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Guide to the Richard Hell Papers, 1944-2010 (Bulk 1969-2003) MSS.140

Fales Library and Special Collections
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Fales Library and Special Collections

Collection processed by Leif Sorensen, June 2004 - March 2005, and Vanessa Sparling, April - August 2005. Media updates by Rhyannon Rodriguez, December 2009.

This finding aid was produced using ArchivesSpace on August 01, 2018
Finding aid written in English

 Updated by Jacqueline Rider to reflect incorporation of video preservation master and sub-master files Updated by Megan O'Shea to prepare artwork being sent to offsite art storage in September 2017  , March 2017 , August 2017

Biographical Note

Richard Hell was born Richard Meyers on October 2, 1949 in Lexington, KY, where he lived until he was 15. He dropped out of high school in 1966 to come to New York and make his way as a poet. In New York he bought a used table-top offset printing press and began publishing books and magazines under the imprints "Genesis : Grasp" and "Dot Books". Before he was twenty-one his poems were published in numerous periodicals, ranging from Rolling Stone to the  New Directions Annuals. Wanting more direct, physical relief, he started a rock and roll band with his high school friend, Tom (Miller) Verlaine. This band, The Neon Boys (1973), evolved into the group Television, which Richard left in 1975 before the group recorded their first album. He then immediately joined with Johnny Thunders and Jerry Nolan, who had just departed the New York Dolls, to form the Heartbreakers, which Richard also quit after one year and before recording a studio album. In 1976 he founded the group the Voidoids (1976). Hell became known in the mid-Seventies as an originator of the punk movement. His album  Blank Generation (Sire/Warners, 1977) by 'Richard Hell and the Voidoids' was chosen by the New York Times as one of the ten best albums of the decade.

Hell's second album, Destiny Street (Red Star/Jem, 1982), was declared by the Times to be among the ten best of its year of release. His third release was  R.I.P. (ROIR, 1984), a collection of outtakes and unreleased material from the length of his musical career as well as several new songs recorded in New Orleans. Hell retired from music after the release of R.I.P., but made an exception in 1992 to record a one-off set with Thurston Moore and Steve Shelley of Sonic Youth and Don Fleming of Gumball. The self-titled CD by this new group, Dim Stars, was released worldwide in 1992.

As a poet, Hell is the author of Wanna Go Out? by Theresa Stern (collaborative poems with Tom Verlaine, Dot Books, 1973) ,  I Was A Spiral On The Floor (poems, Soyo Publications, Amsterdam, 1988), and  Across the Years (Soyo, Amsterdam, 1992). A short novel,  The Voidoid that he wrote in 1973, was published by CodeX in Britain in 1996. The collection of his notebooks from the seventies, Artifact, was published by Hanuman Books in 1990. In the late '80s he edited the NY literary magazine CUZ for the Poetry Project at St. Mark's Church. He has been widely anthologized and, is represented in such '90s anthologies as:  Out of This World (fiction, Crown Publishers, 1992),  Am Lit (fiction, Editions Druckhaus Galrev, Berlin, 1992),  The Penguin Book of Rock Criticism (essays, Penguin, 1992),  Jungles D'Ameriques (fiction, AAC Editions, Paris, 1993),  Low Rent (fiction, Grove Press, 1994), and  The Rolling Stone Book of the Beats (essay, Hyperion, 1999), as well as  Beat Punks (essay, Da Capo, 2000), and  Aroused (introductory essay, poems, and fiction, Thunder's Mouth Press, 2001).

Hell's first full length novel, Go Now, an account, set in 1980, of a burned-out junkie punk driving across America with a former girlfriend, was published in 1996 by Scribner in the U.S.A. and Fourth Estate in Britain. The paperback of  Go Now (Scribner) came out in the U.S., June, 1997.

In 1998 Richard embarked on a project of co-publishing--with Will Patton, actor, and Mette Madsen, painter--and editing a series of poetry pamphlets under the imprint CUZ Editions. The first of these was a small book by Hell entitled Weather. Seven more titles (Autobiography in Words by Susan Noel with drawings by Mette Madsen, WillieWorld by Maggie Dubris, Sitting Pretty by Michael DeCapite, Lassitudes of Fire by Will Patton, Chaldea/I Dig Girls by Nick Tosches, Love Poems by Rene Ricard with drawings by Robert Hawkins, and Padgett, Ron's Poems I Guess I Wrote with drawings by George Schneeman) were published in 1998-2001, completing the series.

The French translation of Hell's novel Go Now, retitled by the publisher--Éditions de l'Olivier (Paris)--  L'oeil du Lézard, was published in April, 1999. In September, 1999, the French art book publisher Éditions Anna Polèrica returned to print in a facing-page French/English bilingual format the Tom Verlaine/R. Hell collaborative book of poems  Wanna Go Out?.

Hell has publicly read from his writings at numerous clubs, universities, bookstores, and other venues in the U.S. and Europe. In video, Untitled, Big Show, and Prehistory are three poeokes (poem-karaokes) made by Hell in 1993-4 using software created by Perry Hoberman. Each one lasts 3-5 minutes. Richard frequently projects these videos on a large screen to provide a little spectacle at his readings.

In October 1998 Hell had a first gallery show of his drawings [at "Extended Play"] at Rupert Goldsworthy Gallery in New York. Accompanying the show was the publication of a new short collection of a miscellany of his writings (poems, essays, notebooks, etc.) and drawings entitled Hot and Cold (Vehicle Editions). The book was an advance preview of a full-length collection of such work that was published by powerHouse Books in 2001. The full-scale, 256 page  Hot and Cold, is a compendium juxtaposing the best of Richard's writings and graphics which have not appeared previously in his books, including the lyrics to all the songs he'd written to date. Hell not only wrote the book and designed its pages, he also compiled its vivid index.

As an actor Hell established his reputation as a star of Susan Seidelman's (Desperately Seeking Susan, etc.) initial feature Smithereens, which made history by being the first American independent film to be invited to compete at Cannes. Hell has played leading roles in a number of New York underground films, from Rachid Kerdouche's punk film noir, Final Reward (1978), and Nick Zedd's mad-scientist/horror parody, Geek Maggot Bingo (1982), to Rachel Amodeo's examination of the plight of the homeless in, What About Me? (1992). The feature-length film, Blank Generation, in which Hell played opposite French star Carole Bouquet in 1978, features live performances by Hell and the Voidoids at CBGB. The film was re-released in March 2000.

In 2000, Hell accepted a commission from the major Internet music label MusicBlitz to record a new song. He ended up gathering his original band of Voidoids--Robert Quine, Ivan Julian, and Marc Bell--to do it. It was the first time they'd been in the studio together since 1977. The result is called "Oh" and was available for a year exclusively as an MP3 for free download at MusicBlitz.com, but was withdrawn as a free download upon release of the MusicBlitz CD compiled by Wayne Kramer entitled Beyond Cyberpunk which included the song.

In March 2002 Matador Records released a 2 CD compilation by Hell called Time, comprising an expanded version of his 1984 collection of demos, outtakes, and unreleased versions R.I.P., plus a CD of two live sets, one at the Music Machine in London, 1977, and a short one from CBGB in 1978.

Richard's most important recent undertaking is his new novel, Godlike. Excerpts from it have appeared in The World, Purple, and Bald Ego. A pamphlet of chapter XII of the novel, entitled 2-D Beckoning was published by Angry Dog Midget Editions (Colorado Springs) in 2003. The novel will be published by Dennis Cooper's imprint, Little House on the Bowery, at Akashic Books, to appear in July, 2005. Set largely in the early '70s, but structured as a middle-aged poet's 1997 notebooks and drafts for a memoir-novel, the book recounts the story of a young man's affair with a remarkable teenage poet.

Also in 2004 Richard undertook to write a regular feature movie column for BlackBook, the "progressive urban" youth culture bi-monthly out of New York.