Latest News:
February 18, 2019: Website updated and revised.

The Laziest Man In Rock’N’Roll

HellFall, 1977. I’m in my last year at the University of Virginia. I go to Back Alley Disc, the hot (hah, the only) record store in Charlottesville where I buy the Dead Boys and the Talking Heads’ first albums.  While one guy is ringing me up behind the counter, another walks up holding a promo copy of Richard Hell and the Voidoids’ Blank Generation LP. He looks at me and the two records I’m holding and mutely hands over the record, mine for free.

I thought all three bands were fantastic, but Blank Generation particularly impressed me. I’d never heard such screwed up rock’n’roll before with Quine’s wild guitar and Hell’s cat with his tail caught in the door vocals. Add their deliberately non-glam appearance, the torn clothes and t-shirts with scribbled slogans, and it made for a very strange, off the wall package. I remember seeing Richard Hell at Iggy Pop’s comeback show in NYC in March of ’77. He cut a dramatic figure, stomping around the lobby in a full length black leather trench coat and mirrored spectacles, thick hair swooped up in a pomp, stonily ignoring all and sundry while simultaneously scowling viciously at everyone near and far. Despite these vivid impressions, Hell fell off my radar soon afterward, disappearing from my musical consciousness like a stone dropped into a deep lake.

Hell’s short, cursory excuse for an autobiography explains the lapse. Richard Hell is a lazy, self indulgent man with a modicum of musical and poetic talent who threw away the chances he had, preferring the aimless life of a lower East Side drug addict instead. If you think this sounds harsh, this is the gist of his own admissions. One of Hell’s positive characteristics is the degree of self-knowledge in his reminiscences. He knows when he screwed up and admits it. After doing a good bit to shake up rock’n’roll with his genuinely new and edgy band, even scoring a tour to England, Hell decided to just do drugs and get laid while cruising along on his reputation as a “punk rock scene” personality, writing monthly columns for pop journals along with other side gigs.

Truth be told, I don’t even like thinking about the punk rock era that much nowadays. Even though it was like religion for me back then, because it was so incredibly long ago it just reminds me what a broken down old wretch I am. Nonetheless, I still enjoyed this book. Hell isn’t stupid even if he is shiftless. He  shows wit and insight in his anecdotes about punk’s glory days. His self-deprecation and awareness of what he deliberately passed by go a long to way to ameliorate other failings such as:

  • He writes about rock’n’roll like it’s still a living, vital thing when everybody knows it’s about as hip nowadays as the polka
  • Richard Hell sure does like to kiss and tell. I’m happy for him that he got a lot of ass back in the day, but the blow by blow accounts complete to his partners’ minute physical descriptions, thumbnail bios, and their particular muffky-fuffky preferences simply are too much information
  • He really doesn’t have that much to write about in the end. Hell simply gives up on his autobiography shortly after he turns thirty, frankly admitting he bailed on the arduous, endless work that’s necessary to advance and promote yourself as a musician or an actor, even though he had opportunities in both fields that most people never know.

Despite its flaws, I’d recommend this book to anyone interested in learning about the crazy rock’n’roll scene in New York’s lower East Side in the ’70’s from the Dolls to the Heartbreakers to Television to the Voidoids. Hell was there, had a hand in some of it, and saw a whole lot more.

Comments are closed.