Destiny Street Repaired
"Itís a minor miracle that Richard Hell & The Voidoidsí Destiny Street ever got released, but itís the sort of record thatís easy to love despite its flaws. The sound may be murky, the singer may sound like heís about to die and canít wait to get the business over, but the performances are a glorious mess and the songs are audacious, brilliant, and catchy as hell. Iíve had the album since it came out but havenít had to play it in years; Iíd already spun it so often that all I had to do was look at the cover to remember the whole thing.
"It took Hell five years to get around to recording a follow-up to Blank Generation. The Voidoids had been defunct for over a year and the man was soul sick, junk sick, and ready to give up the rock game. But he had some songs, a label ready to give him some money, a palpable need for that cash, and guitarist Robert Quineís phone number, so in 1982 they pulled together a band -- Hell on bass, Quine and the one-named Naux on guitars, Fred Maher on drums -- to make one more record. Things went as planned for a week or two, but after cutting the backing tracks Hell lost his nerve and refused to come into the studio for a week and a half. According to Quine, he and Naux spent that time overdubbing every idea theyíd ever wanted to try, which depending on your perspective turned the music into either 'high-pitched sludge' (per Hell in the liner notes to the Spurts career retrospective) or the aforementioned glorious mess. After Hell finally dragged his sorry ass into the studio to finish the record, it sat in bad business limbo for another year before Line Records finally put it out.
"Ever since then heís expressed his disappointment with the result, and in 2008 Hell geared up to put it right by re-recording the vocals and lead guitars over rough mixes of the rhythm tracks. The impulse to repair past work rarely leads to improvement, and has in some cases -- Chris Stameyís Itís A Wonderful Life, Alex Chiltonís Bachís Bottom, the versions of Variations on a Theme and More Places Forever on David Thomasís Monster box -- resulted in outright defacement. Given that neither Naux nor Quine could participate, since theyíre both dead, and that Hell hasnít been able to put together a complete album of new material since Destiny Streetís release in 1983, this didnít promise to be the exception to the rule. But in a way, Hell had written such intervention into the original script. The title tune is a recitation of a short story about a man stepping back 10 years in time and seducing his younger self. Perhaps he was already throwing a line to the older self who would come back to both console and fuck with the younger Hell?
"Fundamentalists who canít tolerate any departure from the original text should make sure theyíve refilled their blood pressure prescription before they check out Destiny Street Repaired; hopefully Insound and Hell wonít get too Stalinist and pick-axe the Trotskyites who will inevitably post the original CD online, since it deserves to be heard and Hell certainly has not recreated the original note for note. Marc Ribotís leads on opener 'The Kid With The Replacable Head' trace a different path than the originalís fabulous swathes of noise; a lusty female chorus replaces the ragged choir of Hells on 'Lowest Common Denominator.' Ivan Julianís contributions to 'Ignore That Door' add a muscle-rock superstructure that ironically overshadows Hellís singing in a way that the original versionís stun guitars never did. And Bill Frisellís additions much more explicitly sweeten the implied bitterness of 'Going Going Gone.' But his solo at the end of that song is also astonishingly great, economical and raw in ways that youíll never hear on his own records.
"Despite the fact that overall there are fewer guitar tracks, the guitars are actually louder on Repaired than they are on my Line LP, and any record that showcases Ribot, Julian and Frisell in a rocking mood is nothing to ignore. The weirdly striated frequency spectrum of the original mastering job, which seemed as thin as mountain air in the higher frequencies, has been replaced by something much more full and satisfyingly full-on. And as a singer, Hell Mk 2008 manages to hit more of the notes with more force than his more desperate and debilitated self a quarter century earlier without going for any misguided notion of perfection.
"The difference is never more evident than on 'Time,' Hellís greatest song. On the LP, he sounds like a ghost who hasnít been clued into his own demise stumbling through the maze of guitars; on the cleaner, sped-up new version he sounds energized and jubilant, laughing back at mortality with the special triumph that an older man feels when he has just bested a younger man at his own game."
--Bill Meyer, Dusted [NOTE: article at Dusted site features an mp3 of the song "Time" from the new album.]
"To understand the eerie conception behind Richard Hellís new project, Destiny Street Repaired, a stirring re-execution of his late band the Voidoidsí flawed 1982 album, you need to go way back in time. In the closing days of the mid-1960s, Richard Meyers, a fatherless 17-year-old high school dropout came to New York from Kentucky on a Greyhound bus. He was itching to make it as a poet.You can picture him -- a cardboard suitcase in his hand -- moving apprehensively out of Port Authority into the bright lights and big holiday crowds of Times Square.
"Fast forward to the mid-í70s: Meyers has willed himself into Richard Hell, the junkie-thin, goggle-eyed, bass-playing frontman of the Voidoids. Sounding like it came from another planet, the bandís debut, Blank Generation, crystallized the punk zeitgeist and critics knew it right away. But the rock-star glow dimmed as the introspective poet had to live with his unfeeling stage creation.With his genius for synthesizing philosophical and poetic truths together into pop lyrics, Hell might have created a masterpiece from that psychic push and pull.
"Instead, despite flashes of white-hot brilliance like 'Time' and its title track, 'Destiny Street,' the Voidoidsí second and last studio album, was ultimately sunk by lazy production. It was four long years, an eon by pop standards, before Hell and his guitar maestro Robert Quine had gotten it together enough to make the record. By that time, Hell had fallen for the siren song of cheap and readily available junk. 'Itís indisputable that [it] was an inferior piece of work. I always liked the songs, but the arrangements and the production are just miserable,' Hell tells me.
"Itís a broiling morning in the middle of summer when we speak, and Hell is lucky to be Upstate, hundreds of miles away from his East Village apartment, where heís been working on his memoirs at a friendís mountain cabin. Writing is nothing new for him. Heís produced a steady stream of poetry, essays and novels since quitting rock íní roll two years after Destiny Streetís 1982 release. Hell explains that the friction between trying to make good music and work the pop angle, 'really confused me and I finally just gave up and left music.' I ask if the conflict between his two personas had more to do with his lack of productivity than being strung out. 'Yeah, you might be right,' he says after a pause. 'There definitely was a friction there, an internal contradiction.'
"Now heís returned to music with his first suite of newly recorded material since Destiny Street. Repaired features fresh vocals and guitar work laid over rhythm tracks from the original 1981 demos. Itís an unprecedented effort that seems to owe more to daydreams than the music business. Robert Quineís clanging, jaunty leads are notably missing -- he died of an OD in 2004 -- but the album succeeds in being both similar to and better than the original. Hellís infectious yelp -- which by the early 1980s had become more wistful -- is uncannily similar to when he was 30, to the point of being confusing. When I mention this, Hell is obviously pleased, letting out a throaty laugh. 'Yeah, thatís great,' he says. 'I was just trying to do the songs justice.'
"Hell looks decades younger than his 59 years, but thatís not to say he doesnít think about getting old. 'You can see how people get grumpy when they get older. And you can also see why some people kill themselves,' he tells me when asked about his longtime admitted preoccupation with aging. 'When they just feel like theyíve reached the point where they passed their peak.' I ask if heís referring to Dee-Dee Ramone and he letís out a long sigh. He says, 'I think he just ODíd, actually. But it might have been more true of Quine.' Although he was still playing beautifully, he was depressed and contemplating a downward trajectory. Rock Ďní roll is, after all, a young manís sport.
"Hellís relationship with time is complicated, which makes his new renderings of the Destiny material bittersweet. Its most affecting song is the melancholic 'Time,' about the failure of time to deliver release from oneís character defects. Given flight by Quineís (or in the case of Repaired, Quine-styled) minor-key fills, itís a piece of music that rivals anything by Dylan, who is covered on Destiny.'For me, itís kind of the environment in which we exist,' Hell explains. 'Itís time more than anything else. And itís really mysterious and fascinating.'"
--Matt Harvey, The New York Press
"'I do not repudiate any of my paintings,' Henri Matisse once wrote, 'but there is not one of them that I would not redo differently, if I had it to redo.' Once a painting is out of the artistís hands, of course, the opportunity to rework it rarely presents itself -- though Pierre Bonnard is said to have carried a little paint box with him during museum visits in case he felt the need to revise one of his canvases on the spot. Prose writers and poets, on the other hand, more readily revisit their earlier efforts (not always happily, as the onslaughts of Marianne Moore and W. H. Auden against some of their younger works show). And music tends to be a still different story. Composers in the European classical tradition can worry at their published scores the way some poets do with their poems, and of course performers can repeatedly record different versions of the same scores. But rock musicians treat their primary products as, indeed, records -- documents of the moment when disparate elements, brought together by technological alchemy, crystallized into something definitive. To truly redo a finished record has been rare. One of the few instances I can think of is Paul McCartneyís 2003 revision of the Beatlesí 1970 album Let It Be -- shorn of the Phil Spector 'wall of sound' McCartney had always objected to -- as Let It Be . . . Naked. But as the title indicates, McCartneyís intention was not so much to redo the album as to bring it back to some original condition -- a fictional condition, of course, since it was the Beatlesí inability to finish the record themselves that led to Spectorís intervention.
"All of this to say that Richard Hellís Destiny Street Repaired, released this month by the online distributor Insound, might be the first rock record ever "redone" in Matisseís sense -- and this despite a title that likewise evokes a lost-and-regained original state preceding the first version of Destiny Street, made by Hell in 1982 with the Voidoids. Destiny Street was the much-anticipated follow-up to the bandís brilliant Blank Generation (1977), which had immediately been recognized as a quintessential expression of the punk moment. Its very title was a manifesto of refusal. This very quality, however, made it hardly surprising that what followed was five years of silence. This time lag could perhaps be explained by Hellís increasing substance dependence, which certainly enters into his long-standing dissatisfaction with Destiny Street. He recalls often missing studio sessions, merely phoning in to instruct guitarists Robert Quine and Naux to layer more guitars into the mix. For admirers, the resultant squalls of noise are one of the albumís pleasures. Yet by the time Destiny Street finally appeared, punkís initial impetus had spent itself. The term post-punk had been coined as early as 1980. While Blank Generation had paradoxically managed to become a manifesto of the times by articulating an existential isolation ('when I dine itís for the wall that I set a place'), Destiny Street embodied that isolation concretely, in part through its untimeliness. Though its songs were the equal of those on the first album, and if anything were more open in emotion, the record never had the same impact, because it no longer had a context.
"Hellís 'repair,' then, also amounts to a sort of pruning, but unlike McCartney heís done this by adding as well as subtracting: Retaining the original 1982 rhythm tracks (by Quine, Naux, Fred Maher on drums, and Hell on bass), he has rerecorded the vocals and substituted new lead guitar lines (by Marc Ribot, Bill Frisell, and original Voidoid Ivan Julian). Hellís singing was always brilliantly on the edge of control, and as he nears sixty he can still push his voice to its limits; whatís astonishing is that he now also projects an inner clarity that was not there before, putting the lyrics across with unequaled conviction. Oddly, considering that he has lived in New York for more than forty years, his phrasing now betrays a hint of southern drawl retained from his Kentucky childhood.
"Checking on that quote from Matisseís 'Notes of a Painter,' I just noticed that the translator has slightly changed the artistís meaning. In the original, it reads, 'I do not repudiate any of my paintings' . . . not but, but rather 'and there is not one of them that I would not redo differently.' Matisseís desire to redo his old paintings is perfectly consistent with his refusal to repudiate them. The artistís commitment to his work resides in his never deceiving himself into believing it has reached its ultimate form; it maintains a potential claim on him. Hell observes, 'Destiny Street Repaired better represents the intentions of the original 1982 sessions than does the Destiny Street that was released that year.' That doesnít mean he was capable then of wanting the record to sound the way the new version does. On the contrary, he is capable now of grasping the intentions that back then he could only vaguely make out. Many artists experience such belated clarity about their earlier work, but only rarely do they act on it."
--Barry Schwabsky, Artforum [NOTE: article at Artforum site features mp3's of two songs from the new album -- "Ignore that Door" and "Downtown at Dawn."]
"It's a story that's probably as old as recorded music; just because somebody writes and maybe even records a song doesn't mean they own it. In the early days of popular music unscrupulous white producers would pay black writers a pittance up front only for the musician to discover later that he had signed away ownership of a song by accepting that cash. As the years went by they'd have to watch as other people made money off their creations while they lived in poverty. Even in later years when you'd think things would have improved, musicians can still wake up and find their music being sold without them receiving a penny in return.
"For Richard Hell, former lead singer of the New York City punk band the Voidoids, it was a recording he released in 1982, Destiny Street. Not only had he been unhappy with what had been released, but he had to spend most of the 1990s and early part of this century watching as an illegal copy of the recording was being sold worldwide without him receiving a cent in return. For once this story has a happy ending as not only was Hell able to regain ownership of his music in 2004, he's also been able to rectify what he saw as the mistakes of the past by re-issuing a version of the album that's more to his satisfaction.
"Destiny Street Repaired, on the Insound label, goes on sale September 1, 2009 and can be purchased either directly from the label or from Hell's site. Taking a two track recording of the original rhythm tracks, Hell has re-recorded the vocals, hired guitarists Marc Ribot, Bill Frisell, and Ivan Julian to lay down new leads, and then mixed it down with Robert Quine and Naux's guitar, Fred Haher's drums, and his own bass work from the 1982 sessions.
"Now this might seem like a lot of fuss to make over an album by a band that only released two albums in total anyway, but Richard Hell and the Voidoids struck a chord with a lot of people with their first album, Blank Generation. The title track became a type of nihilistic anthem for those looking for some sort of philosophical justification for knocking themselves silly dancing to music and shooting up. In an effort to distance themselves from the "hippies" of the previous generation, many punks thought it was cool to act like they didn't care about anything. What was the point, you couldn't make a difference, so fuck it -- that may not have been what Hell had intended the song and the album to communicate, but a lot of people took it that way and started to refer to themselves as being part of the Blank Generation.
"There were also a couple of movies released under the same name, the second of which was released in 1980 and co-written by Hell (who also co-starred) with German director/writer Ulli Lommel. Naturally this was a sign to a certain type of person -- what I used to call the intellectual punk -- that they could start analysing Hell's lyrics for deeper social/political significance, instead of merely enjoying the music. However none of that diminishes the fact that Hell and the Voidoids created some really great music on their first album.
"Now I never heard Destiny Street. By 1982 when it was released I had moved in other directions, so I can't compare Destiny Street Repaired to the original. However, I can tell you that Richard Hell has done the impossible and recreated the energy and spirit of the times perfectly on this disc. Listening to this I had to remind myself that he had recorded the vocal tracks in the past year, not 27 years ago, because it doesn't sound like someone trying to sound like punk -- it is punk. I know you can do all sorts of things in a recording studio these days to change what a person's voice sounds like or make one instrument sound like another, but there's no way you can re-create the raw energy that had distinguished punk from the sludge on the radio in the 1970s.
"Aside from the fact that the vocals were so good, what surprised me the most about his disc was the length of the title track. Punk songs weren't usually longer then the standard pop song you'd hear on the radio, about two to three minutes in length, but 'Destiny Street' was over seven minutes long. Well, it turns out this track is much more like a piece of poetry than a song per se, and it's an indication of where Hell was going with his career anyway. He has since gone on as a writer, leaving music in 1984 to concentrate on that instead. It's a strange track, which Hell doesn't sing but rather recites, and it opens with him saying that one day he stepped off the curb and found himself ten years younger.
"There he was, 21 again, and he realized he'd already done this once before, jumped back in time ten years. Talk about living your life in circles. It was kind of fun though because he talks about how he has to look after the younger guy, because he's the only one who is going to know how to make him happy. Which sounds reasonable until you stop and remember he's talking about himself - one person - not different people. I guess people could make a big intellectual deal out of this song if they wanted -- but Hell is sounding like he's having far too much fun for us to be taking this song overly seriously. Destiny is a funny street to be on and walking along it can be filled with all sorts of surprises -- that's as far as I'd want to take an analysis of this song.
"Destiny Street Repaired is a classic punk album, filled with great guitar work, crisp vocals, and driving beats that captures the spirit of the times perfectly. Not many of us have the opportunity to go back and fix our mistakes from decades past, and even if we did I wonder how many of us could do as good a job of it as Richard Hell has done in this instance. For those of you who remember and liked Richard Hell and The Voidoids you'll be pleased to know their second album has finally been released -- it may have taken nearly a quarter century, but it's worth the wait."
--Richard Marcus, BlogCritics Music
"The Dean's List" (Robert Christgau's choice of the top 30 releases of 2009)
1. Brad Paisley: American Saturday Night (Arista Nashville)
2. Franco: Francophonic Vol. 2 (Sterns Africa)(Sterns Africa)
3. Loudon Wainwright III: High Wide & Handsome: The Charlie Poole Project (161)
4. Leonard Cohen: Live in London (Columbia)
5. The Black Eyed Peas: The E.N.D. (Interscope)
6. The Baseball Project: Vol 1: Frozen Ropes and Dying Quails (Yep Roc '08)
7. K'naan: Troubadour (A&M)
8. Amadou & Mariam: Welcome to Mali (Nonesuch)
9. tUnE-yArDs: BiRd-BrAiNs (4AD)
10. Wussy: Wussy (Shake It)
11. The xx: The xx (XL/Young Turks)
12. Mos Def: The Ecstatic (Downtown)
13. Serengeti: Dennehy (Lights, Camera, Action!)(audio8.com '08)
14. Oumou Sangare: Seya (Nonesuch)
15. Nellie McKay: Normal As Blueberry Pie--A Tribute to Doris Day (Verve)
16. Nirvana: Live at Reading (DGC)
17. Lily Allen: It's Not You, It's Me (Capitol)
18. Willie Nelson & Asleep at the Wheel: Willie and the Wheel (Bismeaux)
19. Marianne Faithfull: Easy Come Easy Go (Decca)
20. Miranda Lambert: Revolution (Columbia)
21. Ghostface Killah: Ghostdini the Wizard of Poetry in Emerald City (Def Jam)
22. DJ /Rupture: Uproot (The Agriculture '08)
23. Mulatu Astatke/The Heliocentrics: Inspiration Information (Strut)
24. Moby: Wait for Me (Mute)
25. Sonic Youth: The Eternal (Matador)
26. Doom: Born Like This (Lex)
27. White Denim: Workout Holiday (Full Time Hobby '08)
28. Neil Young: Fork in the Road (Reprise)
29. Richard Hell: Destiny Street Repaired (Insound.com) [graded: A-]
30. The Coathangers: Scramble (Suicide Squeeze)
--Robert Christgau, "Best Albums of 2009"
Destiny Street Repaired
All rhythm tracks by: Robert Quine, guitar; Naux, guitar; Fred Maher, drums; Richard Hell, bass. Produced by Alan Betrock at Intergalactic Studios, NYC. Engineer: Jay Burnette. Recorded 1981-1982.
All lead vocals by: Richard Hell. All solos and additional guitar by: Marc Ribot, Bill Frisell, Ivan Julian. Produced by Richard Hell at Hal Willner's House of Knuck and John Kilgore Sounds and Recording, NYC. Engineer: Patrick Ford. Recorded 2008-2009.
1. "The Kid With the Replaceable Head" (Hell) (2:19)
Solos and add'l guitar: Marc Ribot
2. "You Gotta Move" (Davies) (2:39)
3. "Going Going Gone" (Dylan) (2:37)
Solo and add'l guitar: Bill Frisell.
4. "Lowest Common Dominator" (Hell) (2:27)
Solos and add'l guitar: Marc Ribot. (Backup vocals by Ruby Meyers and Sheelagh Bevan)
5. "Downtown at Dawn" (Hell) (4:29)
Solos and add'l guitar: Marc Ribot.
6. "Time" (Hell) (3:18)
Solos and add'l guitar: Bill Frisell.
7. "I Can Only Give You Everything" (Scott, Coulter) (4:01)
Solos and add'l guitar: Marc Ribot.
8. "Ignore That Door" (Hell, Quine, Julian) (3:09)
Solos and add'l guitar: Ivan Julian.
9. "Staring In Her Eyes" (Hell) (4:20)
Solos and add'l guitar: Marc Ribot and Bill Frisell. (Backup vocals by Sheelagh Bevan)
10."Destiny Street" (Hell, Maciel, Maher, Quine) (7:28)
Soloing and add'l guitar: Marc Ribot. Add'l soloing: Ivan Julian. Add'l bass Marc Ribot.
BONUS TRACKS [on limited deluxe edition CD only]
Eight-track demos recorded 1979: vocals, Richard Hell; guitars, Robert Quine; guitars, Ivan Julian; bass, Jahn Bonfiglio; drums, Frank Mauro.
11. "Smitten" (Hell, Xavier) (2:09) (A song never before released.)
Solo guitar: Ivan Julian.
12. "Funhunt" (Hell) (3:23) (The only previous release of this song was a live version on the obscure and long out-of-print 1980's Funhunt Roir cassette/CD; this is the first and only release of its studio recording.)
Solo guitar: Robert Quine.
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