Sunday, November 27, 2005

Your Pretty Face Is Going To Hell

"Here was a guy all deconstructed, torn down, looking like he'd just crawled out of a drain hole, looking like he was covered in slime, looking like he hadn't slept in years, looking like he hadn't washed in years, and looking like no one gave a fuck about him.

And looking like he didn't really give a fuck about you! He was this wonderful, bored, drained, scarred, dirty guy with a torn T-shirt."

-Malcolm McLaren on Richard Hell, from Please Kill Me: The Uncensored Oral History of Punk by Legs McNeil and Gillian McCain, Grove Press, 1996.

You've seen him as you've skimmed countless punk history books, the dark-eyed street kid skulking at the edge of the frame in the photos...spiky hair, gangly limbs, torn-up clothes and a gutterpoet's sneer, not knowing if he was packing a blade or a Rimbaud anthology in that leather jacket. The kid was none other than Richard Hell, "proto-punk legend" (he'd probably fucking hate the moniker, though), he of the Blank Generation and all that jazz. It's been speculated endlessly that the Sex Pistols owed a tremendous debt to the influence of Hell upon their visual and fashion aesthetic, and while that might be true, Hell's fierce, spiky intelligence and literary smarts have been just as enduring and inspirational.

With the release of Rhino's excellent new anthology, Spurts: The Richard Hell Story, comes what Hell himself refers to as "the ur Richard Hell album, the Platonic ideal, the only one, for whatever it's worth". Self-compiled from his two studio albums fronting the Voidoids, a few odds and ends, and a handful of tracks from Dim Stars, Hell's 1992 collaboration with Thurston Moore, Steve Shelly and Don Fleming, Spurts is an eclectic and sprawling collection and the most complete overview of his work yet.

Unfortunately, I'd never quite gotten the crash-course in Hell from any of my older punk teachers over the years, although now, I wish I would've. I knew "Blank Generation" and I knew who Hell was, but I hadn't really dug through his back catalogue too deeply. Of the material collected on Spurts, the most immediately surprising and attention-grabbing are the Dim Stars cuts, sounding both mumbly-sweet and darkly ominous, all at once.

Here, Hell sounds less like an acerbic punk in safety pins than a distant cousin to Lee Ranaldo or Calvin Johnson, his warm, scruffy growl coasting on top of the guitar fuzz bubbling under it. There's something immediately lovable (and pleasingly scuffed-up) about the Dim Stars tracks on display, and my favorite's probably "The Night is Comin' On", which does that sweet-sour, noisy thing just perfectly (scroll down for link). It jangles, it churns and - most importantly - it rocks. Enjoy it...

Dim Stars - "The Night is Comin' On"

(MP3, 192kpbs, 5.3MB)

That's it for now...stay gold and see y'all soon...

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