Richard Hell
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Blank Generation (1977) , 7/10
Destiny Street (1982), 6.5/10
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Summary:
Richard Hell can be considered the prophet of the new wave. He transformed New York's decadent rock from a lifestyle into an ideology and a philosophy. He didn't give it a sound (the Ramones would) but he gave it an ethos: the punk ethos. Myers formed the Neon Boys in 1971, featuring Tom Verlaine and and Billy Fica on drums, but their morbid and unfriendly music never escaped the underground (unlike his friend Johnny Thunders' band, the New York Dolls). The Voidoids, which he formed with titanic guitarist Robert Quine, did. Their sarcastic and desperate Blank Generation (1976) played the role of the manifesto for the newborn punk generation. Quine's abrasive, dissonant riffs, and Hell's visceral, neurotic whine defined a new sound. His songs, that mixed free-association babbling and Dylan-esque visionary lyrics, charged the world with explosive doses of ferocious nihilism and existential angst. Translate from my original Italian text by Emma)

Richard Hell could be considered the prophet of new wave. He was among the first to escape the stereotypes of decadent New York rockers and transform the ideology into something new and viscerally philosophical. The Ramones may have provided the sound, but Richard Hell gave it the ethos: punk. At the same time, his decadent/existential approach to rock music, transforming songs into abstract art, decreed the birth of a new period: new wave.

In 1971, Richard ‘Hell’ Myers, then working at the Greenwich Village bookstore Strand with Patti Smith and Tom Verlaine, decided to form the Neon Boys with drummer Billy Fica. The group performed turbulent and provocative rock and roll, contending with the New York Dolls for the best precursors of punk-rock. The group added Robert Lloyd and replaced Hell with Verlaine on vocals, changing their name to Television.

In 1975, Hell left the group in the hands of guitarist Tom Verlaine, and, after a brief collaboration with Johnny Thunders as the Heartbreakers (for whom he wrote the anthem Chinese Rocks), he dedicated himself to a career in journalism. Hell, with his attitude and clothing, conceived the punk lifestyle. For example, Malcolm McLaren, in London, based his own style on capturing the British punk look.

The following year, Hell was back in the saddle with a new group, the Voidoids. At his side, titanic and atonal guitarist Robert Quine. The track Blank Generation – which served as a manifesto, sarcastic and desperate, for the fledgling punk generation and new wave movement – appeared on the EP Richard Hell (Ork, 1976). Hell sparked the punk-rock explosion with lyrics ‘I was saying/let me out of here/before I was even born’.

Blank Generation (Sire, 1977) – marked by its tangled abrasive, dissonant guitar styles, scarred by Hell’s neurotic growl, and signed by his disjointed lyrics, influenced by Beefheart’s free association style and Dylan’s visionary – is testimony to the ferocious nihilism and existential angst of punk, from the outrageous pulsing plea of Love Comes in Spurts (recorded for the first time by the Neon Boys in 1973 as an auditory homage to the Rolling Stones and Bob Dylan) to the hysterical rock’n’roll of Liars Beware to the long, tormented ballad Another World.

Quine is the true hero of Destiny Street (Red Star, 1982), with Massacre’s Fred Maher on drums; highlights including the Mersey Beat nursery rhyme The Kid With The Replaceable Head with the disco-music parody of Downtown at Dawn and the virulent hard rock of Ignore That Door.

After branding the Voidoids music with his abrasive Stratocaster, Robert Quine, who was a veteran of San Francisco’s hippie summer and had already joined the New York new wave scene at thirty crazy years old, committed to two high profile collaborations. The first with Jody Harris of Raybeats, and the other with Fred Maher of Massacre. The second collaboration, Basic (1984), influenced by Eno’s ambient style, is an instrumental tour de force starting with dissonant funk (Pick Up) and gliding through Hendrix influences (Bluffer), equatorial tribalism (Summer Storm), disco-surf (Bondage Bait) and dreamy new age (Village).

The man who invented cynical punk poetry on suicide and overdose (thanks to his ‘strangled’ vocals but also to Robert Quine’s atonal guitar) is certainly not prolific. The third true album in fifteen years, Dim Stars (Caroline) was released in 1992, by a super-group that had held Manhattan clubs in anticipation for months. Hell’s approach had not changed at all: many songs were born of more or less improvised jam sessions followed by conjuring up apocalyptic verses. As with the Voidoids, the musical result depended almost entirely on the accompaniment. This time, the lineup included Thurston Moore, and the best song of the album is, in fact, a Sonic Youth imitation: The Night is Coming Down. The sardonic genius of Hells’ lyricism has a way of surfacing here and there (All My Witches Come True), but the album overall confirms his limits: as all revolutionaries learn: it is one thing to revolt, it is another to then govern the nation.

But maybe Richard ‘Hell’ is just the last of the romantics, poet of bleak alleys with no way out of the slums, prophet of the long sleep.

Richard Hell puo` essere considerato il profeta della new wave. Fu uno dei primi a uscire dagli stereotipi del rock decadente newyorkese e a trasformarne l'ideologia in qualcosa di nuovo e piu` visceralmente filosofico. I Ramones gli avrebbero dato un suono, ma Richard Hell gli diede un ethos: il punk. Al tempo stesso il suo approccio decadente/esistenzialista alla musica rock, che trasformava le canzoni in arte astratta, sanci` la nascita di un nuovo periodo, la new wave.

Fu nel 1971 che Richard "Hell" Myers, allora commesso alla libreria Strand del Greenwich Village con Patti Smith e Tom Verlaine, decise di formare i Neon Boys con il batterista Billy Fica. Il gruppo eseguiva un rock and roll torbito e provocatorio e contende ai New York Dolls la palma di precursori del punk-rock. Quando vi si aggiunse Robert Lloyd e Verlaine sostitui` Hell al canto, il gruppo cambio` nome in Television.

Nel 1975 Hell abbandono' comunque il complesso nelle mani del chitarrista Tom Verlaine, e, dopo una breve convivenza con Johnny Thunders negli Heartbreakers (per i quali scrisse l'anthem Chinese Rocks), si diede alla carriera giornalistica. Con le sue pose e i suoi articoli, Hell conio` di fatto lo stile di vita dei punk. Per esempio, Malcolm McLaren, a Londra, si ispiro' al suo modo di vestire per lanciare il look dei punk britannici.

L'anno seguente Hell era in sella con un nuovo complesso, i Voidoids. Al suo fianco c'era un chitarrista titanico e atonale come Robert Quine. Sull'EP Richard Hell (Ork, 1976) figura il brano declamato Blank Generation, che funse da manifesto, sarcastico e disperato, per la neonata generazione punk e per il neonato movimento new wave. Con le frasi "I was saying/ let me out of here/ before I was even born", Hell lancio` di fatto l'intero boom del punk-rock.

Blank Generation (Sire, 1977), contrassegnato da intrecci chitarristici abrasivi e dissonanti, sfregiato dal ringhio nevrotico di Hell e siglato dai suoi testi sconnessi con associazioni libere alla Beefheart e visionarismi alla Dylan, testimonia il nichilismo feroce e l'angoscia esistenziale del punk, dall'oltraggiosa arringa pulsante di Love Comes In Spurts (gia' dei Neon Boys, registrata la prima volta nel 1973 in forma di omaggio sonoro a Rolling Stones e Bob Dylan), al rock'n'roll isterico di Liars Beware alla lunga, tormentata ballad Another World.

Quine e` il vero eroe di Destiny Street (Red Star, 1982), con Fred Maher dei Massacre alla batteria, forte della filastrocca Mersey-beat di The Kid With The Replaceable Head, della parodia di disco-music Downtown At Dawn e del virulento hard-rock di Ignore That Door.

Dopo aver marchiato a fuoco i brani dei Voivoids con la sua Stratocaster abrasiva, Robert Quine, che era in realta` un veterano dell'estate hippie di San Francisco ed era entrato a far parte della scena new wave di New York a trent'anni suonati, si diede a due collaborazioni di spicco, il primo in coppia con Jody Harris dei Raybeats e l'altro in coppia con Fred Maher dei Massacre. Il secondo, Basic (1984), infuenzato dall'ambientale di Eno, e` un tour de force strumentale, fra funk dissonanti (Pick Up), glissando hendrixiani (Bluffer), tribalismi equatoriali (Summer Storm), disco-surf (Bandage Bait) e onirica new age (Village).

L'uomo che ha inventato la cinica poetica punk del suicidio e dell'overdose (grazie ai suoi vocalizzi "strangolati", ma anche al chitarrismo atonale di Robert Quine) non e` certo prolifico. Il terzo vero album in quindici anni esce nel 1992, Dim Stars (Caroline, 1992), con un super-gruppo che per mesi ha tenuto in agitazione i club di Manhattan. L'approccio di Hell non e' per nulla cambiato: molte canzoni nascono dall'idea di fare una jam piu` o meno improvvisata e ricamarci sopra dei versi apocalittici. Come nei Voidoids il risultato musicale dipende quasi interamente dagli accompagnatori. Questa volta c'e` Thurston Moore, e infatti il brano migliore e` un'imitazione dei Sonic Youth: The Night Is Coming Down. Il sardonico genio lirico di Hell ha modo di emergere qua e la` (All My Witches Come True), ma in generale conferma i suoi limiti: come hanno imparato tutti i rivoluzionari, un conto e` fare le rivoluzioni, un conto e` governare la nazione dopo.

Ma forse Richard "Inferno" e' soltanto l'ultimo dei romantici, poeta dei desolanti vicoli senza uscita degli slum e profeta del lungo sonno.

Go Now (Tim Kerr, 1995) is a spoken-word album (excerpts from Hell's novel) with musical accompaniment by Robert Quine.

Time (Matador, 2002) is a double disc of rarities (including the entire 1984 cassette RIP).

Robert Quine died in june 2004 of a heroin overdose.

Spurts (Rhino, 2005) is a retrospective of Richard Hell, mostly drawn from Blank Generation and Destiny Street.

(Translation by/ Tradotto da Andrea Salacone)

Go Now (Tim Kerr, 1995) è un album spoken-word (stralci dal romanzo di Hell) con accompagnamento musicale di Robert Quine.

Time (Matador, 2002) è un doppio che contiene rarità (compresa l’intera cassetta del 1984 RIP).

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