On Destiny Street with Richard Hell

A person of musical influence. A trendsetter. A punk rock trailblazer and icon. A renowned writer, poet, and author. An actor. Richard Hell has been all of these things. As a founding member of seminal New York rock bands Television and the Heartbreakers prior to finding a more permanent spot in his own band (obviously), Richard Hell and the Voidoids, Richard’s contributions are enormous in the grand scheme. His presence and importance of that legendary ‘new wave’ of rock scene that was happening, essentially centered around CBGB cannot be overstated. To this day Richard’s influence can be witnessed.

HEARTBREAKERS - w RH_1

After finding traction with his own band, he released two fantastic albums from 1977 to 1981, Blank Generation and Destiny Street, respectively. After the recording and release cycle for the latter was complete, Richard just walked away from music altogether. Over the years, he’s revisited his music from time to time by overseeing intermittent reissues and special editions.

Personally, Richard Hell has been a huge influence on me where much of my art, as it were, is concerned (the word ‘art’ is used loosely and subjectively). Having an opportunity to speak with him about the release Destiny Street Complete was something that I was willing to inquire about until the interview was confirmed, no matter how many times I had to try after hearing the word ‘no’. It was a great chance to speak with him at length about some of his music, so I was fully prepared to dig in until the powers that be finally tired due to my persistence. Thankfully Richard was agreeable with only one request, so I wouldn’t have to humiliate myself over and over again after all.

TELEVISION - w RH_1

Since he exited the realm of music and never looked back, I was unsure about how gung-ho Richard might be to elaborate on much of what went on with the album. Obviously, he’s behind the re-rerelease along with Omnivore Records, but he has, after all, been sitting and living with all of the relevant stories for 4o fucking years now. That leaves a whole lot of time for a person to become disgusted with talking about all of it. Much to my relief and delight he was completely accommodating, answering questions with no apprehension.

This is the kind of situation that puts a person in a place to discuss one or two key points even though there’s so much more that it’d be so cool to talk about and get straight from the source. It was one of those situations that you almost forget all of the things that you’d prepared for a long time to ask. You’re left with your proverbial dick in your hand, drawing a blank on what to say and ask. You feel the end of this scarce opportunity closing in fast. The huge fan in me really wanted to asked him a million questions: about his career, his personal experiences in that whole scene, his contributions to defining moments in rock & roll history, and still more. But as a person collecting facts about a specific period for a specific event, I wanted to remain focused on the release at hand as best I could.

But it was such a great time talking with Richard. I’d do it again if I could. Who knows? Maybe there’ll be another such opportunity to take advantage of sometime in the future. Regardless of what happens, to Richard I say, “Thank you humbly and completely for your time and help.” And to you, I say…

Dig it!

Richard Hell - Press Photo by Roberta Bayley

What made you want to go back and Take such care of Destiny Street? Did it have anything to do with giving it the same kind of treatment that you gave to the 40th anniversary rerelease of Blank Generation a few years back?

No, I’ve intended to do this for a long time. It was basically rooted in my horror at the original. I got the rights back to the original LP and to do whatever I wanted to with it. That was almost 20 years ago, back in 2001 or 2002. I just let it go out of print because I was so demoralized about the whole experience. I had a very bad relationship with the dubious record company. I only had a bad experience with the record company who had continually been licensing it around the world. I mean, there must be seven different licensing deals they made without informing me, much less paying me for it. I’ve always been disappointed about how the record turned out.

I was a mess when that album was made. I sabotaged it just because I wasn’t well. It’s always been a thorn in my side, when I’d listen to it I’d always get a sinking feeling. When I got the rights back I let it go out of print on purpose. I did the best I could to make it tolerable. I didn’t know how I was going to do it because the record company claimed to’ve lost the original tapes.

I finally discovered the 24-track two inch master tapes in 2019. I was contacted by the last studio where I’d done the album and they told me that they’d found them in a storage space upstate. They very generously turned them over to me. I mean, they do belong to me but they didn’t have to tell me that they’d found them. That put me in a position to do what I’ve dreamed of being able to do so I put out a remixed version. To me, it’s like a huge burden had been lifted.

Is there any way that the original label really did think that the masters were gone or really didn’t know where they were at the whole time?

No. I think that Marty Thau, who ran Red Star Records, hadn’t paid for the studio time. That’s my best guess. It would be completely typical. He just told us they were lost. I mean, he had to know where they were.

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So, did Marty sit in as the producer on the album?

No. No, he had nothing to do with the production. He just booked the studio time. He was just a small-time hustler. The music business is notorious for people like him. Going back 30 or 40 years. nothing’s changed. There’s a book about the record industry called “Hit Men”. It was written by a guy who wrote about business. The previous book he’d done was about the Teamsters. In “Hit Men” the guy who wrote about the music industry was highly respected in that world. He said bar none, including the Teamsters, the music business was the dirtiest business he’d ever seen. They convey a complete indifference to the artists. They’re the least important part of the construction of the business. So yeah, that’s where Marty comes from.

Is that why you decided to walk out of the business altogether?

No, I mean, I was no day at the beach myself. I didn’t even go to the studio for a week because I was so messed up. But no, it had nothing to do with it. I didn’t like it. But the reason I left the business, was because I didn’t like the life, I didn’t want to live in buses on the road, . It’s really hard to resist he drug part of it. So much of it is just so boring. But the rest of it is so demanding. It was an ordeal. So, I got out.  

Your disillusionment with the record business over all, is that why there was such a big gap between the release of Blank Generation and Destiny Street?

It wasn’t actually as long as it looked. We released Blank Generation at the end of ‘77 and we started recording Destiny Street in ‘81. Then there was a year delay before it was actually released. I think it was the same thing that happened with the tapes. The label couldn’t pay the bill at Chelsea Sound studios. So, there was a year that passed before we could do the last bits of mixing and get the record finished. It was more like 3 years rather than five, but that’s still too long. My condition played heavily into it. Also, I was so unhappy with my original record company, Sire. After the tour I did with The Clash in the UK, we sued them to get out of the contract. That was a technicality that allowed us to break the contract, which is what I wanted to do. I realize in retrospect that that wasn’t really wise to do. The treatment that I just liked so bad was the same treatment that everyone gets before they have a hit record. And after they have a hit record they are just treated badly in a different way.

I’m being very evil about the record business but I have had some really good relationships with some companies. There’s been a few. But I sued the record company to get out of the contract, successfully. But that wasn’t so smart because who is going to want me? Not only had the record not sold anything, but I sued the record company, and I was a junkie. I wouldn’t tour. I hated touring. I would only play if I absolutely had to, to pay the rent or something, you know. But yeah, there were a whole lot of factors that played into the delay between the two albums.

It’s ironic that you disliked playing in a live capacity so much because the band sounds so tight on Destiny Street, like the writing and the togetherness was really bolstered from album to album.

Well, I’m glad to hear you say that. But I really have mixed feelings on the subject.

What’s it like from your perspective?

Well, I think that where the improvement comes in is in the songwriting. I think the songs are better written on Destiny Street. But that band was only put together for the album. We only really rehearsed for a few weeks. Maybe a month. The only consistent part of it was Quine. Fred Maher and Naux were only signed on for the record. The production is much better on Blank Generation. The instruments were better recorded. We knew what we wanted to do on Blank Generation, and I was there. With Destiny Street and some ways, I was only half there.

On Blank Generation I knew exactly what I wanted everything to sound like. Richard Gottehrer, who produced Blank Generation was a real professional. I had my problems with him but he did a good job of getting the clarity on that album that we wanted. That’s where Destiny Street really falls short. it wasn’t recorded very well. I also wasn’t there supervising for most of the guitar playing. We laid down all the basic tracks essentially and played it live. Alan Betrock was a good guy, the producer. He had really good taste but he didn’t have much experience as a producer. He didn’t really know his way around the studio like that. So, there is no crunch, no crispness, no real distinction between the different instruments. And all of that stuff was just made worse by the original mix.

After the week or week and a half of putting down the basic tracks, I just disappeared. I would call in to tell Bob and Naux where I wanted to put another guitar. So, we ended up with like six guitars on some songs. It wound up just sounding like high pitched sludge. There are really good guitar parts on the album, but it just sounds frantic sometimes. Quine would later talk about how he got to get some things out on that album that he wanted to do. I mean, he plays backwards a few times on there. It’s that kind of thing. Blank Generation sounded more deliberate and thought through.

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You wound up putting a previously unreleased song on this new release of Destiny Street.

Yeah, that was the only outtake on the masters that we found so I thought, “You’ve gotta use it.” I could see why I originally didn’t use it.

Really? What was wrong?

Yeah, it’s just sort of there for the record.

It’s definitely got a place there on the album. Were there any other songs that you ran across that you hadn’t used in the past?

No, that’s the only one that was on the three tapes that we found. There’s a fourth tape that we didn’t find so something could be on there that I don’t remember but this is always found for now.

If you happen to find something new later on , would it ever be used in release?

Yeah, if it were an outtake I probably would. But I don’t think I’ll go further with this album. I kind of dig the way we did remixes for three of the Repaired songs for the three missing songs on Remixed. It’s cool to hear the way they are juxtaposed throughout that record. For me it worked. They don’t seem out of place. They have different guitars, soloing. I mean, they were made from the basic songs on a cassette tape that was 20 years old.

In the early 2000s when I got the rights back record, I came across this cassette tape in a box. It was the whole album , but it was the basic instrumentations. No vocals or solos. And it was just on a cassette tape run off very casually at the end of the sessions for me to take home an listen to so I could feel my way around it and know how I wanted to proceed. It was certainly not intended to ever be released in any form.

So, it was just a plain old run-of-the-mill cassette tape.

Yeah. It was just a regular cassette, no high fidelity . It was just something that was roughly put together for me to take home. So, there was no way we could adjust that. There was no way of mixing it at all. The relationship between the drums the bass and all the guitars was fixed there was nothing that could be changed about it. It just had two channels. that was the basis of Repaired.  We laid over the new guitar solos and my vocals on this cassette tape. It’s amazing that it can be slid into the remix thing without being jarring.

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Speaking of the remix, did you seek Nick Zinner out? Did you always have him in mind for this project? What went into that decision?

In 2019 when I found those tapes I instantly knew that I wanted to remix them. He just jumped to mind. I had been in the studio with him before. He produced the Pussy Riot “I Can’t Breathe” single about Eric Garner that I was on too. That was a fantastic experience all together. I was very impressed with his skills and I had been a Yeah Yeah Yeahs fan. So, it was an obvious connection for me. It was like a light went off in my head. It felt very natural. I thought, “I’ll see if Nick would be into it.” He immediately signed on.

In addition to this release, do you have any other projects that you’re working on at the moment for 2021?

I have a book that I’m imagining that I’ve been working on I’ll hopefully be ready to start showing to the publishers around the spring, anyway. When the lockdown started with the pandemic, I’d been doing some journalism. I don’t necessarily work really hard unless it’s on something that I’m doing. But I have been doing journalism, maybe a few big assignments a year that would take up time. But all that melted away when the lockdown started.

So, my life really changed just like everybody’s did. I really thrived on the isolation. It was interesting because I always complain and protest when people say that I’m a poet because I’ve never really been a poet. When I was a teenager, all the way up into my earliest 20s, that was my real ambition. I had hoped to figure out how to write a good poem. Poetry meant everything to me. Throughout my life poetry’s been very important to me but I don’t write it. I stopped writing it when I started writing music. I mean, there might be two or three poems a year but that’s not being a poet.

In this situation, when I found myself on my own, with my own resources and faculties, without any distractions or responsibilities, I’d begun writing poems again. So that’s what I’ve been working on. I’m going to have a manuscript of maybe 30, 40 poems and a couple of essays that have to do with poetry that we’re going to start showing to publishers around February or March or something. So that’s where my mind has been, really. That and putting together this Destiny Street package. ♦

Hell - Destiny Street Complete OV-410

Because Richard Hell stepped away from the music business with only two studio albums, it’ll always leave room to wonder what could’ve been, had there been more. In this regard, it puts Richard in a pantheon of other influential artists whose careers have abruptly ended. Whether it be due to death, disbanding, or simply turning away, any prospective future potentials will never be realized.

Destiny Street is an excellent album and it’s always been a fitting swansong for Richard go out with, but he’s famously been unhappy with the end result of the record for decades. A lot of that dislike was focused on the music’s mix. Now, in time for the Destiny Street’s 40th anniversary, Richard is delivering a newly remixed version of the album that finally allows him to rest his decades-long disdain for the record. Richard and Omnivore Recordings have issued Destiny Street Remixed as a stand-alone release in addition to its inclusion in a larger collection that also has the two other completely different full takes of the album. Along with all of that other material, the collection has another album’s worth of bonus material. For the first time ever, Destiny Street Complete allows you to take that journey over time along with Richard as he attempts to get it to that ultimate point of satisfaction.

This new 2xCD collection offers the original recording of Destiny Street that was originally released in 1982. That’s where this whole trip begins. Following up an album like Blank Generation was no easy feat but his Destiny Street record managed to hold its own. The second version of the album in this new collection is Destiny Street Repaired, which was originally released in 2009. That particular version came about after Richard ran across a single otherwise unremarkable cassette that he found in a box one day by complete happenstance. It was a bare-bones mix that just had the rudiments, like drums, bass, and guitars. No vocals, solos, or real ‘mix’ to speak of. He assembled a group of musicians who added new guitar solos while he rerecorded all of his vocal parts over again, giving the overall recording a bit of an ‘updated’ feeling which really turned out to serve the music very well.

The third full version of the album in the new collection is Destiny Street Remixed, which was done after finding the album’s master tapes after decades of thinking that they’d been lost forever. In 2019, Richard went into the studio with Yeah Yeah Yeahs guitarist Nick Zinner and they managed to get a remix of Destiny Street that genuinely pleased Richard after all of those years of cringing at the album’s general sound. Destiny Street Remixed came out with an excellent new sound that was fitting for the kind of follow-up album it is. Also found in the recordings was another complete song that never made the album entitled “Don’t Die”. It really works with the other songs and pulls it’s own weight to make this version of the album more like what it should’ve been.

I truthfully went in expecting my purist tendencies to take the lead and cloud some of my judgement but it’s not what happened at all. ‘… Remixed’ is a monster of a great record that quelled any hesitations I might’ve had with regard to giving it a fair shake in my mind. It’s an absolute winner of an album.

Destiny Street Demos is a fourth album that contains some really cool demo cuts of just about all of the original tracks along with a version of “Time” that was recorded live for a Bob Quine memorial. With it being an assortment of demos, its contents are different than those of the other recordings included in this collection. This fourth release also stands alone and it’s something that fans are going to want to get ahold of.

As you might imagine, there’s an accompanying booklet to the set that’s some 24 pages long, beginning to end, front and back. It’s packed with liner notes by Richard written during different periods of time over the years. It’s an essential component to the set that ties the separate releases of Destiny Street together as it highlights the essential process the album has been through over the last four decades. You get a coherent, detailed account of how Destiny Street came to be what it is today. Included within the book is a great breakdown of each song on the album. A slew of rare photos helps capture a feeling from back in time during the making of the esteemed history of what’s now known as the early NYC ‘punk’ rock scene. All told, the text and photographs convey a story of something else other than mere nostalgia.

As a comprehensive collection, Destiny Street Complete is a fantastic release that contains three iterations of the full album and, with the demos record included, it plays like four autonomous releases. Because the three versions of Destiny Street are so vastly different, this new set is a really easy listen to take in. It’s a fortunate thing that Richard decided to release this final version of his second and final album because in terms of continuity, Destiny Street is an album that can easily stand alongside of his ’77 classic, Blank Generation. The two albums are two completely separate affairs. Destiny Street is its own individual release that stands alone. So, Destiny Street Complete is a great thing for fans to have so that they can stick it right beside their copy of Blank Generation.

Richard Hell - Destiny Street Remixed - LP

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