Punk pioneer and published poet shares advice
Rock And Rules - Richard Hell

The cautionary tales of Punk pioneer and published poet Richard Hell.


When I moved to New York, I had no money and no education so I just ended up having a bunch of unskilled gigs - I was a longshoreman for a few months, I also worked in bookstores, I drove a taxi, I worked in the post office - I would just take any job until I’d saved up a couple hundred dollars that would allow me to quit and spend as many weeks as I could without working. It was actually up until the second band I was in that I was able to quit working. The job was just an unnecessary evil.


So few bands end up making records and so few of those records ever really get any respect. The only way to come out of it ahead is to be true to what you think is important to do - you have to do it yourself, because you have to pull out from inside yourself what’s worth saying in order to have any chance of confidence that you’re not gonna have regrets, that you’re gonna have pride in what you did.


Tom Verlaine and I were best friends when we started Television, but then as things developed, once we started getting attention, we had different vibes, tensions developed. These tensions develop once you start being in a position of making decisions that matter - everybody wants to be that person. For me, choosing rock ‘n’ roll is about having this kind of ecstatic freedom all the time, doing whatever you felt like, indulging yourself, telling the truth, whereas, at the same time, rock ‘n’ roll is a business, and it’s one of the most cut-throat businesses, and it’s ruled by gangsters and bureaucracies. And that too creates all these tensions: it’s really hard to resolve that conflict.


What was really exciting to me about having a band was that there were all these separate interesting means for communicating stuff and I wanted them to be consistent and I wanted to take advantage of all those means - songs had to be the centre of it, but there was also the way you dressed, there was your interviews, your facial expressions, your hair, your posters, your album covers; all these ways to convey messages, and I wanted to think about those things and to be deliberate about them, to conceive the band as this whole multi-faceted package that had all these separate ways of saying what you wanted to say.


The role that drugs played was to reduce my creativity and to interfere with it. On drugs you just tend to take the easy way all the time, you don’t demand the most of yourself. And my experience is that it’s really a joy for maybe eighteen months and then it’s just an oppressive whore for the subsequent ten years or lifetime or death-time. Basically, until you find a way out of it, it just becomes a slog; it just becomes a horrible unending, relentless grey routine of hell.


I didn’t like the grind with the record companies, the club owners, or just the necessity to be touring all the time. The thing I liked about rock n roll was playing to my own people in New York, and making records. The whole lot of the rest of it, I just didn’t feel like I was suited for it. I continued on for another five years because I didn’t know what to do with myself, and also I got lazier and lazier and drove my bandmates crazy because I didn’t want to do any more than the minimum I had to because I didn’t like it. I’m not very much of an example for the young generation!!



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