Richard Hell live at the Club Chitta Kawasaki Japan
|Richard Lester Meyers|
October 2, 1949 |
Lexington, Kentucky, United States
|Genres||Punk rock, rock and roll|
|Musician, singer, songwriter, writer|
|Instruments||Vocals, bass guitar|
|Labels||Sire, Warner Bros., Red Star, Matador, Rhino|
|Richard Hell and the Voidoids, Television, Neon Boys, the Heartbreakers, Dim Stars|
Richard Lester Meyers (born October 2, 1949), better known by his stage name Richard Hell, is an American singer, songwriter, bass guitarist and writer.
Malcolm McLaren, manager of the Sex Pistols, 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 track 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 10 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.
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Richard Lester Meyers grew up in Lexington, Kentucky in 1949. His father, a secular Jew, was an experimental psychologist, researching animal behavior. He died when Hell was 7 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 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 a short time later were arrested in Alabama for arson and vandalism.
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 21, his own poems were published in numerous periodicals, ranging from Rolling Stone to the New Directions Annuals. In 1971, along with Verlaine, 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. A book of poems credited to "Stern", Wanna Go Out?, was released by Dot in 1973.
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In 1972, Verlaine joined Hell in New York and formed the Neon Boys. In 1974, the band added a second guitarist, Richard Lloyd, and changed their name to Television.
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 News in June 1974. She formed a highly successful band of her own, the Patti Smith Group. Television was one of the early bands to play at CBGB because their manager, Terry Ork, persuaded owner Hilly Kristal to book them alongside the Ramones. They also built the club's first stage. Hell started playing his punk rock anthem "Blank Generation" during his time in Television. In early 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 sometimes refused to play Hell's songs. Verlaine remained 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. Four Heartbreakers demo tracks, recorded while Hell was still in the band, were later released on that band's L.A.M.F. Definitive Edition reissue. A live album recorded with Hell in 1975 was released as What Goes Around... in 1991.
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. Hell's best known songs with the Voidoids included "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 Julian, Marc Ribot and Bill Frisell playing to the original rhythm tracks. Also in 2009, 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 was 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.
Hell's only other album release was as part of 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 Quine. They formed only to record a 1991 EP and a 1992 album, both titled Dim Stars, and played one show in public, a WFMU benefit at The Ritz in Manhattan. Hell played bass, sang lead vocals and wrote the lyrics for the album.
Hell also guested on the 1993 Roller Coaster album by Shotgun Rationale, and co-wrote and sang lead vocals on the song "Never Mind" by the Heads, a 1996 collaborative effort between three former members of Talking Heads.
Early poetry collections by Hell include I Was a Spiral on the Floor (1988) and Across the Years (1992), both published by Soyo Publications.
Hell released a collection of short pieces (poems, essays and drawings) called Hot and Cold in 2001. His second novel, Godlike, was published in 2005 by Akashic Books as part of Dennis Cooper's Little House on the Bowery Series. Also published in 2005 was Rabbit Duck, a book of 13 poems written in collaboration with David Shapiro. More recent works include Psychopts (2008), a collaboration with artist Christopher Wool, as well as Disgusting (2010) and I Dreamed I Was a Very Clean Tramp (2013).
Hell's nonfiction has been widely anthologized, including a number of appearances in "best music writing" collections. The Toilet Paper Columns (2007) compiled his columns for the Colorado alternative magazine Toilet Paper, while Massive Pissed Love: Nonfiction 2001-2014 was issued by Soft Skull Press in 2015.
Hell has appeared in several low-budget films, most notably Susan Seidelman's Smithereens. Other acting appearances include Ulli Lommel's Blank Generation, Nick Zedd's Geek 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 Seidelman's 1985 Desperately Seeking Susan.
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Richard Hell: "My father was born a Jew but he didn't believe in that. He didn't have anything to do with religion....[he] raised me as a communist and atheist."