Richard Hell and the Legacy of the Heroic Punk Backbone
“It’s amazing how the most obvious things escape you. “
Richard Hell grew up in Lexington, Ky., A few miles from the brick-wrapped narcotics center known on the streets as Narco. In the shadow of this condemned fortress for artists like William S Burroughs who had crossed the line at once, the demi-monde of the counter-culture was already on the doorstep of young Richard ‘Hell’ Meyers, and in October 1966 he fled to try and find his permanent home. Hell had barely been aware of this reservoir of trash to begin with, but it would seem that its influence was being felt nonetheless.
For a few weeks, Hell and his best friend Tom ‘Verlaine’ Miller (who would later become TV) made their way through the South in a winding path of faltering circumstances that will soon be interrupted when they are apprehended by the police. But from those early speculative steps into the no mans-land of roaming adolescence, an attitude of independence was instilled in the 16-year-old hell, and like a chicken with longevity ambitions without dough, he was convinced that ‘there was a better life for him outside of Kentucky.
“I thought life was pretty much a losing proposition and I didn’t mind saying it.”
A deprived fatherless youth with an unknown point to prove he took a job at a store selling the kind of men’s literature that is often read one hand. He saved $ 100 and boarded a Greyhound bus to the Big Apple a few days before Christmas with no one to wave out the window as he made his way to his awkward next chapter. This transitional page from Richard Hell’s novel is best described by the dead turtle he kept in a jar. In a way, it’s emblematic of the dreary, airless, stilted unease he found himself in when he first arrived in New York City. Alone and barely moving, he might as well have been living in a jar himself, at least that would have kept the flies out.
With all of this mulling over in the welterweight and seeing society’s sleepwalking stroll join him in the gutter, punk madness almost seems like the obvious answer. He dragged his gangly carcass to various New York bookstores, oozing the last remnants of his corpse’s soul onto the soiled carpet. However, despite the gloomy image I paint, upon reading his amazing memoirs, the brilliantly named I dreamed that I was a very clean tramp, there’s an undercurrent of hope that, like a half-animated grunge Cinderella, he had too much of an eye for the main chance of acquiescing in apathy. His prom night was somewhere, but so far he’s been riding pumpkins.
“It’s great to be anywhere as a writer. This prevents you from getting involved in the ugliness of the place and justifies your presence.
At this point, Hell seemingly got it: if you can’t beat them, watch them. In a very simple transition, he decided to make his art his profession. The Big Apple was rotten to the core with wormholes and howling maggots all around her, so Hell stepped aside and chose to treat her like a painter with a canvas. Vincent Van Gogh may not have lived a life of luxury, but at least he wasn’t actually at the table with the Potato Eaters and Hell vowed to take a similar approach.
In 1973, with his old friend Verlaine around for the can-kick company, a few rough groups were formed. These early outfits, however, were often too literally symptomatic of New York’s ramshackle society – seemingly always short of a guitarist and then maybe a drummer would find himself inexplicably locked up in Ghana or an amp would catch fire and put an end to it. in practice – they were doomed to never quite start yet.
“It’s a great relief to find out what you’re best suited for, and it’s a real benefit to then be able to focus.”
While the rough days of early music ventures were failures, they crystallized the point Hell never even knew he was making when he ran away from home nearly ten years earlier. On burgers and barley mushroom soup at a deli, the name The Voidoids was born and once something is named, the universe demands it deserves attention. But in typical Richard Hell fashion, anything that needs attention has to sit in the waiting room first. A second group has to start first, and that group will be Television and they will become one of the greatest groups that there has ever been.
Patti Smith, who was working as a reporter at the time, was traveling to see them at a little-known club that was slowly gaining ground called CBGB. As a sign of the group’s artistic intention, a wall of TVs would be stacked behind them, each displaying different channels except for one, tastefully off-center, which showed something akin to CCTV footage. à la David Lynch of the CBGB itself. Patti Smith’s play would be titled “Television: Escapees from Heaven.” And one of the more proto-punk statements in the play reads, “Confused sexual energy makes young men so desirable; their careless way of dressing; their strange way of walking; filled with so much desire. Just relentlessly adolescent. With that in mind at a time when they only had the New York Dolls and the Ramones for company, this young spirit was pretty much Promethean punk force.
“Only time can write a song that’s really, really real, the best a man can do is say how he feels when he plays, and know that he only knows what time tells him. “
In 1975, Hell left Television. Fuck them. They were lighting up the future of music, becoming a staple in the heart of the New York art scene, and had demos produced by none other than Brian Eno, but what good is it if they don’t see the merit of the songs written by Hell. like ‘Blank Generation’. For a man who has lived lying down, that’s one more flop on the canvas.
For once, fate would cushion the fall. The timing would suddenly be a savior and Hell would manage to catch a phone call where Johnny Thunders was saying “hello” on the other end of the phone. He asks if he would like to join a new group, and just like that, Johnny Thunders and the Heartbreakers were born. Soon, out of fractured pieces from the punk scene and various scattered songs, Hell would create “Chinese rocks” (despite various other copyright claims that leave Hell vexed to this day) and with it, Hell’s status as l one of the main lyricists of punk was created… to all about forty people in the know.
“Memories are better than life. Nothing that I’m a part of is good until later. I like what the hour does.
The entire ‘Chinese Rocks’ painting is emblematic of Hell’s legacy in the punk scene and beyond. For starters, it’s heroine, she’s cobbled together from various fragments like a punk Bayou tapestry, and the man in the center is so laid back he’s basically underground and can’t be seen until as DNA testing later discovered he was a central figure in the creation of a world-changing art form.
With this masterpiece under his belt and his mind feverishly mulling over various others, the slow rollout of second-hand recognition began. Much like the famous hell, everything he does is better in retrospect. For example, he quickly left The Heartbreakers to finally pursue his own business and when the idea of the whole group wearing identical cheap costumes is later unleashed by other CBGB freaks set for less underground heights, Talking Heads, it’s seen as an art school addition to punk that’s praised from the start. Did hell care that the spotlight escaped him and illuminated his peers who often blur the line of parish and parasite? The next pages of his story must show …
“It is a crime to take anything too seriously.”
As the above might suggest, he barely cared a bit. Not enough to say it with such finesse, but he was happy to make it an artistic mantra. The title of this piece might call him a punk hero, but what a punk hero is surely mutually exclusive descriptions. And as a man once said, “what is a hero anyway?”
In the years following the brilliant CBGB maelstrom, Richard Hell transfigured his artistic vision into other fields. His various literary works are superb, and I dreamed that I was a very clean tramp may well be one of the greatest musical memoirs ever written. Leaning on the dreamlike content that he left behind and deadened by the humor of all the people who hate him, he lays down in his comfortable gutter and looks up and says to himself: “The truth does not seek the truth. , the truth is effortless. And with that, freed from legacy and life, the true story of Hell will never be written for it is an ever-changing fire. After all, he was always about the next thing anyway (and we can all be thankful for that because he usually leaves great gifts in his wake) …
“What smart way to live if not to laugh about it?” The equally respectable alternative is suicide. But how could you do that? Not only would that betray a woeful lack of humor, but it would prevent you from finding out what was going to happen next.