Archive for “I Dreamed I Was A Very Clean Tramp

Get Ready For Richard Hell’s “Massive Pissed Love,” Out October 12th

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , on September 2, 2015 by johnbuckley100

This morning, in his amusing pan of Chrissie Hynde’s Reckless, Dwight Garner* reminded us that most rock stars’ memoirs are pretty bad. (“With her new memoir, “Reckless,” Ms. Hynde proves that she can compete with male rock stars in another essential way. She’s written a book that’s just as slack and disappointing as so many of theirs have been.”) The way it should work but doesn’t is that the quality of the memoir should match the quality of the music, that the great rock stars write great autobiographies and the bad ones should write bad ones.  While the latter is certainly true, or so we believe without having actually read, you know, Nicki Sixxe’s opus, only a few rocker memoirs we can think of — Keith Richard’s Life, Dean Wareham’s Black Postcards — are of a quality equal to their output and meaning as musicians.

And then there is Richard Hell, whose literary output at this point certainly exceeds in volume what he accomplished on his albums with the Voidoids, or his work with Television, Dim Stars, and The Heartbreakers.  Beginning with his novel Go Now all the way up through his superb memoir I Dreamed I Was A Very Clean Tramp, Hell has done something remarkable: he has produced writing that thrills me every bit as much as his albums did.  And remember, his albums had Bob Quine playing guitar on them…

We thought his memoir was one of the best autobiogs ever, and not just in comparison to *real* rock’n’roll autobiographies, but even posted up against those literary works like Emmett Grogan’s Ringolevio or Jim Carroll’s The Basketball DiariesIt’s great because the story’s great, even if you didn’t witness some of it, as we did, and know some of the characters in it, as we do.  It’s one of the best books ever about moving to the Bright Lights, Big City, and this particular city was New York in the ’70s, and Hell didn’t just move there and noodle around, though he did a bit of that; he helped create some of the best music of the era in the hands-down best era of music.  Uh, New York in the ’70s. And then he became a writer.  A good one.

Last year we marveled that the very best thing about New York Magazine‘s series of essays about New York musicians was Hell’s piece on the Velvet Underground.  And through a subsequent email Richard led us to his essay in Rock And Roll Cage Matchwhich depicts the whozebetter battle between the Stones and the Velvets — one of the best essays about two of our favorite bands, ever.

So imagine how thrilled we were to get notice that Hell’s Massive Pissed Love: Nonfiction 2001-2014 will be published on October 12th, and that Richard will do a launch reading/signing at The Strand on the 14th.  We can’t wait.

* Jesus, Dwight Garner wins the day, also publishing this about the 40th Anniversary of Greil Marcus’s Mystery Train.

We Were Right That Richard Hell Wrote The Best Essay On The Velvet Underground, But…

Posted in Music with tags , , , , , on April 1, 2014 by johnbuckley100

The evolutionary trend by which rock critics become rock’n’roll musicians seems more typical than a rock star becoming a critic, but it’s not like the latter is a crime against nature or anything.  After all, said rock musician probably gravitated toward his calling out of a deep love for music, and certainly we know bands going all the way back to the Beatles and Stones began to bash around on guitars out of the sheer cussed joy of wanting to emulate their idols.  So let’s just take as a given that rock’n’rollers have great knowledge about the music that lit their particular match.  Nonetheless, it’s unusual for a musician to become a rock critic, and highly unusual for one to become anywhere near as erudite as Richard Hell is.

Last week, we wrote with admiration that Richard Hell’s piece on the Velvet Underground in New York Magazine was the best essay ever written about that band.  We were right and wrong.  Hell did write the best essay ever on the Velvets.  The thing is, it was a different essay, published in 2008 in a book called Rock And Roll Cage Match, edited by Sean Manning, in which Hell had the Velvets post up against the Stones, out of which he called a winner.

We’d never seen the book or read the essay ’til Richard pointed it out to us in the series of emails in which he let us know that the new Velvets essay was, in fact, online.  He sent us the earlier essay, and we also went out and found the book.  And we have to say, his piece on the Velvet Underground vs. the Rolling Stones is one of the best essays about rock’n’roll we’ve ever read.   We won’t go so far as to mimic the book and set up a fantasy cage match battle between Hell and Lester Bangs, or John Mendelsohn, or Byron Coley, or Richard Meltzer, or even Robert Palmer.  Let’s just say that posting Hell up against any of our fave rock critters, he’s indomitable.

The Velvet Underground are not our all-time favorite band, but they sit cross-legged near the settee in the middle of our pantheon, and let us give ourselves credit where it’s due, they have been so since we were a mere boarding-school vinyl-head, and we glommed onto Loaded upon its release.  Yes, the last of their albums released while the band was extant, even if the worst of their four core albums (VU, which came out in ’85, had enough good stuff on it that at the time we’d never before heard that it deserves to be considered as one of their original records.)

But much as we have loved the Velvet Underground for more than 40 years, if we had to testify to who our favorite band ever was, it would be the Rolling Stones.  Yes, we’ll admit it, even though  if you look at the Tulip Frenzy “About” section, we make no mention of the Stones.  That’s because, from the moment that Ron Wood replaced Mick Taylor, from the time Nicky Hopkins no longer got their phone calls, and Bobby Keys and Jim Price were no longer paired as the horn section, it has been all downhill.  But no band has ever had that command of our attention, that claim on our affection, as the Stones did in the early ’70s.  We were out-of-our-heads excited in ’79 to see the Clash; it doesn’t begin to compare to how excited we were to see the Stones play in Boston Garden, and then Madison Square Garden, in 1972.

So Hell writes an essay about both bands together, or shall we say, about the Velvets and Stones in opposition, and it is brilliant.  He sets up the hugely successful Stones versus the commercially unsuccessful Velvets in a way that is incredibly insightful and amusing.  And then he does a position comparison like it’s the first game of the World Series and you have to give one team or the other the edge at First Base.  We’re not going to quote it here.  We’re going to try sending you to the book, so you can buy it.  But let us just say that Hell gives the best description ever of what one wants from a front man in a rock’n’roll band, defines the essence of the Rolling Stones — which of course we already knew was Keith, but also — by a single word: soul.  He gets a few things wrong, in our opinion — we are higher on Beggars Banquet than he is.  He gets so much else so right.

Okay, okay, we have to quote, listen to this insight on Lou Reed’s songwriting: “Reed’s lyrics probably do come the closest to poetry of any in rock and roll.  Dylan is his only competition.  Dylan rules, but I’d venture that the lyrics on The Velvet Underground are the best as a suite, as an album set, of any in rock and roll history.”

So true!  If we were a teenage girl reading a favorite novelist, we might even underline that six times and put an exclamation point in the margins.  As it is, we just have to nod and agree.  As we do, interestingly enough, with his ultimate conclusion.  (You already know from what he wrote in New York that he would put the Velvets on the podium just above the Stones.  In our rock’n’roll dotage, we are now inclined to agree.)

Go buy the book.  Better yet, go buy his books, especially I Dreamed I Was A Very Clean Tramp.  We’ve long known the man can write.  His essay on the Velvets vs. the Stones is even better than his recent essay on the VU, and one of those pieces of rock critterdom that is as breathtakingly thrilling as even Richard Hell and the Voidoids playing “Time.”

 

 

Richard Hell Is A Stand-Up Guy

Posted in Music with tags , , , , , on November 29, 2013 by johnbuckley100

So funny, we’d been thinking this morning how unhappy we are not to be in Brooklyn tonight to see Television play at Rough Trade.  And then we got this email…

For a long time, we’ve loved listening to Richard Hell’s music, particularly the two albums he recorded with the Voidoids — Blank Generation and the original Destiny Street.  But since the ’90s, we’ve also enjoyed reading his fiction (Go Now), and then his excellent memoir, I Dreamed I Was A Very Clean Tramp, which we absolutely adored.

Today, Richard contacted us out of the blue to let us know that he had just re-issued his compilation SPURTS AKA The Richard Hell Story because… well, we’ll let him tell it:

What happened is I became aware a few months after the original release that it was degraded because, due to a miscommunication, all the tracks on it had been terribly limited/compressed, sucking out the dynamics and vitality of the original tracks and reducing them to a blare. (If you’re interested, there’s a more detailed account below of the long process of dealing with this.) The new versions are especially significant for the large number of the tracks, like the Neon Boys numbers and “The Kid With the Replaceable Head” and the DESTINY STREET and DIM STARS cuts, etc., which basically aren’t available anywhere except on SPURTS. 
The new masters were made this fall at Sterling Sound by Greg Calbi (the maestro of masterers, who actually mastered the BLANK GENERATION album for Sire/Warners in 1977). He was good enough to let Don Fleming and me sit in. We used the very best original sources, some actually higher quality than on the 2005 sessions, but the main thing was to keep the pure powerful full-range sound, sans the nasty frequency-squeezing added at the last minute in 2005.
 
I feel bad that all the customers of the last eight years paid for something inferior and now if they want the good stuff will have to pay again. But there’s nothing I can do about it but apologize. It’s my fault. 
 
Warner/Rhino agreed to substitute the new tracks at all merchandisers, and they started the process November 19. They’re now up at most of them, including iTunes, Amazon, and Spotify. So far the song titles are not individually described at these places as new masters (and there’s various other scrambled misinformation, such as still listing the release date as 2005)–though at most sites the album title states “(Remastered)”–but you can be sure it’s the full 21 newly remastered cuts when you see that the song “Downtown at Dawn” runs 5:59 or so; on the original Spurts it’s 4:07. I’m working on trying to get the separate tracks labeled “2013 remaster” so they can’t be confused with the old bad tracks, but it’s hard to get the business bureaucracies to trouble. Also, eventually the jewel-boxed CD at Amazon will be replaced, but we don’t know how long that will take. 
 
As to how the original re-mastering went wrong… It was a mis-communication at the very last stage of the original remastering process done for SPURTS. We had all the tracks tweaked to spec–drawn from the best available originals, made as consistent as reasonable with each other, etc.–when I made the point to the technician that I wanted the CD, as a unit, to play at the loudest practical volume. I just meant that the tracks, as already prepared for the final pass of the mastering process, should fall as close to redline as possible so that when the manufactured CDs played they’d be at least as loud as anything else in a playlist… It was a trivial thing. But the guy misinterpreted what I was saying, and proceeded to add this excessive limiting/compressing to all the tracks, so that the volume within each track would be more consistent and every track therefore would come out louder. At this point I wasn’t paying much attention, because I didn’t think I needed to–everything was routine. It was only months later that I realized what had happened. A huge amount of the life of the tracks had been sucked out. I always hoped and planned to eventually fix this, but as long as the CD was in its original printing I knew it would be a problem, because the company wouldn’t want to destroy those. Also it would cost me a good amount of money (it ended up costing $3000+), not to mention time and effort. Anyway, when I saw that the CD had gone to print-on-demand early in 2013, I realized it had become practical to substitute good re-remastered versions. So that’s when I contacted Rhino/Warners…
 
For reference, here is how the new CD in mp3s is offered at Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/The-Richard-Hell-Story-Remastered/dp/B00GICU8QU/ref=sr_1_2?s=dmusic&ie=UTF8&sr=1-2&keywords=%22richard+hell%22
Going to this trouble to make things right with his fans is a) a very classy thing, and b) a smart thing for an artist to do.  After all, you want to be known by your best work, your best effort.  This was the thinking behind his Destiny Street Repaired, in which he went back into the studio to re-record the original album, which he found deficient because, well, he was deficient at the time.  We did not think that move was so successful, preferring the original.  But getting The Richard Hell Story with its trove of Neon Boys (AKA proto-Television) cuts, and Dim Star (w/Thurston Moore) songs, not to mention his work with the Heatbreakers and the Voidoids into listenable shape — well, this is pure delight.
Did we mention it was Black Friday and that you do have that list of friends you need to buy albums for, no?

 

Richard Hell’s “I Dreamed I Was A Very Clean Tramp”

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , on March 19, 2013 by johnbuckley100

Like many of rock’n’roll’s greatest vocalists, Richard Hell doesn’t have a very good voice.  As one of the greatest punk rock musicians, he couldn’t play his instrument very well.  For a guy who left Television before it made arguably the best album of the 1970s; left the Heartbreakers before L.A.M.F.; and whose output — not including the almost unlistenable Dim Stars record (bad sound quality) — is only the two records he put out with his band, The Voidoids, he sure does cut an outsized figure.  Even if all we had to go on was his song “Time,” from the Destiny Street album, or maybe his version of Dylan’s “Going Going Gone,” or (the lyrically reprehensible, since it would seem to promote incest) “The Plan” from Blank Generation, Richard Myers (Hell) would hulk in the corner of our rock Pantheon, casting a very large shadow.  And with the release of I Dreamed I Was A Very Clean Tramp, he’s now produced one of the most honest, funniest, best written and compelling autobiographies of any rock star ever — a book that holds its own with Keith Richards’ Life and Dean Wareham’s Black Postcards.

We enjoyed his novel Go Now, which came out in ’97, so we were prepared for a well-told story.  And what a story!  Whatever you think of him — talentless jester who was all style over substance, or seminal figure who helped launch the CBGB wave — credit him with balls.  Running away from boarding school with his pal Tom Miller, whom the world now knows as Tom Verlaine; moving to NY as a teenager without a high school diploma, and somehow surviving junk and basically three decades without a new record; Richard Myers reinvented himself as Richard Hell and helped create not just punk’s style — the torn shirts and safety pins that would be shamelessly ripped off by his admirer, Malcolm McLaren, when he was inventing the Sex Pistols — but some fair measure of it ethos: true heart and burning energy trumping anything so bourgeois as actual musical chops.

From what’s available through bootlegs and other artifacts, Television circa 1974 was a tug of war between Verlaine’s genius on a Fender guitar and Hell’s propulsive antics.  Neither really could sing, and both were pretty pretentious.  But Verlaine was a guitar god, and Hell was something else.  You read his account of leaving Television, and joining up with Johnny Thunders in the Heartbreakers (not to be confused, as it was, with Tom Petty’s band), only to leave to form the Voidoids with two of the greatest rock guitarists of all time, Bob Quine and Ivan Julian, and you keep waiting for the story to become a triumph. Keep waiting to hear how he got it together and achieved his dreams, fulfilled his promise.  And of course it didn’t happen.  By the time we got to New York in the late ’70s, Hell had already failed to sustain the momentum created with the amazing first Voidoid’s album, Blank Generation.  We only got to see him twice — once fronting the Raybeats at the NY Rocker 1979 holiday party (and that was a scream; Hell singing while the space-cowboy uniformed, No Wave surf instrumentalists backed him up), and then at the Peppermint Lounge around the time Destiny Street provided the Hell/Quine combo its swan song  — and by ’84 it was all over.  He blames other factors in addition to junk, but heroin addiction trumps all other factors in stories like this.  Heroin addiction may start as a manifestation, not a cause, of one’s problems, but by now we all know how quickly it piggybacks into rendering things the other way around.

The book is a great read.  His take down of his former high school chum Verlaine is vengeance served cold — with the meanest twist of the knife being not his remembrance of things past, but the book’s end, when he runs into his old friend, by now middle-aged, buying books from a dollar bin on the streets of Lower Manhattan.  While his Zelig-as-Casanova rounds of all the eligible women in ’70s New York gets old, he’s honest to admit relationships with two of rock’n’roll’s most horrific people, Nancy Spungeon and Anya Phillips, neither of whom met good ends.  In fact, the soundtrack for the book is less anything Hell recorded so much as it’s Jim Carroll’s “People Who Died,” as so many of the players succumbed to both drugs and natural causes… Lester Bangs and Peter Laughner and Lizzy Mercier Descloux and Johnny Thunders and Dee Dee Ramone and Bob Quine and on and on.

But not Hell.  Hell’s a survivor.  And a great storyteller.  And a man who understands that his greatest asset, circa 2013, is what he witnessed nearly 40 years ago, when Lower Manhattan, not Brooklyn, was the center of the universe, and things were grungy and sexy and fun.  You could think of Richard Hell as a man who with a modicum of talent played with a line up of the best guitarists of his generation, and created a small body of work that both will live for the ages and provide a clue about that brief moment when a handful of New York bands changed the world.  Or you could think of him as a very clean tramp, who has written a book we will enjoy as much as any of his collaborations with Bob Quine.

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