Pat Ivers and Emily Armstrong continue sorting through their archives of punk-era concert footage as it’s digitized for the Downtown Collection at N.Y.U.’s Fales Library
It has probably reminded this self-deprecating and essentially very private man why he dropped from the public eye to begin with. The tension between his introversion and the will to perform has always been Hell’s biggest conundrum. And what better way to help relive that dichotomy than a book tour? Maybe it’s a form of therapy. We have the feeling he would rather chew glass.
Certainly, writing the book must have therapeutic. It is an unsparing look at his life and times. While Patti Smith’s book, “Just Kids,” reminds us of that line from “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance” – the one about “when the legend becomes fact, print the legend” — Hell’s “Tramp” takes a different approach. He is merciless as he takes the measure of himself and those around him during those bleary days and fevered nights. Oh, there are plenty of laughs but it hits hard and it feels honest.
Hell said recently on WNYC’s Leonard Lopate Show that he might return to the recording studio but never again would he perform live. That’s a shame. It is hard to convey the electricity that would course though a room when Hell hit the stage. Today’s clip summons some of that magic as he plays with the Voidoids in August of 1979, doing a jittery take on “Game of Love,” the old Wayne Fontana and the Mindbenders hit from the early 60s.
“Richard picked what covers we would perform,” remembers bassist Jahn Xavier (aka X Sessive). “We did lots of covers, Hendrix’s ‘Crosstown Traffic,’ Iggy Pop’s ‘I Wanna Be your Dog,’ Creedence’s ‘Walking On The Water.’ We even had a version of Sinatra’s ‘All the Way.'” (They recorded that one — on the reissue of “Blank Generation,” it became available as a bonus track.)
“We wouldn’t really play covers on the road,” Xavier says. “Those audiences just wanted to hear Hell songs. But, you know, when you shot that show, we had just gotten back from a tour of the Midwest. It was great to be home so we could be looser and play songs like ‘Game of Love.’ I just love how happy we look that night. Sometimes, when you look back at the arc of things, you have trouble remembering it all. But there it was. We were having fun.”
Richard Hell month carries on into April and beyond (is that legal?). On April 3, Richard will be reading at the Fales Library at NYU, where his papers reside as a part of the Downtown Collection. And in May, the “Punk: Chaos to Couture” show will open at the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute. The catalog’s preface is written by Mr. Hell.
So go ahead, read the book, see the exhibit, and put on one of the old CDs. It will be fun.
This post originally appeared on The Local East Village.