Archive for Richard Hell

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?

 

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.

Parquet Courts’ “Light Up Gold” Is Either The Last Great Album of 2012, Or The First Great Album O’ This’n Year

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , on January 6, 2013 by johnbuckley100

When you listen to Parquet Courts’ Light Up Gold, you can almost smell the sweat fog in the tiny Brooklyn clubs where the material was honed, and you unconsciously lift your feet from the floor to make sure spilled beer hasn’t affixed you to something far less glamorous than parquet.  We can easily understand why so many people who have appropriately lost their minds in fandom for the young Texan migrants to Area Code 718 keep referencing  the Modern Lovers, but really, there is a far, far more apt mid-’70s comparison to these young garage rockers.  Playing Light Up Gold back to back with Television’s Marquee Moon only reinforced the brilliance of the latter, not least of which how amazing the sound was on the first Television studio release.  But if you have ever heard the Brian Eno demo of Television circa ’75, with Richard Hell still part of the band, you’ll begin to grok the raw’n’thrilling state these tyros presently inhabit.  Yeah, Richard Hell pre-Voidoids, without the showoff articulation of Ivan Julian and Bob Quine on guitar, but the otherwise loss of the ability to do anything but pogo in excitement at the ruckus they’re creating?  You got it, real rock’n’roll, with Light Up Gold being re-released approximately now, giving it a 2013 release date even though it came out nigh on two months ago.

We saw reference to them in the January Uncut Magazine while in an airport waiting room, and downloaded the album by the time Group 37 was being loaded onto the flight.  People looked at us funny as we bounced in our seat, shouting aloud above the headphone roar.  You’ll react the same way too, especially if you go see them this Wednesday night at D.C.’s The Rocketship.

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