Archive for Richard Hell

On “Destiny Street Complete” Richard Hell Gets It All Together

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , on January 16, 2021 by johnbuckley100

For almost forty years, Richard Hell has been in search of lost time, or at least the lost masters to Destiny Street. For it is on the brilliant second and final album by Richard Hell and the Voidoids that, along with nine others, “Time,” his greatest song, lay in what to him was an imperfect state. “We had about three weeks to record and mix the album,” he says in his memoir, “and I was too fragile to come into the studio for one of those weeks.” In the years after Destiny Street’s 1982 release, he was convinced he’d botched it and, ever since, compelled to fix it. He finally has.

Some of us think the original Destiny Street was great as is, and Hell’s compulsion has seemed less than absolutely necessary, even as we understand an artist’s desire to realize the animating vision that produced the work in the first place.

Which makes next week’s release of Destiny Street Complete all the more joyous. In the liner notes Hell writes, “I have to smile and roll my eyes when I think of this, this package, but I was determined to do it. Nobody made me, or even asked me. I take full responsibility for it. Three plus versions of the same album. It’s ridiculous, but I’m glad.”

Destiny Street Complete, released on January 22nd, contains remastered versions of the 1982 original and Destiny Street Repaired – the 2010 reconfiguration that grafted new vocals and guitars atop the primary rhythm tracks – plus the brand new Destiny Street Remixed, containing seven songs from the original plus three from Repaired.  At long last, Remixed satisfies Hell’s ears, and was made possible by kismet: the 2019 rediscovery of seven original 24-track masters in an Upstate New York storage facility. Eleven demo tracks recorded with Voidoids v.1.0 stalwarts Ivan Julian and Bob Quine on guitar are served as a lagniappe, and along with one poignant track from Quine’s 2004 memorial service, you’ve got, yeah, Destiny Street Complete. 

In 2021, Richard Hell (née Richard Lester Meyers) is a novelist, memoirist, poet and critic. For a time in the 1970s and early ‘80s he was a white tern flying out from land signaling to sailors their arrival on new shores, perennially one beat of the wings ahead of where real rock’n’roll was going. 

A founding member of Television, along with his fellow boarding school runaway Tom Verlaine, he went on to play in The Heartbreakers with New York Dolls Johnny Thunders and Jerry Nolan. It was Hell’s style – badly chopped haircut askew, torn jeans and safety pins – that Malcolm McLaren glommed for the Sex Pistols, and thus was born Punk with a capital P. Hell was, on one level, the archetypal punk primitive who could not really play his instrument yet could still make amazing music, in so doing reviving rock from the plodding and the rococo. On another level, he was a New York street poet as deeply in love with words as Verlaine and his sometime squeeze Patti Smith. Fronting the two versions of his band the Voidoids, Hell was something else again.

The Voidoids weren’t the least bit “punk” if your frame of reference is three-chord wonders from Generation X to the Germs to Green Day. What the Voidoids played in their original lineup on 1977’s Blank Generation and, slightly reconfigured, five years later on Destiny Street, was urgent, desperate music, a skilled combo always flirting with disaster, a revved-up high wire act that did the impossible. Hell was a bad singer like the young Dylan was a bad singer, which is to say he was exuberant and thrilling if not always perfectly on key. With a rhythm section that, so long as Hell was bassist, could only be considered adequate, even as the decent Mark Bell (aka Marky Ramone) gave way to the brilliant Fred Maher on drums, the twin guitars of the propulsive Ivan Julian and the subversive Robert Quine (and later, on Destiny Street, Quine + Naux) made the whole thing swing

Not since Brian Jones and Keith Richards traded leads had a rock band played so fluidly, the dials turned to 11, guitars ping-ponging back and forth so intriguingly the listener puzzled over who played what. While it’s Verlaine and Richard Lloyd that rock critters value most when trading Guitar God player cards, it was Quine and Julian who, behind Hell’s voice and on his songs, sparked absolute revved-up magic. Based on the way they so heedlessly took it to the limit, based on the virtuosic talents of their tandem, the Voidoids had more in common with bands fronted by Little Walter or, say, Charlie Parker than with the Ramones.

Blank Generation came out on Sire in 1977, graduating in the same class as Talking Heads 77, Television’s Marquis Moon and The Clash. Weirdly, it got a lot less attention than its classmates. Label head Seymour Stein soon sent Hell on a tour backing the Clash across 19 dates in the U.K. In his memoir I Dreamed I Was A Very Clean Tramp Richard makes the tour sound, well, hellish; in the liner notes here he summarizes the misery as “the record company … didn’t get the album into U.K. stores in time for the tour and ordained the daily torture of multi-hour travel in a mini-car (not mini-van) crammed with five people (four band members and a road manager.)”

Experiences like that, plus Hell’s resistance to fully, you know, master his instrument, led to his resistance to touring, that is, getting his music exposed outside Manhattan. Big in New York and London; in Peoria they absorbed the fake news that the Knack was punk.

One thing about Blank Generation that’s relevant here was that Hell was such a perfectionist, he literally made the record twice. He recounts in his memoir how, dissatisfied with the tracks recorded on an initial foray into the studio, even with an album his record company deemed finished, he moved to a new studio and started all over again.

Such a mindset explains why, after Destiny Street was made with him so untogether he couldn’t even show up for the overdubs, Hell would want to perfect it. Three years after the record was released, having kicked drugs and regained his strength, he set out on the nearly four-decade path that brings us to Destiny Street Complete.

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Around the time that a sober Hell was beginning to regret what he thought was a mess of a second record, a German scholar named Hans Walter Gabler persuaded the James Joyce Estate that he could “fix” what he claimed were 5,000 errors in the text of Ulysses. As if… Not surprisingly, given that a new edition would re-up their copyright, they went for it. Henceforth, or so was the plan, editions of Ulysses would consist of the amended version – until an unheralded American named John Kidd blew the whole thing up by showing that the original was better than the “perfected” version. 

Imagine that: a work of brilliance that couldn’t be improved upon. Or at least that was better than the subsequent effort to improve it.

When Hell released, in 2010, Destiny Street Repaired, I didn’t like it, and said so. To me, the concept was off. Thirty years after producing the demos, the mature, resourceful Hell had gone back into the studio with New York guitar stalwarts Marc Ribot and Bill Frisell and, atop the basic tracks recorded in ’81-’82, reworked the songs, including, here and there, new vocals. The problem was, to a fan like me, it really didn’t work. I couldn’t hear it as an improvement over its wild, exhilarating 1982 release.

Part of the magic of Destiny Street, like the best elements of Blank Generation, was that the Voidoids sounded like a runaway train. What Richard came back with seemed tamed, not repaired – a 50-year-old man correcting the mistakes of his 30-year-old self. The impulse was understandable — who among us wouldn’t take such a mulligan, such a chance to redirect our 30-year old self to do what we did then better? My first novel was published when I was 31, and sure, I’d like to edit some passages from it — but I’d never be able to match the energy, the anger, the impulses that created it. Rock’n’roll is a young man’s game and, it seemed to me, the results were about what you might expect. I said so then, and definitely hurt Richard’s feelings. I don’t know what the critical reaction was beyond what Tulip Frenzy declared to its vast global readership, but it seemed then that to adore Destiny Street, as some of us really did, was to love the original, warts, warbling, screeching guitar and all. With respect and empathy for the artist, we went back to playing the record we cherished.

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On Destiny Street Complete, you can hear the original version, remastered and gorgeous. You can hear a remastered version of Destiny Street Repaired, which you should, if only to compare it to its wilder early self. (And who knows, maybe you’ll love it! In this version, I find it far stronger than I remembered.) Both versions are on Disc 1.

What makes Destiny Street Complete complete is Richard’s newest incarnation of the album, which he calls Destiny Street Remixed, as well as his oldest version — the incredible demos made between ’79 and ’81.

Remixed takes the original 24-track masters of seven of the 10 songs and brings them to new life. Because the masters of three of the original 10 songs are still missing, the versions of “Lowest Common Dominator,” “Downtown at Dawn,” and “Staring In Her Eyes” on Remixed are products of the Repaired sessions. Overall, the mix is really good — more expansive, not nearly so compressed as the early CD version of the original sounded. Remixed becomes the definitive version, though not uniformly, as we shall see.

The album opener, The Kid With The Replaceable Head was written by Hell with hit single ambitions. It just might have become one, in a more perfect world. Here, it hits with brute force and humor. Naux (the late Juan Maciel, who replaced Ivan Julian in this incarnation of the Voidoids) takes the first lead, Quine the second, and in so doing he yanks everything into the Strato-sphere. The upgrade to Fred Maher on drums is immediately noticeable. Now it’s not just the guitars that swing. On as catchy a pop song as he could write, Hell sings with swagger and it is pure delight.

Next up: Ray Davies’ I Gotta Move, one of three cover songs on the album. This is a showcase for Naux, and Maher’s drumming is front and center. By taking the Kinks’ ‘60s British Invasion album track and repurposing it as punk, Hell makes his point about links between late ’70s rock’n’roll (or as he would spell it, “rock and roll”) and the music all these bands grew up on. It’s a fun cover, but on all three versions this isn’t one of Destiny Street‘s strongest songs.

In contrast, the sublime cover of Dylan’s Going Going Gone is one of the Hell’s best vocal performances, and as Bob Quine owns the last 30 seconds, the Remixed version is stunning. Richard doing “Going Going Gone” is analogous to Jimi Hendrix’s Monterey Festival performance of “Like A Rolling Stone” – the definitive work, ownership forever stolen from the author… you can see Dylan sitting at his desk signing over the rights as if by treaty. In Robbie Robertson’s Testimony, he writes how he got his amazing solo on “Going Going Gone” to sound as it does, using newly acquired strings on his Telecaster that were made of, I seem to recall, unicorn pubes. Here Quine – a guitarist who could combine the lyricism of Mick Taylor and the pyrotechnics of Jeff Beck — bottles lightning in possibly the best consecutive half-minute of his (or anyone’s) career.

Lowest Common Dominator is the Repaired version. Pretty good! In this context hearing Hell’s vocals recorded in 2009 is a little bit like listening to Jagger on “Plundered My Soul” and those other Exile songs that also came out in 2010 – noticeably different from his younger ‘70s voice, lower and flatter but still effective. I may still like the original version more — especially as remastered on Disc 1 — but your mileage may vary: this sounds great.

Downtown At Dawn also uses the track from Repaired, and here we yearn a bit more for the original. One of Hell’s strongest songs, on a theme repeated across his career: what it’s like to be out in Fun City at rock’n’roll clubs in the wee hours. It carries with it the solipsism of partying at the very center of the universe, as if Iggy Pop’s milieu in “Nightclubbing” – “we’re what’s happening” is the boast — has been transferred to New York. Where else — when you’re up late and and stoned — could it possibly be cooler than Lower Manhattan circa 1979, a city as dirty and romantic in the late ‘70s as Berlin. It captures the same mood as Blank Generation‘s “Down At The Rock and Roll Club.” Later, in the demos, “Crack of Dawn” nails it, “Funhunt” too, but “Downtown At Dawn” is the best of the variants. One minute shorter than the original, and muting Hell’s best performance ever on bass, the Repaired version used here misses the crude, ecstatic sparkle of the original, but again. you can decided what you like best.

Time is, by the estimation of Richard Hell and all sentient beings, the best song he ever wrote, a classic, as perfect in its way as “September Gurls”, if what twangs your woogy is chiming American guitar rock. Whether the version served up on Remixed is better than the original is complicated. The mix unearths a Quine filigree in the opening measures that is startling to those whose neural pathways are so well grooved from listening to the original over and over again. From that point on, this mix is pure magic – its sound has expanded like the universe does every second of every day. Peter Schjeldahl wrote that Velázquez “was as good at oil painting as anyone has been at anything,” but I don’t think he’d ever heard Quine play with Hell. A great song that has never sounded better. (Later, the version that Hell and Ivan Julian perform at Quine’s funeral, included with the demos, brings a lump to the throat.)

I Can Only Give You Everything is a rarity – a Richard Hell and the Voidoids cover (of the young Van Morrison’s Them) – that isn’t quite as good as the original. Why? Well — (motions with his hands to emulate a scale) there’s Hell singing and then there is Van Morrison… But still! This is another attempt at rendering a ‘60s “punk” song into an ‘70s/’80s punk song. It could have used a Farfisa to make it a little garage-ier. It’s not the record’s high point.

On Ignore That Door you have the paradigm of a Richard Hell and the Voidoids song and performance. Naux and Quine trade solos – sounds great here! – and Hell’s singing of every phrase is as filled with skronk as the guitars are. The “whoooos” are a ’70s New York rock’n’roll emollient, as pretty as anything Sylvain Sylvain (R.I.P.) might add behind David Johansen on the Dolls’ Too Much Too Soon. Love this. 

The Repaired version of Staring In Her Eyes isn’t the one we’ll play, if only because the original is so strong, and when you’ve downloaded all of Complete on your phone it takes nanoseconds to find it. Fred Maher is a monster, and his drumming steals the show. But the singing here just doesn’t measure up to what was done the first time. I suspect he doesn’t like his singing on the original, but he should!

Okay, we’ve come to the last song from the original, Destiny Street itself, and we need to digress for a moment. The urban funk the Voidoids play so naturally here is a reminder how so much of the early punk rock was a mix of White and Black musical idioms. From the Clash to the Talking Heads, the music was the product of miscegenation. Both incarnations of Voidoids had soul. Ivan Julian, of course, is Black and Hell was perfectly comfortable working in a Black musical artform. This is a strong conclusion to the album, and on Remixed, it sounds wonderful.

If not every one of the Remixed tracks beats the original, it’s okay — Destiny Street Complete has *all* of the tracks from the first two versions, plus a third, plus the demos. I can only give you everything, says Hell, and he has, in a Director’s Cut with extras.

When Dylan HQ released the complete set of every concert from the ’65 tour of Britain, it offered the possibility of going through and finding the versions that the most discerning dumpster-diving fan might like the most. These are the kinds of possibilities open to us here; who cares which song from which version I approve of? They’re all here for your musical delight.

By having Destiny Street complete we can mix and match. My version will be different from yours. I’ll listen to the new cut of “Going Going Gone” ‘til my hard drive wears out. I’ll always return to the first take of Downtown At Dawn.” Always.

*

In the liner notes, Hell reports that “in both the Repaired and Remixed sessions I was going for the same thing, the sound of a little combo playing real gone rock and roll, something like what I grew up on. This despite the fact that the playing and attitude isn’t much like that. It’s in fact redolent of the early ‘80s: a still deeply dilapidated New York in which cocaine and its type of desperation abounded, along with new warehouse-sized dance clubs; the guitars on the tracks often sound almost like synthesizers. Inevitably it’s an artifact of a specific time and place.”

Photo Courtesy of Rebecca Semyne

By the time Hell was back in the studio with the Voidoids to make this record, CBGB, TR3, the Mudd Club and Hurrah had given way to the Peppermint Lounge and Danceteria. (There was still Maxwell’s, a rumpus room comfortably established across the Hudson in New Jersey, but I can’t really imagine the Voidoids playing there.) For me, then as now, Destiny Street was the ultimate fin de siècle record. Daido Moriyama refers to photographs as “fossils of light and time,” and in this way, Destiny Street is a snapshot of a moment not just in Richard Hell’s life, but in mine – which may account for why I have been protective of it, not wanting even its creator to change it. For it wasn’t just the end of a New York era, it was the end of my era in New York, my personal exit from the louche world of a rock critic staying out late at night, just as I’d worked my way up the food chain from New York Rocker to Rolling Stone. As this album came out, I had already stopped resisting being pulled into, of all things, politics, ultimately leading to a new career in a new town. It’s like this was the album that was playing when the music stopped.

I salute Richard for his monomania, his ethic, his recovery and perseverance in making things right. He recorded Blank Generation twice, to get the sound he wanted. He has now produced, over four decades, three + versions of Destiny Street, all built off of those three weeks in which 10 songs were laid down on analog tape. During one of those weeks, he was too “fragile” to leave his pad. And yet the record got done. And now twice more over. And finally to his liking — though he, and his record label, are generous enough to let us have it all, to let us choose what we want.

This is and always has been a great album.  Destiny Street Complete is a sprawling compendium, and Richard Hell has finally gotten it all together. 

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.”

 

 

So Of Course Richard Hell Wrote The Best Essay Ever About The Velvet Underground

Posted in Music with tags , , , on March 27, 2014 by johnbuckley100

There’s not much Richard Hell can’t do — practically start punk all by himself, propel Television out of the Bowery before wandering off, put out great albums with the Voidoids, write entertaining novels, oh, and one of the three or four greatest rocker memoirs ever.   But now he’s up and done it: in the new New York, which has a pretty great series of essays about New York musicians going all the way to the middle of the last century, Hell has written an homage to the VU in which he says the magic words: “In my opinion the Velvet Underground are the best rock-and-roll band in history.”

Now, we find this remarkable, in two ways.  We agree with it, of course, even as we argue with those voices in our head that are shouting out “Rolling Stones circa ’72!” and “what about the night in 1979 you saw the Clash and thought you’d achieved satori?”  Yeah, we hear ya.  What he said.

One remarkable thing, though, is how either he — or the phalanx of editors at New York — spelled “rock’n’roll” as “rock-and-roll.”  When we worked at New York Rocker — when Richard Hell would shamble in and drop off copy, being paid the same $25 an article as the rest of us — the house rules were “rock’n’roll,” and we’ve always accepted that as definitive.  Now our certainty is shaken.

But the other thing is, did we think Hell would call The Velvet Underground THE BEST?  I didn’t, but am always happy for the surprises sent straight from Hell.  Like the email I got from him in early December when he presented Tulip Frenzy with the most excellent remastering of The Richard Hell Story.  (Hey Richard, while we did thank you, I don’t think we passed on how incredible it is to hear those Dim Star tracks sounding bright and clear.  Amazing.  Please, release the whole thing, ok?)

We would link to the piece, but it’s not available yet.  And I would quote from it at greater length, but that’s not kosher.  All we’ll say is this one essay by Hell is worth the price of admission.  And is a reminder that, “in my opinion Richard Hell is the coolest man in rock’n’roll history.”  Or is that “rock-and-roll history?”

 

UPDATE: Richard Hell, bless his soul, emailed to inform us that, actually, the essay is available online, right here.  So do go read it.

He also added that, in re: how to write rock und roll properly, “I settled on ‘rock and roll’ some time back (it’s done that way in Tramp too.  The ‘n’ just felt too contrived to me, maybe even condescending, ultimately, now…”

Then moments later he wrote back, “”Wait a minute… They added hyphens, the fucks!”

He went on to write other things, but just as it’s bad form to reveal too much about your conversations with the President of these United States, or like the Pope or someone, we will not reveal all.

And damn, forgot to ask him if they will ever release a remastered version of the epic Dim Stars album, featuring him and Thurston Moore…

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?

 

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