Richard Hell and the Voidoids

  • Biography:

    Richard Hell led the Voidoids, one of the most harshly uncompromising bands on New York's late 70's punk scene, playing songs with dissonant, jagged guitar lines and dark, free-association imagery that owed something to both Captain Beefheart and the Velvet Underground. Hell had played with Johnny Thunders' Heartbreakers and with the Neon Boys, who later became Television. He then formed the Voidoids to perform his own songs. They were regular attractions at the punk showcase CBGB, along with Blondie, the Ramones and Talking Heads.

    Hell's 1977 debut album, Blank Generation, provided two anthems for the scene, the title cut and "Love Comes in Spurts." Although Hell performed frequently, he remained obscure outside of New York and London. In 1979 Nick Lowe produced a single, "The Kid With the Replaceable Head."

    In 1982 Hell resurfaced with a new band and an album, Destiny Street. (Original Voidoids guitarist Robert Quine, meanwhile, had joined Lou Reed's band for The Blue Mask). Hell also began an acting career, appearing in Susan Seidelman's 1982 film Smithereens. He later acted in a 1993 underground film, Rachel Amodeo's What About Me?

    By the mid-'80s, Hell had seemingly put music behind him; his writing —nonfiction, fiction, and poetry —was published by a variety of magazines, and he began doing spoken-word performances. R.I.P. and Funhunt documented live shows and outtakes; Go Now consists of Hell, accompanied by Quine, reading extracts from his novel by that name, which was eventually published by Scribner in 1996.

    In 1992, Hell joined the Dim Stars, a side project initiated by Sonic Youth's Thurston Moore and Steve Shelley with Gumball's Dom Fleming; the group, which played a limited number of gigs, released a triple seven-inch EP and a self-titled album. By 1999, Hell had begun work on a second novel, and his writing appeared in the collection The Rolling Stone Book of the Beats. The original Voidoids briefly reassembled in 2000 to record the one-off "Oh," a new studio track released only on the Internet.

    This biography originally appeared in The Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock & Roll (Simon & Schuster, 2001).

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