Thursday, July 27, 2017

An Appreciation: Richard Hell

Writer. Street poet. Heartbreaker. Blank generation. Voidoid. Fashion icon. Bassist. Neon boy. Punk.

Richard Hell (né Richard Lester Meyers) was everywhere and everything all at once in the nascent punk rock scene in 1970s New York City. During the decade he was in several seminal bands: the Neon Boys, Television, the Heartbreakers, and the Voidoids. Hell played bass and sang (if one can call it that) with a warble and a sneer, all furious punk fury just barely masking a sensitive songwriter's ethos.

Hell is responsible for the famous ripped clothes, spiked hair, and overall fuck-you style of early punk rock. When you see a wannabe punker sporting the look these days, four decades on, realize it's Hell to whom they owe a debt. Back then, he managed to seem more alive than almost anybody else while looking like he'd just been mugged, beaten, and left for dead. Malcolm McClaren was inspired by and lifted the essence of Hell's couture for a new band he was managing over in London, the Sex Pistols. The rest is history.

Across all of the bands and clubs and parties and scenes, "Blank Generation" will likely always stand as Hell's major musical contribution to punk. The title says it all, doesn't it? Rarely has a songwriter better defined a collective sense of ennui and apathy.

I belong to the blank generation and
I can take it or leave it each time
I belong to the generation but
I can take it or leave it each time

Hell was always a writer-artist first, a musician second. He mostly left music behind decades ago, only rarely returning to it, and instead focused on his lifeblood, the thing that made him tick, his writing. Back in the '70s though, during the infamous Taxi Driver era in New York, when the streets were seemingly a cesspool of crime and despair, he helped ignite a movement through music, which quickly grew beyond that to signify an attitude and a way of life.

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