Friday, October 8, 2010

Richard Hell Speaks (NYC 1/5/77)

Interview text © 1976 by Bernie Kugel;
RBF intro © 2010 by Robert Barry Francos
Live photo © Robert Barry Francos
Other Images from the Internet

The following interview with Richard was originally published in Big Star magazine, issue #1, dated May 1977. It was conducted by Bernie Kugel, and reprinted here with his kind permission. I have left the text the way Bernie originally had it (cleaning up some typos kinds of things), changing only the way the names are presented in the Q&A (e.g., “Hell” rather than “R.H.”) for clarity. Text added by me in 2010 is in [brackets].

It was a different world back then. I was getting ready to go to Queens College, and Bernie had come back home to Brooklyn from Buffalo State. Via letter, Bernie had arranged to interview Richard Hell, with only the fine details left to be ironed out, such as where and when. Bernie had arranged for Richard to call him at his parent’s house, where he was staying.

I’m sure I don’t need to go into the history of Richard Hell, but leave it to say that between Television, the Heartbreakers, and the Void Oids, he was a key figure in the nascent New York scene in the mid- to late 1970s. Having been regularly going to see bands play since June of ’75, we had seen him a few times, both in the Heartbreakers and the Void Oids, and having just missed him in Television.

Meanwhile, in January of 1977, Bernie was pacing the Bensonhurst apartment, anxious about getting the call, as he had to be getting back to college in a couple of days. To calm down, we decided to go for a walk around the block. When we came back, his mom – a character in her own right – was sitting at the kitchen table, arms crossed and just fuming. The conversation that followed went something like this:

Bernie: What happened?
Goldie: I don’t like your friends!
Bernie: What do you mean?
Goldie: One of your friends called, and he started cursing at me!
Bernie: [expletive deleted].

Bernie called Richard Hell back, believing the interview blown, but when Hell answered the phone, he was still laughing. From him, this was what transpired:

Goldie: [Picking up the phone] Hello?
Richard: Hello. Is Bernie there?
Goldie: Who’s calling?
Richard: Richard Hell.
Goldie: Hell?! You say “Hell” to someone’s mother you don’t even know!?!?

And then she hung up on him.

The next day (If I remember correctly), Bernie and I hopped on the subway and went down to the Lower East Side to find Hell’s apartment in Alphabet City. We got lost looking for the building numbers. Bernie called Hell from a pay phone from a grocery store across the street from some projects. Fortunately, we were only a few blocks away.

Hell’s apartment was stereotypical LES, with the bathtub in the kitchen doubling as the kitchen table. There were some guys (the band?) in the bedroom yakking away, and during the interview, every once in a while Hell would get up and go into the bathroom. Perhaps, our imagination of the why was stronger than the reality.

Hell was pleasant and open, and the interview went smoothly. I sat on a chair and watched it all transpire, thinking perhaps I should start my own fanzine. But this was Bernie’s interview… – RBF, 2010

Bernie Kugel: Why did you change your name [from Myers to Hell]?
Richard Hell: Well, me and Tom [Verlaine] both decided we were going to change our names because we felt we had such common names, and I chose mine because I thought that was the best, most accurate description of me at the time. I just felt like my life was hell. I thought I would just start my career off on the right step with absolute honestly, make it my name.

Bernie: I understand in the early days of Television, everyone was rolling on the floor while playing, and things like that.
Hell: Oh, yeah, it was extremely wild. And that’s the way I think rock and roll should be. I’m always trying to think of methods to make it more possible for that to happen. It’s hard for me ‘cause I have to stay on the mike and I’m playing bass with my hands so I can’t really stroll with it…

Bernie: Did you ever think of adding another bass player so you’d be freer?
Hell: I’ve thought of doing it. I’ve always had it in the back of my mind to find a bass player, but I like coming up with bass stuff I do, and the person I would have to have would have to do exactly what I told him and that would be boring for somebody. Or else it would have to be somebody who’s a better bass player than me but has the same kind of feel for what the bass lines should be. I mean, the reason I’d want to come up with the base line is not ‘cause I’m the best bass player, but just for the right kind of feel. If I could find someone who was a better bass player than me but had the same feel, that would be great. But I’m not actually actively searching for somebody, you know? But it would be nice if somebody turned up and I would like to experiment with it. I don’t even know whether I could feel right myself onstage doing a whole set without an instrument, but I would like to experiment a little. I did one song last time (at the Void Oid’s debut performance) without a bass…

Bernie: How did you get the name Void Oid?
Hell: Well, actually, I was searching and searching for a name. I had all the guys in the band [Ivan Julian (guitar); Robert Quine (guitar), Marc Bell (drum, who would later become a Ramone) - RBF] thinking all the time for a name and we had three of them, and none of them seemed right, and one day I remembered that word because I had made it up as the title of a book I had imagined writing at one time, and it was to be called The Void Oid [it would be released in 1996 – RBF], and I suddenly thought of it as a possibility for the name of the group, and all the guys in the band liked it, so…

Bernie: You think this band will last a long time?
Hell: Well, absolutely everything that this band has done has worked out better than my greatest expectations. This band will probably continue even after all the members are dead.

Bernie: Were you satisfied with the way the EP came out? [
Hell: Umm… yeah, I mean it wasn’t the same conditions that you have for making a record if it were really commercially competitive. It wasn’t meant to be and it couldn’t possibly have been able to compete on that level, but it was exactly what I wanted to do.

Bernie: What do you feel about kids all over the U.S.A. and Europe looking up to you as an idol?
Hell: That’s such a sweet question… I’m lucky if I get one letter a week that smells of perfume and has lipstick traces on it. I’m aiming for the big time, yeah, but that question’s a little premature…

Bernie: Do you think the Void Oids will someday go on television?
Hell: Any group would love to go on television. It’s the ideal kind of exposure… and of course the more control you have over the whole thing… anyone would want to do it.

Bernie: Do you think you’ll be doing this ten years from now?
Hell: Probably about 10 years, maybe. I would say it would probably last about that long.

Bernie: What do you think you’ll do then?
Hell: Millions of things I’d love to do; millions of other things I’d like to do… I’ll probably do them all at once. The more things you do at once, the better… there’s really a lot of time in the day when you think about it.

Bernie: Do you feel very influenced by movies in your songs?
Hell: I’m sure it has some effect just because I like movies so much and I go to them all a lot. I’m sure it effects it very deeply. One really cool thing about movies is that it exposes you to so many… if you’re living your own life and getting exposed to all the experiences you yourself have every week and then at the same time you go to four or five movies in that week, you’re like getting four or five other people’s experiences as well, with really strong impact on each one. The more impact the better. The better movies have the greater impact. You’re getting the biggest effect it has on your consciousness… it sort of increases your sophistication. That’s the effect it has on writing songs.

Bernie: Do you have favorite movies?
Hell: One of my very favorites is called Pickup on South Street (1953). Another one’s called Pierrot le fou (1965) and A Touch of Evil (1958), though I’ve seen it so many times already I can’t watch it anymore. That’s the top three.

Bernie: Did you wanna be in bands when you were a kid?
Hell: The two things I always wanted to be when I was a kid was a writer or an actor. And the thing that always grabbed my imagination the most was making great rock and roll, and being a big star out of it. But I never really thought it was possible because I didn’t seem to be in an environment where I could make it happen…

Bernie: Do you like performing? Do you enjoy it?
Hell: I really dread it when I think about having to do it, but when it comes to doing it, when I’m actually there and doing it, it’s not bad… it’s pleasant but I don’t wanna go overboard.

Bernie: Do you think recording is easier?
Hell: I think it’s a different thing altogether… maybe not that far apart. But when you’re tense on stage… like it’s real tiring when you’re mixing something ‘cause you have to concentrate so hard, but it’s really great to do because it’s so exciting.

Bernie: Do you foresee the band getting tighter and better as time goes on?
Hell: Oh yeah, I got a pretty good idea. We have a real tight and carefully put together repertoire right now, and we probably won’t add at the most a couple more song. We already have a few more songs that we can fit on an album. So I have a pretty good idea.

Bernie: Do you look forward to extensively touring?
Hell: I look forward to it and I do want to do it in the most comfortable way possible.

Bernie: Do you look back to one performance by this band or any previous band, and say that that’s the best performance you ever did?
Hell: Well, definitely, the last gig I played with this band… it had some very dynamic moments.

Bernie: Do you have a favorite New York band?
Hell: I really don’t… What the best of the New York bands are doing is definitely the most exciting thing happening in rock and roll in the world, and I think that’s self-evident; I think that’s obvious. I think it’s as any of the other historical developments in rock and roll that have gone on in the past.

Bernie: Do you have a favorite band of all time?
Hell: No, because there are too many. I have records going all day long. When you’re really immersed in something… I mean I could tell you my favorite movies because I’m not a filmmaker, but the only way you could do that would be to write down all the records here.

[I won’t do that, but here’s a few: Pinups - Bowie; Between the Buttons - Rolling Stones; Let’s Stick Together - Bryan Ferry; The Thirteenth Floor Elevators’ first album, etc., etc. – Berne]

Bernie: Do you like the way your life’s gone up to now?
Hell: I think I’ve gotten a lot of good breaks. I think I’ve gotten overwhelmingly good breaks, and they seem to get better. I just hope it keeps up.

Bernie: Is there any trouble or friction in this band?
Hell: Oh, no, and that’s such a relief after so much of that thing in the past. There’s absolutely none of it here. Ya know, we’re all each others’ best friends. It’s like perfect.

Bernie: What do you think you’ll be doing fifty or so years from now?
Hell: I don’t think the world will last that long. I don’t wanna say that… I want do everything I can. Vote for me.

1 comment:

  1. Fantastic interview. Richard has always been so open and honest in these interviews. Hell has always seemed willing to say exactly what is on his mind and always with a positive attitude.