitable term for Hell & his contemporaries had yet to be found.
The EP featured the trax, "Another World", "Blank Generation" & "You Gotta Loose" - the rekkid was taken to heart by the UK's aspiring young punks. They also took Hell's image, wholesale, much as Malcolm had done during his time in the US with The Dolls. A debut lp, also entitled "Blank Generation", was issued by Sire Records in 1977. The Voidoids came to the UK as support to the Clash on the White Riot tour in 1977. They were pelted with bottles, spit & half filled tins of warm beer every night by audiences who'd stolen their image & missed the point. Hell was livid & left the UK with a hatered of The Sex Pistols & a sack full of bitterness.
The Voidoids did eventually record a follow up to "Blank Generation", "The Kid With The Replaceable Head". It failed to match the zeitgeist of their debut & subsequent US jaunts with Elvis Costello, amongst others, only served to push Hell deeper into heroin dependancy. The Voidoids soon dissolved, like a hit in a spoon full of lemon juice.
Despite recording a solo lp, "Destiny Street", in 1982, Hell has remained an outsider for most of his life. He made a breif big screen outing, playing Madonna's boyfriend in "Desperately Seeking Susan", & occaisionally turns out for the Dim Stars (featuring Thurston Moore). These days Hell writes novels & perfomance poetry, all avialable from his website & well worthy of intensive investigation.
Richard Hell defined the 70's punk rock explosion almost single handedly, the fact that he was starved of recognition & a success as a result is not a surprise. He left behind a blueprint in "Blank Generation" that pans out as effectively today as it did way back then - go buy it now - it's never too late to do it right.
Leicester Banks - Oct - 2001