Archive for Richard Hell

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.

Download Those Albums Next Week, Help Ivan Julian Today

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , on March 30, 2016 by johnbuckley100

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Ivan Julian was the last member recruited to The Voidoids, Richard Hell’s seminal punk band from the ’70s. According to a letter Hell sent friends last week, guitarist Bob Quine “was so impressed by Ivan’s chops, he copped the slot on the spot.  He’s only gotten better, year after year, as a player and all around monster of goodness, and that’s the truth.”

Ivan’s got cancer, and on a Go Fund Me page set up to help raise money from all fans of real rock’n’ roll — and this means you! — they are just over halfway to the goal of raising $20,000 to pay a portion of his medical expenses.  Yeah, a portion.

Ivan’s a great guitarist, a producer who’s twisted knobs for such stalwarts as The Fleshtones and Capsula.  But as a guitarist?  Oh yeah, even in a band with Quine, Ivan more than held his own, adding pure liquid propulsion to one of the great guitar tandems of the age (the other one, of course, being Verlaine und Lloyd in Television, the band Hell helped found and then left behind.)

Two stellar musical lineups have been assembled for a pair of fundraisers for Ivan at New York City Winery on May 4th and May 7th.  You’ve already missed your chance to see Debbie Harry MC that first evening with Richard Barone, the Bush Tetras (!), the Dictators (!), Richard Hell, Ian Hunter, Garland Jeffreys, Lenny Kaye, Willie Nile, Vernon Reid & Burnt Sugar, and special guests.  It is possible you still can get tix for show #2 with Lydia Lunch (!), Ira Kaplan, Arto Lindsey, the aforementioned Dictators, Thurston Moore & Lee Ranaldo, Reid & Burnt Sugar, Jim Scavulos of 8 Eyed Spy renown, and Matthew Sweet, on at least one of whose best ’90s albums saw Ivan bring his swing.  Is there any question about whether these will be the best shows of the season?  And, with an assemblage like that, do you get how respected and revered a musician and human being Ivan is?

Look, we all know you are eagerly awaiting Friday’s release of the new Black Mountain album, that you’ve pre-ordered Kevin Morby’s next ‘un, that Woods and PJ Harvey will have new recs out soon.  Buy all means buy ’em.  But before you do, if you really love rock’n’roll, click the link above, and contribute at least the cost of two albums.  The life you save may play a blistering lead on the next album that, yeah, saves your life.

 

Richard Hell’s “Massive Pissed Love”

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , on November 1, 2015 by johnbuckley100

Imagine, if you will, that Richard Hell had never helped form the seminal band Television, that his two albums with the Voidoids were not among the strongest releases from the New York bands circa ’77-’82, that he’d never played on a stage with Johnny Thunders in the original version of the Heartbreakers.  See him instead as one more smart, off-kilter kid drawn to the bright lights and the big city, Manhattan as the world’s greatest university, culture coming at ya from the Film Forum, Village Voice, museums uptown, galleries downtown, oh yeah, and a cast of characters all around you that would inspire artists from Weegee to Warhol to Dylan.

Imagine he absorbed it all, heightened his critical faculties through exposure to the best essayists on rock’n’roll, film, and art, and that he found his place in the city as a writer.  Imagine that along the way he wrote a really excellent first novel, Go Now, and became a writer in demand by small magazines and large, and that he amassed a body of critical work that was original, insightful, and genuinely well written.

Okay now we can go back to appraising Hell in full, we can add the fact that, yeah, the guy really was an exciting frontman for multiple bands, and that when he writes about music, he does so from the perspective both of a fan and critic, but also as what has to be called a rock star.  Add this all up and you get a sense of just how fantastic a book Massive Pissed Love is, Richard Hell’s collected nonfiction written since the Millennium.

His essay, “The Velvet Underground vs. The Rolling Stones” was published in the book Rock & Roll Cage Match, and collected here, we got to read it again and could only marvel.  Hell’s view on Keith and Mick and Lou is fundamentally different, more focused, than ours would be, because we’ve never stood on a stage, as he has, and watched a crowd go wild.  It is one of the single greatest pieces of rock writing ever, and trust us, we’ve read a lot.  His eulogies and memorials to Bob Quine and Joey Ramone are worth the cost of the book, and then some.  We’re a little less enamored with artists like Christopher Wool than he is, but who cares, the writing is strong, whether he casts his eye on film, photography, or fiction.

And along the way he tells stories, really fun stories, that make some of this collection as entertaining as his 2013 memoir, I Dreamed I Was A Very Clean Tramp, which we put up there with Keith Richards’ Life and Dean Wareham’s Black Postcards as the best rock-star memoirs of all time. (Can’t wait to read Elvis Costello’s.)

Buy the book.  Skip to “Sex On Drugs,” or “Jim Carroll Memorial Remarks,” or his essay on Lester Bangs.  For Godsake read the essay on the Stones and the Velvets.  Yeah, if Hell had come to New York and simply become a writer, we’d be celebrating him now.  That he has the insights borne of being one of our favorite rock stars too is just icing on the cake.

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.

Richard Hell’s Performances*At Symphony Space

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , on October 7, 2014 by johnbuckley100

Richard writes with the following news, which we are pleased to post:

I hardly ever do broadcast emails, but I’m sending this to a few friends and contacts because I’m not sure the signals would reach you otherwise (being that the official ones originate from the Upper West Side), and I want people to come!

I’m curating and hosting a series of events at Symphony Space for which I’ve dragooned one youngish artist per evening to sit still to be interviewed on stage by me before he or she performs. The interviews will be 25-30 minutes and the performances 45-50 minutes (with the exception of Kelly Reichardt’s 1:40 movie–projected via celluloid, not digitally, incidentally). These will happen in a beautifully equipped venue, seating only 168. There will be bonuses—surprise supplements to the interviews and some ace giveaways. The main thing though is that all these people are interesting and talented and this is a unique chance to see them so intimately exposed…

Please attend and spread the word if you can. Any tweets or other social media announcements of the series will be highly appreciated, and please forward this email to anyone you think might be interested. The most practical single link to let anyone know about is the series list at Symphony Space, where clicking on the individual event listings will take you to ticket-sales pages: http://www.symphonyspace.org/events/series/180/night-out-with-richard-hell

Thank you!

My New Performance Series
Night Out with Richard Hell
in the Thalia Theater at Symphony Space
2537 Broadway, NYC (southwest corner of 95th St. and Broadway)

* NOTE: ORIGINAL HEADLINE REFERRED TO THESE AS SPOKEN WORD PERFORMANCES.  SEE COMMENT FOR BETTER DESCRIPTION OF WHAT THESE SHOWS WILL BE LIKE.

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.”

 

 

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