Born Richard Meyers in Lexington, Kentucky, Hell grew up in the sleepy Bluegrass State listening to British Invasion rock and Southern soul. He found a kindred spirit in Tom Miller (née Verlaine), and the pair would soon end up together in New York City. They would form the Neon Boys in 1971, a proto-punk outfit inspired by the Stooges and Velvet Underground, with Verlaine on guitar and Hell picking up the bass. The Neon Boys would evolve into Television and become an integral part of the mid-‘70s NYC music scene growing up around the CBGB club and including bands like the Ramones and Blondie.
Richard Hell’s Time
With his torn clothing, nihilistic lyrics and snotty attitude, Hell became the blueprint of punk rock to follow. The Voidoids would record only one more album – 1982’s Destiny Street – but the band’s influence on a generation of punk rockers was set in stone. Hell would later play in other bands, write poetry and, in 1996, issued his first novel, Go Now, but he would never again pursue music with any sort of ambition. The first disc of the two-CD set Time pairs a previous, cassette-only collection, R.I.P. The ROIR Sessions, with a number of unreleased tracks, including the original version of the Richard Hell/Dee Dee Ramone song “Chinese Rocks,” performed here by the Heartbreakers. Four Heartbreakers demos kick off Time, including “Love Comes In Spurts,” which would be revisited by Hell on the first Voidoids disc.
The second disc of Time, collecting unreleased live performances by the Voidoids, is what has punk collectors salivating. The first half-hour plus set includes raw performances of Blank Generation era Voidoids from a 1977 performance at London’s Music Machine. All the band favorites are thrown out here, from “Love Comes In Spurts,” “Liars Beware” and “Blank Generation.” A cover of “I Wanna Be Your Dog” includes Hell’s barks and Quine’s scorched earth six-string riffs. An angry encore, a cover of the Stones’ “Ventilator Blues,” was chosen to piss off a confrontational audience, explains Hell in the extensive liner notes.
The sound quality equals that of a mediocre bootleg, but the passion and fire of the performance is priceless. The last four tracks on disc two of Time, taken from a 1978 benefit for St. Mark’s church held at CBGB, include an original take on “The Kid With the Replaceable Head” (later recorded for Destiny Street) and “You Gotta Lose,” featuring Elvis Costello on vocals and guitar. Time closes with another Stones’ cover, “Shattered,” performed by the Voidoids just this one time.
The Reverend’s Bottom Line
The significance of Richard Hell’s influence on punk rock cannot be overstated. An innovator and pioneer who matched literature and poetry with angry, aggressive music in much the same way as his contemporary Patti Smith, Hell is often overshadowed by the bands that he helped create (Television) or influenced (the Sex Pistols, the Clash). While other punks have been incarcerated in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, Time shows that Hell’s place is in the street, his music and defiant spirit ready to inspire a generation of rockers to come. (Matador Records, released March 19, 2002)
Review originally published by Alt.Culture.Guide™, 2002