Richard Hell

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Richard Hell
Richard Hell live at the Club Chitta Kawasaki Japan
Background information
Birth name Richard Lester Meyers
Born (1949-10-02) October 2, 1949 (age 70)
Lexington, Kentucky, United States
Genres Punk rock, rock & roll
Occupation(s) Musician, singer, songwriter, writer
Instruments Vocals, bass guitar
Years active 1972–present
Labels Sire, Warner Bros., Red Star, Matador, Rhino
Associated acts Richard Hell and the Voidoids, Television, Neon Boys, The Heartbreakers, Dim Stars

Richard Hell (born Richard Lester Meyers) is an American singer, songwriter, bass guitarist, and writer.

Richard Hell was an innovator of punk music and fashion. He was one of the first to spike his hair and wear torn, cut and drawn-on shirts, often held together with safety pins.[1] Malcolm McLaren, manager of the Sex Pistols, has 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.[2] 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 song was named "One of the 500 Songs That Shaped Rock" by music writers in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame listing[3] 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.[4]

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.


Early life and career

Richard Hell grew up in Lexington, Kentucky, in the 1950s. His father, a secular Jew,[5] 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.[6] After her husband's death, she returned to school and eventually 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.[7] They ran away from school together and were arrested in Alabama for arson and vandalism a short time later.

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.

The Neon Boys, Television, and the Heartbreakers

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 to 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.

Richard Hell and the Voidoids

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, and suffered from Hell's distractions, narcotics especially, during recording.[citation needed] 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 with the original rhythm tracks.[8] 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".[9] 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.

Dim Stars and Hell's books, further life

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 the one album and one EP, both titled Dim Stars, and played one show in public, a WFMU benefit at the The Ritz in Manhattan. Hell played bass, sang lead vocals and wrote the lyrics for the album.

Hell also 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.

In 1996, Hell wrote a novel, Go Now, drawn largely from his own experiences. He 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. All three books were highly praised[citation needed]. Also published in 2005 was Rabbit Duck, a book of 13 poems written in collaboration with David Shapiro. Hell's nonfiction has been widely anthologized as well, including a number of appearances in "best music writing"[10] collections.

Hell's archive of his manuscripts, tapes, correspondence (written and email), journals, and other documents of his life was purchased for $50,000 by New York University's Fales Library in 2003.

Hell has appeared in several low-budget films, most notably Susan Seidelman's Smithereens. (Other acting appearances include Uli Lommell'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 Susan Seidelman's 1985 Desperately Seeking Susan.)

Hell was married to Scandal's Patty Smyth for two years during 1985–86, and they had a daughter, Ruby. Hell married Sheelagh Bevan in 2002.


As Richard Hell and the Voidoids

Studio album
Compilations and lives
  • 1989: Funhunt (live)
  • 2009: Destiny Street Repaired

As Richard Hell

Studio album
  • 1984: R.I.P
  • 2002: Time (expanded version of R.I.P.)
  • 2005: Spurts, The Richard Hell Story

As Dim Stars

  • 1992: Dim Stars
  • 1992: Dim Stars EP




  1. "Kentucky born Richard Hell deserves credit (or blame) for originating much of the punk imagery and style associated with the London scene" --The New Rolling Stone Album Guide by Nathan Brackett, Simon and Schuster (2004), p 373. "He [Richard Hell] even gave an artistic spin to his torn shirt and cropped hair look, soon to be imported to England as the emblem of punk." --Between Montmartre and the Mudd Club: Popular Music and the Avant-Garde By Bernard Gendron, University of Chicago Press (2002), p. 252. Extensive documentation of Hell's ripped and drawn-on and safety-pinned clothing, spiky short hair, and "punk" musical style as it existed in 1974–1975 (one-two years before English punk existed), with descriptions of Hell by Debby Harry and Chris Stein of Blondie, and Richard Lloyd of Television as well as the book's author --From the Velvets to the Voidoids by Clinton Heylin, Penguin Books (1993), pp. 120–125.
  2. "I came back to England determined. I had these images I came back with, it was like Marco Polo or Walter Raleigh. I brought back the image of this distressed, strange thing called Richard Hell. And this phrase, 'the blank generation'. [...] Richard Hell was a definite, 100 percent inspiration, and, in fact, I remember telling the Sex Pistols, 'Write a song like Blank Generation, but write your own bloody version, and their own version was 'Pretty Vacant'." --Malcolm McLaren in an interview in Please Kill Me, the Uncensored Oral History of Punk by Legs McNeil and Gillian McCain, Grove Press (1996), p. 199.
  3. [1] Archived May 13, 2012 at the Wayback Machine
  4. These British punk-scene figures were as follows: Glen Matlock, original Sex Pistols bassist and composer of most of their music; Mark Perry, founder and editor of the first British punk fanzine, Sniffin' Glue, as well as founder of punk group Alternative TV; Geoff Travis, founder of Rough Trade, the main British punk record shop and early label; and Kris Needs, editor of ZigZag magazine and its famous Rock Family Trees. "Blank Generation" was the only American song listed by all four polled.
  5. Steven Lee Lee Beeber (2007). The Heebie-Jeebies at CBGB's: A Secret History of Jewish Punk. Chicago Review Press. p. 136. ISBN 9781569762288. 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." |access-date= requires |url= (help)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  6. family records, Richard Hell Papers, Fales Library, NYU
  7. "We'd met at a little school right outside of Wilmington. It was a mediocre boarding school, co-ed, called Sanford Prep. I'd been sent there because I'd been getting in trouble in school since I was fourteen, and things were looking pretty dire...I arrived a little after the start of the school year of 1965–1966, when I was in the 11th grade." --Richard Hell (describing how he and Tom Verlaine met) in the first chapter of Hell's autobiography-in-progress, as published in Vanitas magazine No. 2, 2006, p. 153.
  8. Michaels, Sean (July 10, 2009). "Richard Hell remakes album 27 years after first release". The Guardian. London. Retrieved May 22, 2010.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  9. ""The Kid with the Replaceable Head" animated music video". Retrieved October 8, 2012.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  10. such as The Penguin Book of Rock and Roll Writing (1992) and Best Music Writing 2007 (Da Capo)
  11. "". Archived from the original on July 27, 2011. Retrieved July 10, 2011.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  12. "Indie | Literary | Books". Archived from the original on December 12, 2010. Retrieved July 10, 2011.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  13. "". Retrieved July 10, 2011.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

Further reading

  • The Richard Hell Papers are located in the Fales Library at New York University. The Fales Library Guide to the Richard Hell Papers
  • Nathan Brackett. The New Rolling Stone Album Guide, Simon and Schuster (2004)
  • Mallory Curley. A Cookie Mueller Encyclopedia, Randy Press (2010)
  • Bernard Gendron. Between Montmartre and the Mudd Club: Popular Music and the Avant-Garde, University of Chicago Press (2002)
  • Clinton Heylin. From the Velvets to the Voidoids, Penguin Books (1993) ISBN 0-14-017970-4
  • Legs McNeil and Gillian McCain. Please Kill Me, the Uncensored Oral History of Punk, Grove Press (1996) ISBN 0-8021-1588-8
  • Al Spicer. The Rough Guide to Punk, Rough Guides/Penguin (2006) ISBN 1-84353-473-8

External links