Richard Hell (born Richard Lester Meyers) is an American singer, songwriter, bass guitarist, and writer.
Richard Hell was an innovator of punk music and fashion. He was one of the first to spike his hair and wear torn, cut and drawn-on shirts, often held together with safety pins. Malcolm McLaren, manager of the Sex Pistols, has credited Hell as a source of inspiration for the Sex Pistols' look and attitude, as well as the safety-pin and graphics accessorized clothing that McLaren sold in his London shop, Sex. Hell was in several important, early punk bands, including Neon Boys, Television, and The Heartbreakers, after which he formed Richard Hell & The Voidoids. Their 1977 album, Blank Generation, influenced many other punk bands. Its title song was named "One of the 500 Songs That Shaped Rock" by music writers in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame listing and is ranked as one of the all-time top-ten punk songs by a 2006 poll of original British punk figures, as reported in the Rough Guide to Punk.
Since the late 1980s Hell has devoted himself primarily to writing, publishing two novels and several other books. He was the film critic for BlackBook magazine from 2004 to 2006.
- 2 Discography
- 3 Books
- 4 References
- 5 Further reading
- 6 External links
Early life and career
Richard Hell grew up in Lexington, Kentucky, in the 1950s. His father, a secular Jew, was an experimental psychologist, researching animal behavior. He died when Hell was seven years old. Hell was then raised by his mother, who came from Methodists of Welsh and English ancestry. After her husband's death, she returned to school and eventually became a professor.
Hell attended the Sanford School in Delaware for one year, where he became friends with Tom Miller, who later changed his name to Tom Verlaine). They ran away from school together and were arrested in Alabama for arson and vandalism a short time later.
Hell never finished high school, instead moving to New York City to make his way as a poet. In New York he met fellow young poet, David Giannini, and moved to Santa Fe, New Mexico for several months, where Giannini and Meyers co-founded "Genesis:Grasp". They used an AM VariTyper with changeable fonts to publish the magazine. They began publishing books and magazines but decided to go their separate ways in 1971, after which Hell created and published Dot Books. Before he was twenty-one his own poems were published in numerous periodicals, ranging from Rolling Stone to the New Directions Annuals. Along with Tom Verlaine, in 1971 Hell also published under the pseudonym Theresa Stern, a fictional poet whose photo was actually a combination of both his and Verlaine's faces, in drag, superimposed over one another to create a new identity.
The Neon Boys, Television, and the Heartbreakers
Television's performances at CBGB helped kick-start the first wave of punk bands, inspiring a number of different artists including Patti Smith, who wrote the first press review of Television for the Soho Weekly Newsin June 1974. She had an affair with Tom Verlaine, and formed a highly successful band of her own, The Patti Smith Group. Television was one of the early bands to play at CBGB, and persuaded owner Hilly Kristal to book rock bands there on a regular basis. They also built the club's first stage.
Hell started playing his song "Blank Generation" during his stint in Television. In 1975, Hell parted ways with Television after a dispute over creative control. Hell claimed that he and Verlaine had originally divided the songwriting evenly but that later Verlaine refused to play Hell's songs. Verlaine remains characteristically silent on the subject.
Hell left Television the same week that Jerry Nolan and Johnny Thunders quit the New York Dolls. In May 1975 the three of them formed The Heartbreakers; not to be confused with Tom Petty's band, which adopted the same name the following year. After one show Walter Lure joined The Heartbreakers as a second guitarist.
Richard Hell and the Voidoids
A year later, in early 1976, Hell quit The Heartbreakers and started Richard Hell and the Voidoids with Robert Quine, Ivan Julian and Marc Bell. The band released two albums, though the second, Destiny Street, retained only Quine from the original group, with Naux (Juan Maciel) on guitar and Fred Maher on drums, and suffered from Hell's distractions, narcotics especially, during recording. Hell's best known songs with the Voidoids were "Blank Generation", "Love Comes in Spurts", "The Kid With the Replaceable Head" and "Time". In 2009, the guitar tracks on Destiny Street were re-recorded and released as Destiny Street Repaired, with guitarists Marc Ribot, Bill Frisell, and Ivan Julian playing with the original rhythm tracks. Also in 2009, Richard Hell gave his blessing to the public access program Pancake Mountain to create an animated music video for "The Kid with the Replaceable Head". It would be the Voidoids first, and only, official music video. The cut used for the animation appears on Hell's 2005 retrospective album, Spurts, The Richard Hell Story.
Dim Stars and Hell's books, further life
Hell's only other album set to date was in the band Dim Stars, for which he came out of retirement for a month in the early 1990s. Dim Stars featured guitarist Thurston Moore and drummer Steve Shelley from Sonic Youth, Gumball's guitarist Don Fleming, and Robert Quine. They formed only to record the one album and one EP, both titled Dim Stars, and played one show in public, a WFMU benefit at the The Ritz, in Manhattan. Hell played bass, sang lead vocals and wrote the lyrics for the album.
In 1996 Hell wrote a novel, Go Now, that was drawn largely from his own experience, and released a collection of short pieces (poems, essays and drawings) called Hot and Cold in 2001. His second novel, Godlike, was published in 2005 on Dennis Cooper's Little House on the Bowery Series on Akashic Books. All three books have been highly praised. Also published in 2005 was a book of thirteen poems, written in collaboration with David Shapiro, Rabbit Duck. Hell's non-fiction has been widely anthologized as well, including a number of appearances in "best music writing" collections.
Hell's archive of his manuscripts, tapes, correspondence (written and email), journals, and other documents of his life was purchased for $50,000 by New York University's Fales library in 2003.
Hell has appeared in several low-budget films, most notably Susan Seidelman's Smithereens. (Other acting appearances include Uli Lommell's Blank Generation, Nick Zedd'sGeek Maggot Bingo, Rachel Amadeo's What About Me?, and Rachid Kerdouche's Final Reward. Hell had a non-speaking cameo role as Madonna's murdered boyfriend in Susan Seidelman's 1985 Desperately Seeking Susan.) In 2007 he began making a movie which he wrote and acts in as well as directs.