Hell, Richard 1949- (Theresa Stern)

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HELL, Richard 1949- (Theresa Stern)


Born Richard Meyers, October 2, 1949, in Lexington, KY; married Patty Smyth (a singer and songwriter; divorced); married second wife Sheelagh Pauline Bevan, October 5, 2002; children: (first marriage) Ruby.


Office—c/o CUZ Editions, P.O. Box 1599, Stuyvesant Station, New York, NY 10009-1599. E-mail—[email protected].


Writer, musician, songwriter, actor, editor, publisher, and artist. Member of rock bands, including Neon Boys, Television, Heartbreakers, and Richard Hell and the Voidoids. Publisher and editor of books and magazines under imprints Genesis: Grasp and Dot Books; editor and copublisher of CUZ Editions. Exhibitions: Works exhibited at Rupert Goldsworthy Gallery, New York, NY, 1998. Film appearances include Final Reward, directed by Rachid Kerdouche, not distributed, 1978; The Blank Generation, Anchor Bay, 1979; Smithereens, New Line, 1982; Geek Maggot Bingo, Monday/Wednesday/Friday, 1983; Desperately Seeking Susan, Columbia TriStar, 1985; No Picnic, Gray City, 1987; What about Me, Music Video Distributors, 1993; Blind Light, Blinding Light, 1997; Pop Odyssee Two: House of the Rising Punk, 3sat/ZDF, 1998; and We're Outta Here!, Eagle Rock 1998.


I Was a Spiral on the Floor (poems), Soyo Publishers (Amsterdam, Netherlands), 1988.

Across the Years (poems), Soyo Publishers (Amsterdam, Netherlands), 1991.

Artifact: Notebooks from Hell, 1974-80, Hanuman Books (New York, NY), 1992.

Go Now: A Novel, Scribner (New York, NY), 1996.

The Voidoid, Codex (Hove, England), 1996.

Hot and Cold: Richard Hell, PowerHouse Books (New York, NY), 2001.

(With others) The Blank Generation (screenplay), Anchor Bay, 1979.

Contributor to anthologies, including The Judas Jesus, 1988; Am Lit: Neu Literatur aus den USA, 1992; Out of This World, 1992; Jungles d'Ameriques, 1993; and Aroused, 2001. Contributor to magazines, including Punk, Purple, Raw Periphery, and Rolling Stone.


(With T. Verlaine) Wanna Go Out, (poems) Éditions Anna Polèrica (Perpignan, France), 1999.


Richard Hell EP, Ork, 1976.

R. I. P., ROIR (cassette), 1984; Relativity (compact disc), 1990.

(Under name Neon Boys) Neon Boys EP, Overground, 1991.

(Under name Dim Stars) Dim Stars, Caroline, 1992.

Go Now, Tim Kerr Records, 1995.

Time, Matador, 2002.


Blank Generation, Sire, 1977.

Destiny Street, Red Star, 1982.

Funhunt, ROIR, 1989.


With spiked hair and his ragged shirts, often cut or torn on purpose, Richard Hell is often regarded as the progenitor of the fashion sensibility that formed an inextricable part of the mid-to late-1970s punk movement. Legend has it that British promoter Malcolm McLaren, who in many ways was the leading architect of punk as a commodity, took careful stock of Hell's dress and adapted it for the group he formed in London in the summer of 1977, the Sex Pistols. Whatever the case, there is no doubt that Hell was among the most important figures in the birth of punk, which had its roots in New York City as much as four years before the Pistols emerged on the international scene. Decades later, as the surviving members of the Sex Pistols prepared for a reunion tour, Hell returned to his past in quite a different way with the 1996 novel Go Now.

Born Richard Meyers and raised in Lexington, Kentucky, Hell dropped out of high school in 1966. Enamored of French surrealist literature, he found himself wildly out of place in his hometown and migrated to New York City. There he made a meager living publishing books of poetry using a second-hand printing press. Soon he was joined by Tom Verlaine, a friend from high school who had likewise left behind Kentucky for New York, and in 1973 they formed a group called the Neon Boys. Eventually this outfit became Television, a seminal band of the early punk movement, but by 1975, just before Television released its first album, Hell had quit. Johnny Thunders and Jerry Nolan had just quit the New York Dolls, a band that historically constitutes the link between the paleopunk of the late 1960s Velvet Underground and early punk groups of mid-1970s New York. With Hell they formed the Heartbreakers. Hell remained with the Heartbreakers—not to be confused with the mainstream rock group fronted by Tom Petty—for another year before leaving to form the Voidoids in 1976.

Richard Hell and the Voidoids, as they came to be known, were featured, along with the Sex Pistols, Television, and the Talking Heads in a Time magazine cover story that introduced Middle America to Punk in 1978. The group released their first and most important album, Blank Generation, in 1977. The title of the album, was a parody of Beat Generation, the name of a book of poetry by Rod McKuen. Just as Hell's poetry, published in Rolling Stone and other magazines, contrasted sharply with McKuen's, so his chosen style of dress was a reaction to the flash and excess of the disco fashion then in vogue. In contrast to the clothing associated with discotheques such as Studio 54, Hell's style was deliberately minimalist, informed by an implicitly egalitarian ethos: the clothes were nothing if not cheap and accessible to virtually anyone.

Two more solo albums followed in the early 1980s, the era in which Hell lived the events that—to some degree at least—formed the basis for Go Now. In the mid-1980s he and singer Patti Smyth of the group Scandal had a daughter, Ruby. He formed the Dim Stars with members of Sonic Youth and Gumball for a 1992 album, conducted poetry readings and made videos of some, and acted in independent films. The multitalented Hell even found time to put on a show of his drawings. He continued to write and publish poetry, but his first major publication was the novel Go Now.

The degree to which Go Now is based on Hell's own life is a matter of some question, and Hell himself has offered little in the way of clarification. For starters, the protagonist and anti-hero has a name that is as clearly a pseudonym as "Richard Hell" is: Billy Mud. (In fact, Hell told the Los Angeles Times that he considered publishing Go Now under his given name, but his mother, a former English professor, was so horrified by its scenes of drug abuse, empty sex, and general degradation that she told him, "Richard, if you were at all thinking of going back to your name for my sake, don't bother.") Like Hell at the time the book takes place, in 1980 Mud is strung out on heroin. Hell also took a cross-country trip like the one on which Mud embarks with a photographer girlfriend, but the similarities end there.

The most important difference between the author and his creation is that, whereas Hell kicked the heroin habit and lived to write about it, readers of Go Now soon discover that Mud's future is not likely to be so fortunate. Appearing at a time when heroin use had attracted widespread public attention, Go Now attracted comparisons to Trainspotting, Irvine Welsh's novel about Scottish junkies. Asked about the similarities by a Los Angeles Times reporter, Hell said, "One thing we have in common is that we don't glamorize or romanticize drug use. But neither do we judge users."

Discussing the manner in which Mud squanders a great opportunity—an all-expenses-paid trip across the country with a beautiful woman, his only responsibility being to help drive and write about the road trip—Mark Hayford wrote in the Times Literary Supplement that "What saves Go Now from becoming a queasy homage to self-indulgence is the clarity and verve of Richard Hell's writing. Occasional outbursts, such as: 'A shred of nightmare blowing by gets caught on a thorn in my brain, but I can't guess its context.… When I reach, it disintegrates like a flake of ash on my fingertips,' suggest that Mud's proclivities may simply be a cloaking device used to usher in pockets of insight." Deirdre R. Schwiesow in USA Today also commented on those moments of clarity in the narrator's brain, observing that "Billy's quest leads to moments of real insight and even beauty, not to mention that there's something perversely fascinating about seeing the depths to which he sinks, resulting in a climax that is by turns thrilling and sad." Wrote Trudi Miller Rosenblum in Billboard, "It's a harrowing book, but compelling to read, as hope and optimism turn to doom and fatalism."



Billboard, June 27, 1996, Trudi Miller Rosenblum, review of Go Now: A Novel, p. 87.

Boston Globe, June 21, 1996, Mimi Udovitch, "Richard Hell's Journey from Punk to Junk to First Novel," p. 40.

Library Journal, May 1, 1996, Doris Lynch, review of Go Now: A Novel, p. 130.

Los Angeles Times, September 23, 1996, Irene Lacher, "An Ex-Punker with a Story to Tell," p. E6.

Publishers Weekly, April 29, 1996, Sybil Steinberg, review of Go Now: A Novel, p. 52.

Times Literary Supplement, June 28, 1996, Mark Hayford, review of Go Now: A Novel, p. 22.

USA Today, August 26, 1996, Deirdre R. Schwiesow, "'Go Now' Journeys down a Junkie's Ragged Road," p. 6D.


Richard Hell Home Page,http://www.richardhell.com/ (September 16, 2003).*

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Hell, Richard 1949- (Theresa Stern)

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