I am not one for awards but in my mind Richard Hell should one day be considered our poet laureate if that title actually means anything. My guess is that he will be awarded the French National Order of Arts and Letters before that happens. I have written here before that 1974 was a great year for videotape. Here is Exhibit B. What can I say. One of my favorite bands of all time with their greatest line-up. I could paraphrase what Patti Smith said about Television in the October 1974 Rock Scene but instead I have scanned and resurrected the original from the barn archive below. I also have finally figured out how to take still video captures so you get a few images from the barn video archive as well. There is something quite amazing about the quality of this video. It is in black and white and has the same feel as a lot of the early installation video pieces or of some black and white surveillance camera tape. One of the last two clips on the 60 minute tape are 1974 era Television doing a number that really was a Neon Boys tune carried over to the new band. Called “High Heeled Wheels” on the 90’s Overground reissue, this really is the just what the tail end of the Nixon-era needed – a hyped up Beefheart-Dolls garage band hybrid. That could describe late 80’s Claw Hammer but that is the subject of some future post. What a fantastic tone they got on those guitars, true authenticity to the 1966 sound.
Was it thee Terry Ork filming this thing? Whoever it was just thinks Richard is the bees knees and cant take the camera off the guy. Thing is, based on his charisima on the video – even while getting a passive aggressive beatdown by Tom Verlaine while being taught Venus de Milo, Hell really is deserving of the attention he gets. You know who my favorite nouvelle vague film star is. Not Belmondo, Karina, Delon or Deneuve et al. No, in the alternate time machine it is Richard Hell nee Meyers. Yeah, he never was in one of the films, born in Lexington, KY (1949). He should have been a huge screen star. In my mind he is. What do I base that on? Not that much really. Lemmee see Smithereens, Blank Generation, Amos Poe’s short film. I blinked and missed getting my mits on the Rachid Karouchie film “Final Reward.” Can some reader help me out with that. The entire rehearsal video tape (of which I have several audio variations) should be in the Smithsonian one day – as rich a US cultural artifact from the second half of the 20th century as any.
I guess it has been said a million times previously but not only does Hell possess a beat sensibility, but also a European one with a mirror reflection back on the best of Anglo-American 1940’s-60’s pop culture. His cultural signifiers are analogous to the Cahier Du Cinema writers on classic Hollywood form/film noir who then influenced the New Hollywood of the 70’s. His stance is the poetbreakthrough of the 60’s/70’s via Dylan, certain of the Beats, the New York School poets and perhaps foremost the French Symbolists, filtered through the transcendental act of writing alone in a spare room (with or without substances) and venturing out to see the Max's era Velvets and the Dolls. Why Todd Haynes did not cast Richard in I’m Not There is beyond me. For Richard, its not like the hippies never happened but the only hippies who grokked the 1880’s, the Charlatans, were looking to Reno, Nevada and Carson City, and not Paris and Algeirs. He is the last of the breed, art house cinema by way of the worldview of Iggy Stooge. I don’t hear/see the nihilism that Bangs writes of. To me, it is a love of exploring the boundaries of consciousness with words. The 1970’s that Bresson depicts in “The Devil Probably,” and which I have written about here before in connection with Hell, speaks more to Hell's early 70's mindset than something as empty as the kinda dismal Blank Generation film (other than the great live clips with Bob Quine). Is Hell nostalgic for this initial youthful period of inspiration? He has written about that period (or published his diaries) in the Hanuman book and Godlike touches on the period as well. It obviously still transfixes him (and us). We are a fly on the wall to one aspect of that time period with the Ork tape. He was making some of the most important music of the last century. As much time has passed from the recordings of the Neon Boys/nascent Television to the present day as from the first electric Muddy Waters recordings to the early 70’s. Is one more deserving of serious critical appraisal than the other? I think not. Time is moving forward and we cant stop it.
Last time I saw Richard Hell in person he was then working on (finished?) his latest novel set in the early 70’s NYC poetry scene. Richard had come through LA probably 2 maybe 3 times in the past decade to read. Last time (at least that I know of) when I was still living in there, he did a great reading at Beyond Baroque in Venice. Anyway, at that reading, Richard read a chapter from the novel that became Godlike. It was the tail end of that historical time frame that the Ork video inhabits and one thing I was thinking about when the word spiel was coming down from the mike that night.
Finally, here is Television live in Terry Ork's loft in NYC 1974 performing "Eat the Light" (for some reason excerpts get taken down as quickly as they go up):