Archive for Destiny Street

An Apology To Richard Hell

Posted in Music with tags , , , on February 18, 2018 by johnbuckley100

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(With additional apologies to Adrienne Grunwald for appropriation of her photo)

About a month ago, we wrote about the 40th anniversary release of Richard Hell & the Voidoids’ great Blank Generation. In an overly long appreciation, we took a swing at Hell’s 2009 Destiny Street Repaired, the altered re-release of his 1982 album Destiny Street.  We now regret what we wrote.

Destiny Street Repaired took the rhythm tracks of the original, scraped off Robert Quine’s lead guitar and Hell’s vocals, replacing them with Marc Ribot’s guitar playing and Hell’s re-recording of his vocals.  When it came out, we really didn’t like it because the original Destiny Street was one of our favorite recs of all time.  Besides, Bob Quine was on few enough records, and he’d died in 2004, and we found the whole concept off base.

But Hell was a mess when he recorded the original, it had stuck in his craw, and he wanted to go back and perfect it.  This is an artist who recorded Blank Generation twice, just to get on vinyl what he knew his band was capable of.  And Lord knows, I can understand the impulse to go back and correct something produced prior to achieving sobriety.

Objectively, the original is better, even though I can appreciate how much stronger Hell’s vocals are on much, or at least parts, of Repaired. But we took, and not for the first time, some real shots at Repaired, including in particular a sentence I’d like to be able to call back: “We understand why he’d want a mulligan on the output from his drug-addled days, but it is possible to be sobriety addled too, and some things are best left as they were.”

One should never make light of any fellow traveler in the difficult world of sobriety.  Shame on us.

When our piece came out last month, Hell nicely replied to the email we sent him with a link.  “You’re pretty hard on Destiny Street Repaired, but I know the record is hard to like, all things considered.  Still, I would bet that eventually you’ll at least feel you’re glad it exists.”

Since then, we’ve revisited Repaired, and Hell is right. We’re glad it exists.  And while we’ll always go first to the original, we have a much better appreciation of what he was trying to do when he went back into the studio — yes, without Bob Quine and original second guitarist Naux — to repair what he knew was broken.

 

The 40th Anniversary Release of Richard Hell & The Voidoids’ “Blank Generation” Brings Back The Greatest Punk Album That Wasn’t Really A “Punk” Album

Posted in Music with tags , , , , , , , , , on January 14, 2018 by johnbuckley100

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In the wonderful liner notes accompanying Blank Generation: 40th Anniversary Deluxe Edition, guitarist Ivan Julian remembers that the band was listening to James Brown’s album, coincidentally entitled Hell, as they went into the studio, two times as it turns out, to record their debut.   And reading that, it cracks the code on why this amazing record — every bit the equal to Television’s debut Marquis Moon, and one of just a handful of late ’70s records (Pink FlagHorses, The Clash, This Year’s Model, The Modern Dance, More Songs About Buildings and Food…) that have stood the test of time — sounds the way it does.  Because, children, Richard Hell & The Voidoids could swing, and it certainly wasn’t the rhythm section, with future Ramone Mark Bell on drums and Hell on bass, that did it.  You see, for an album heralded as a classic punk record from that first generation of CBGB bands, Blank Generation sure was funky, and Lord, was this band tight.

We remember the first time we heard it, in our campus housing at Hampshire College when future rock critter Byron Coley came back from The City with his latest batch o’ discoveries, must have been just after Thanksgiving of ’77, and the first thing that was clear was this band could play.  We’d never heard a guitarist like Bob Quine, except maybe for Jeff Beck.  But while we knew enough to recognize Hell as a progenitor of the New York punk scene — we’d spent the previous summer in the The City, we read the two papers we’d soon write for, the Voice and the Soho News — this didn’t sound like the Ramones, whom we’d seen at CBs, and it didn’t sound like Patti Smith or Television.  If punk rock was supposed to be primitive, these weren’t primitives — or at least Blank Generation wasn’t primitive — because on vinyl the Voidoids could turn on a dime, Quine and Julian’s rhythm and lead guitar playing was as tight as Keith and Mick Taylor, and the whole band was as propulsive as, well, James Brown’s J.B.s.  Even as Hell’s singing, and the affect was, well, okay, primitive, and even as they were categorized as punks, this was a band, and an album, that wasn’t an alternative anything — they were the real deal. And this was as exciting a record as that moment produced.

So here we are, 40 years later, and Richard’s a revered icon in the Village, known as much for his superb rock criticism and lovely 2013 memoir I Dreamed I Was A Very Clean Tramp as he is for having produced two of the best records from New York City’s great musical epoch between ’77 and ’83.  With this remastered version of the Voidoids’ debut, and the addition of a modest set of live tracks and alternative cuts, let us consider Blank Generation as music.  Which so rarely happens.  Hell is such an important cultural figure — and importantly, because he stopped playing music so long ago that he’s succeeded in having us think of him as a writer, not as a musician — people tend to gloss over Blank Generation, and what an incredible record it is. (And Hell himself thought so little of the classic Destiny Street that in 2010 he rerecorded it with a different band, which we thought, and said then, was a mistake.)

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Now this may be hard to follow, but try. We have long thought of Richard Hell as sort of the inverse of the Velvet Underground.  While we listen to, and revere, our Velvets records, while we are suckers for every box, all the live shit (including the material Bob Quine, who was then a Wash U law student, followed them around and recorded on a cassette deck), for us the Velvet Underground are kept alive by the bands who channel them, who imitate them, who cover their music.  A decade ago, we wrote about the Velvet Underground as much as a notion than as an actual band. When we listen to the Brian Jonestown Massacre or Spiritualized or Jesus and Mary Chain, we are in Velvets world.  In other words, the VU are something bigger than, you know, a band who put out records, great as they are.

But Richard Hell, who is such an outsized figure — co-founder of Television, member of The Heartbreakers and Dim Star, the guy whose torn pants beget “punk” as a British fashion craze — is less often considered for the two incredible records he released with the Voidoids, than in some other, broader context.  And yet, even as we read his fiction, and his really quite excellent music criticism, even as he has become, over time, something of a quite generous pen pal, we play his two Voidoids albums constantly. Forget the broader context, we revere Hell, first and foremost, because of his vinyl output with the Voidoids.

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Now it’s true that people play Blank Generation and Destiny Street as much because they want to hear Bob Quine’s skronk as because they want to hear Hell, and while we get that — we’d rather listen to Quine and Ivan Julian together than Quine on a fucking Lloyd Cole album — let us give Richard the credit he’s due.  Blank Generation is, as this 40th Anniversary release shows, one of the rare albums from that era that, 40 years on, holds up. The world may worship Television’s Marquis Moon, and and we certainly gave Verlaine his due upon that record’s 35th anniversary release, we have always thought Hell deserved the same treatment, the same reverence. He’s not a guitar god or a lyrical mystic, his singing’s not Bono great, his bass playing perhaps tends more in the direction of Sid Vicious than Jaco Pastorius, but, you know, hell, if you’re into real rock’n’roll, as we called it at New York Rocker, he’s the real deal.  And he was the songwriter, band leader and visionary spawning two of our favorite records ever.

Along the way, Hell has a made some artistic mistakes, and they’re not always the ones he thinks.  He was correct — as is proved on the 2nd CD of this anniversary release, with its alternative versions of “Love Comes In Spurts” and “Blank Generation” — to have gone back in the studio in the summer of ’77 to completely re-record the album.  He was right to have had his compendium known as The Richard Hell Story remastered. But the less said about Destiny Street Revisited the better. (We understand why he’d want a mulligan on the output from his drug-addled days, but it is possible to be sobriety addled too, and some things are best left as they were.  Wire wonderfully recorded Change Becomes Us in 2013, comprised of songs botched in a 1981 live release. But that was cleaning up a sloppy live set of great songs; Destiny Street’s songs sound better on the 2005 remastering of The Richard Hell Story, but the original is a masterpiece, and not just because Quine is on it.)

Richard Hell’s efforts at polishing and remastering the past are worth it.  He’s an exceptionally intelligent artist who, all grown up and having survived himself, wants to be known by the way he hears his music, which is not exactly the way it ended up released.  But the way it ended up released is fucking awesome, even if remastering CDs can make something sound marginally better.

He should take comfort in having produced, in the original Destiny Street, a sophomore album better than his friend and rival Tom Verlaine’s 2nd Television album, Adventure.  And he should take new pleasure in the recognition that Blank Generation really can be understood not simply as a great punk album, but as one of the finest rock’n’roll records ever made.

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