In thinking about how cool Robert Quine was, and in searching for a killer live clip of Richard Hell and the Voidoids, I was reminded of how weak Richard Hell’s career was beside that first Voidoids album. Oh, the second album has a couple of good tracks, especially a cover of Them’s “I Can Only Give You Everything”, but the truth is Hell got a ton of mileage out of a couple of good ideas, a great Look, and lord knows how many Sugar Daddies and Sugar Mommas.
For starters, who funded the making of this film, entitled – with prescience of the man’s severely limited supply of greatness – Blank Generation? I don’t recall it having been released back in the days when I was young enough to have run out to see it. Have any of you seen this? Check out the plot synopsis from IMDB:
Nada, a beautiful French journalist on assignment in New York, records the life and work of an up and coming punk rock star, Billy. Soon she enters into a volatile relationship with him and must decide whether to continue with it, or return to her lover, a fellow journalist trying to track down the elusive Andy Warhol.
By the time I was 20 I didn’t need any more proof that Hell was one multi-untalented dude.
I knew Hell had put out some books of poetry, but poetry’s typically not my bag. No offense to any hard-working poets out there, but Jewel and Jimmy Stewart wrote books of poetry too. It’s probably pretty easy to get a book of poetry published if you’re gap-toothed with nice jugs or one of America’s greatest actors. Hell was pretty much of the gap-toothed/great jugs variety, so I may have overlooked a truly telented American poet. If so, my apologies.
I do recall seeing Hell in his post-lone great work prime in some other movie, Smithereens. in which he played pretty much himself as a lame boyfriend to a nice Jewish girl who was trying to be a punk. Or something like that. I think there were a lot of empowerment issues being explored. I just remember wishing I’d found the girl more appealing to watch while probably earning her NYU acting degree.^
Years passed, and every once in a while I’d try to check in to see if Hell would be doing anything new. He must have had a nice little income from whatever it was he was doing while seeming to do nothing. Finally there was that Dim Stars project, in which Hell, Robert Quine, some Sonic Youth members, and others delivered…a brief EP! An EP that stunk, mind you. They may have done something else down the road, but by this time I wasn’t checking back any time soon.
Finally, about 5 or 6 years ago I finally got to hear the early Televison demos that Brian Eno recorded, when Hell was still in the band. They were terrible, primarily because Hell couldn’t play bass. What was he, someone’s girlfriend? I know he had those nice, full lips and chiseled cheekbones, but the guy was proto-bad! When we think of brilliant moves that our favorite artists made in their careers, we should rank the dumping of Richard Hell from Television high among the accomplishments of Tom Verlaine and Richard Lloyd.
^Note: Director Susan Seidelman would go on to direct Desparately Seeking Susan, with both Madonna and Rosanna Arquette, two women who did a much better job of holding my interest. Hell had a small role in this film. Consider Seidelman one of his Sugar Mommas.