Vintage Richard Hell Frozen In 'Time'

Punk original Richard Hell is in retrospective mode. On March 19, Matador Records will release "Time," a two-CD compilation of vintage 1975-1984 live recordings -- more than half of them previously un

Punk original Richard Hell is in retrospective mode.

On March 19, Matador Records will release "Time," a two-CD compilation of vintage 1975-1984 live recordings -- more than half of them previously unreleased officially -- by vocalist/bassist Hell, who was a crucial member of Television and the Heartbreakers before fronting his own linchpin New York punk unit, the Voidoids.

That collection follows by four months the publication of "Hot & Cold" (PowerHouse Books, New York, $33), a 245-page volume of his fiction, poetry, notebook entries, essays, art, and photography. (His first novel, "Go Now," was published by Scribner in 1996.)

Is Hell a rocker or a writer? He, himself, views his music and his work in print as all of a piece.

He says, "The poets take it as an opportunity to call me a musician who writes poetry, and the musicians take it as an opportunity to call me a writer who plays rock'n'roll. In my opinion, the two things aren't inconsistent with each other."

"I'm trying to do well things that are exciting to me. It's a different endeavor -- performing and writing hard rock music -- than writing and publishing books. But it's not different from driving a car and driving a motorcycle. You're still driving."

"Time" combines the 1984 cassette-only ROIR release "R.I.P." -- which included Heartbreakers, Voidoids, and solo tracks (now augmented by three previously unreleased cuts) -- with an all-new second CD. The latter contains a venomous 1977 Voidoids set at London's Music Machine that was captured raw on a hand-held recorder in the audience, as well as a four-song 1978 set featuring a guest appearance by Elvis Costello from a benefit for the St. Mark's Church Poetry Project at CBGB in New York.

Hell recalls that the frenzied London appearance -- during which guitarist Robert Quine turns in an especially fierce performance -- climaxed an agonizingly difficult '77 U.K. tour opening for the Clash that saw the New Yorkers gobbed upon by hostile British punk rockers at every stop.

He says with a laugh, "We were so full of poison from that experience, but also we were extremely tight, because we'd been playing every night, and we'd been playing every week for a year. So we had the songs down. It was at that [critical punk-rock] moment, 1977. It is a kind of natural night to be used to demonstrate what things were like."

Matador partner Gerard Cosloy says that the inspiration for "Time" came from Michael Carlucci -- owner of punk specialty retailer Subterranean Records in New York -- who suggested the label meet with Hell to discuss the release of some unheard material.

Cosloy says, "One thing in particular that he mentioned that was very much unavailable, hadn't been released before, and was in his possession were the live recordings of these New York and London shows. He sent us a cassette of the whole thing. Just putting that on in the office, it was pretty thrilling. To our mind, this is classic material."

The almost simultaneous release of "Hot & Cold" was coincidental, according to Hell: "I've been working on the 'Hot & Cold' thing since 1998. This Matador thing only arose months ago. They didn't know about the 'Hot & Cold' thing until I told them. It's great the way it turned out, because they make nice companion pieces."

Of greatest interest to music fans will be the book's pieces, first published in Hit Parader, New York Rocker, Spin, and elsewhere, on such artists as Sid Vicious, Pere Ubu's Peter Laughner, the Ramones, and self-penned takes on Television and Heartbreakers guitarist Johnny Thunders, as well as a series of poems co-authored with Television guitarist Tom Verlaine in the early '70s under the name "Theresa Stern."

Hell, who says he is working on a new novel and has no plans for any more work in music, says his promotion of "Time" and "Hot & Cold" will be limited. "I'm going to Europe all of March, and I'll be doing a bunch of readings in England, and a little time in Paris. It'll be publicity for both things. That'll be the end of it."




Excerpted from the March 16, 2002, issue of Billboard. The full text of the article is available in the Billboard.com members section.

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