Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Wreckage in the Golden State: Glitter Trash Hits LA

See Jenna Talia perform once, and you’ll never forget her.

Equal parts Iggy Pop and Jayne County, Talia is an atom bomb with a pro wrestler’s build, multiple tattoos and sizeable breasts – certainly not someone to ever challenge to a fight.

I’m not what you consider a passable transgender person. I’m six feet tall; I weigh 240 pounds. I played football. When I go places, I stand out like a sore thumb. I don’t change my voice or my gate, and I don’t care if my arms are big. Fuck that; I’m not going to get skinny to make somebody else more comfortable.”

If her image doesn’t floor you, her music surely will. Since 2010, she has fronted Glitter Trash, a bulletproof Punk Rock ‘n’ Roll group founded in Detroit. In addition to the band’s raucous live shows, Glitter Trash has made a name for themselves thanks to their 2011 album, Wreckage. These days, Talia leads the group as its sole remaining original member.

The band has been through a lot of members over the years. We have all working-class musicians in the band, so it’s not always the right fit for everybody at the right time. I’ve always kept it going and chugging along.”

Earlier this year, she decided to relocate to Los Angeles.  

With Trump as president, living in the Midwest kind of became unbearable. I headed this way in search of more open-minded folks who live a little bit happier of a life.”

Luckily for her, Talia had a friend to greet her in her new city. Two years ago, underground legend Loren Molinare – best known for fronting long-running Michigan-to-England-to-LA Punk progenitors The Dogs and playing guitar for Hard Rock/Blues stalwarts Little Caesar – crossed paths with Talia online, and the two sparked an instant friendship.

I saw that somebody in Detroit named Jenna Tania like the video of The Dogs playing [our song] ‘Slash Your Face’ live in Tokyo,” Molinare recalls. “I thanked her for liking our video, and then she wrote back and somehow we became pen pals. We later talked on the phone. I came to realize that Glitter Trash was the most honest, passionate, in-your-face Detroit Rock band I had heard in decades. I went, ‘Fuck me! This is kicking my ass in a great way!’ She told me, ‘I think I’m going to come to LA.’ It was kind of like a bet; I said, ‘Oh, really, girl? If you come out, you can jump up on that stage and sing with us!’”

Two weeks later, Talia joined The Dogs on stage at Alex’s Bar in Long Beach for a performance of their cover of The Barbarians’ “Are You A Boy Or Are You A Girl?” that absolutely incinerated the place. The following year, Molinare sat in with Glitter Trash for the band’s performance at the 2016 Rebellion festival in Blackpool, England. Before long, Talia set her sights on moving to the west coast and building a new Glitter Trash with Molinare officially in tow.

The Dogs’ Tony Matteucci is currently filling in on drums, while the bass spot is occupied by Chuch Rauda.

 “Chuch is an unbelievable bass player – the best I’ve ever had or seen,” Talia says.

 “He’s somewhere between Lemmy meets John Entwhistle meets James Jamerson,” adds Molinare.

The current incarnation of Glitter Trash is actively working on new material, including “The Chopper Song,” a tune inspired by Talia watching LAPD helicopters flying around in Echo Park. Another song, “Something To Believe In” (written by Molinare and former Personality Crisis guitarist Richard Dugauy), is slated to appear on a soon-to-be-released split seven-inch with The Dogs on New Fortune Records.  

We’re crawling before we can walk or run, but it's falling together real quick,” says Molinare of the sounds coming from the writing sessions. “It’s like a snowball going down a mountain.”

For Talia, working with Molinare has been a rewarding and life-changing experience.

He’s a force of positivity. He kind of lured me over this way and showed me what was going on in this area. I’m very happy to be here. It’s a great scene; it’s very vibrant, diverse and big.”

Photo copyright 2017 Heather Harris

In addition to steering Glitter Trash in a new direction, Talia is using her time in LA as a critical step forward in her evolution as a transgender person. That journey began in childhood, and it has been an intense and tumultuous ride ever since.

It was mishandled from the time I was a kid. Where I grew up, my family didn’t know how to deal with it, so they tried to sweep it under the rug. I remember my mom telling me, ‘We could take you to a priest to talk about this.’ I went to an all-boys Catholic school. She didn’t know what else to do. I said to myself, ‘Okay, I’ll just go into hiding. I grew up with a sense of shame and hiding who I was. Doing that really affects your relationships with people; you always have something to hide, and people don’t really understand the pain and torture that goes with being transgender. It really fucked me up, and it fucked up several relationships I was in.”

Talia first came out as transgender in the mid-’90s while living in Cleveland.

I’ve dealt with this for years and years and years. When I first acknowledged it, I would go out in public and people would literally ridicule me and laugh at me. When camera phones came out, people would come to me sitting at a table, take a picture of me and go and show it to all their friends sitting at their table – just fucked up shit like that. It was painful to be made fun of. I basically didn’t want to go out anymore; I became a hermit and stayed in the house. It was that unhealthy.

I ended up going through some rough times. My wife left me; I had two kids with her. I ended up getting divorced over transgender issues. Of course, I would go back into hiding and be a boy again. I just lived in a fucked up way, trying to fit in. I feel sorry for my wife that I put her through that. It was a terrible thing.”

With her life in a state of collapse, Talia moved into a dingy hotel while struggling to find the desire to go on. Eventually, she conceptualized Glitter Trash as a way to face her pain and take out her frustrations.

The world was ending for me. I saw Glitter Trash as the only way I could actually vent and express it. I saw no representation of anyone transgender other than in the hidden gay scene, which I wasn’t really a part of. I thought the best way to make people like me more visible was to step on stage. That, combined with a lot of the anger I had regarding being transgender, made me like a little volcano about to blow. I used to be in corporate sales, if you can believe that. The next thing I know, I’m living in this shithole and everything’s going down the tubes financially. I just went out and tore everything up. When we went out in Detroit and played, I would literally tear shit off the walls and go crazy, so we got banned everywhere.”

Despite the ever-present handwringing of conservatives, Talia believes that the lives of transgender Americans are beginning to change for the better.

I think people who have felt that way are becoming more vocal. They feel the environment is safer for them to do that now. Like everybody else, they want to contribute to society, go to shows and go out shopping without being ridiculed or made fun of.”

Armed with a powerful new Glitter Trash lineup and a new place to call home, Talia is looking forward to a fulfilling future, even if obstacles still present themselves from time to time.

I’m not Caitlyn Jenner. I’m not rich, and I don’t have rich friends. My friends are musicians, and we struggle to make it every day. Even Los Angeles isn’t as kind as I thought it would be – but those are the choices I made, and I’m living with it now. I just don’t like to take shit from people anymore.”

Photo by Shankwiler/Labadie


Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Modern Alchemy: The Combustible Life and Times of Richard Lloyd

Richard Lloyd is one of my favorite people to interview.

Easily one of the most fascinating conversationalists I’ve ever encountered, the singer/guitarist/producer/philosopher has had the kind of life that just begs for a memoir. Finally, fans of Lloyd’s extensive body of work (from his 1973-2007 membership in the legendary Television to sterling solo releases like 1979’s Alchemy and 1986’s Field of Fire) have the chance to experience his unique history and world view for themselves through his recently released book, Everything Is Combustible: Television, CBGB’s and Five Decades of Rock and Roll.

Similar to a phone call with Lloyd himself, Everything Is Combustible is a free-flowing narrative that feels like a chat with a worldly old friend – the result of his use of voice-recognition software to compose the pages.

“The biggest-selling book on Punk is Please Kill Me, which is a bunch of people in conversation with [co-author] Legs [McNeil],” Lloyd explains. “This is like that book in terms of it being a conversation, only it’s just with one person. You only get to write one memoir, so it covers pretty much my whole life.”

Although Everything Is Combustible presents nearly 400 pages’ worth of Lloyd’s experiences, the book’s overall feel allows the readers to explore it in small – and even random – doses.   

“The chapters are short. You can open the book anywhere and get something interesting out of it. You don’t have to read it from beginning to end, although that’s the preferable method and what I’m going to do on the audio book.”

Perhaps the most interesting thing about Everything Is Combustible is that it’s much more than a “Rock” book written by a guitarist. I won’t give away spoilers here except to say that readers should be prepared to gain insight into a truly esoteric mind. Lloyd likens the book’s goals to those of the Carl Jung tome Memories, Dreams, Reflections.  

“[That book] talks more about his inner life than it does his outer life. I wanted a memoir that would do that – look at myself and my internal structure as well as look at the outside and the events around me. I think I did a pretty good job of that. There are some people who are looking to find a book about CBGB’s and Television exclusively, but you only get one chance to a write a book like this.”

A flip through the pages of Everything Is Combustible reveals a guy with a tremendous knack for being at the right place at the right time – and with the right people. Lloyd was a witness of/participant in some of the most pivotal moments in music history – and amassed an overwhelming cast of characters in his travels as a result. Woodstock? There. The Fillmore East? There. CBGB’s? He built the stage (literally). Hendrix? Knew him. John Lee Hooker? You bet. Name an important Rock icon of the past 50 years…There’s a very strong chance they pop up somewhere in this book. For the author, it was more important to be around these people to “get a handle on whatever pizzazz they might have” than it was to be a mere fanboy.

“I was more interested in being close to them than being friends with them. When you’re young, a year can make a big difference – like being a senior in high school and then you talk to the [college] freshman. I was a 16, 17, 18-year-old kid, and these people were in their late 20s. It was important to me not to try to befriend them, but to be quiet in a way.”

In 1973, Lloyd began his journey towards becoming a musical inspiration in his own right with the formation of Television, who soon built a name for themselves at what would become one of the most celebrated venues in the world.

“There was basically no place to play. Then, we found CBGB’s on the Bowery, and it was a dump. What we wanted was a dump that no one else would want to take from us, and we could be the house band. We didn’t even know there were all these bands sort of waiting in the wings for a place to play original music. They all had to go to CB’s because there was no place else to play that would accept them. CB’s would accept almost anything, although there were some bands that played once and never played again and weren’t invited back. And there were bands - like The Ramones -who came in about six months after and immediately got put in the rotunda [with] Talking Heads, Television, Blondie and the rest.”

The effect these and other CBGB’s-era groups have had on the world is still palpable 40-plus years later – although Lloyd is very quick to question the use of the word “Punk” to describe their sonic output.

“The scene itself made a mark on Rock ‘n’ Roll history that can’t be denied. Kids are still wearing Punk-type clothing. It wasn’t ‘Punk’ until Punk Magazine came along. The journalists didn’t know what to call us; they called ‘New Wave.’ Then Punk Magazine came along, and a couple of bands bought into that, especially The Ramones and The Dead Boys. Everything got labeled ‘Punk” because it’s simple; it’s four letters, and it’s easy. Blondie’s not Punk, Television is not Punk and Talking Heads is not Punk. They’re completely different world views. None of our stuff was political, which is the difference between American Punk and English Punk, which was all about that – the class struggle and politics. With New York stuff… I mean, Americans doesn’t give a rat’s ass about that.”

Naturally, compiling the thoughts, memories and reflections that comprise Everything Is Combustible was a years-long process.

“I looked for co-writers or editors, and everybody I went to said, ‘Well, you’ve got a great writing style; you should just do the book yourself.’ With that and my ability to procrastinate, it took me about a decade. Also, I couldn’t really release it until I was out of Television, because I knew I was going to have to tell the truth – and it would upset somebody.” (laughs)

That “somebody” is Television singer/guitarist Tom Verlaine. Unsurprisingly, a fair amount of the music-oriented content in Everything Is Combustible explores Lloyd’s fractious relationship with his musical cohort. While the two unquestionably created magic together on stage and in the studio, a read through the book makes it clear that other facets of their union were not as enjoyable. Now that his book is published and he’s been out of Television for a solid decade, how does Lloyd characterize his current dealings with Verlaine and Co.?

“I have great relationships with [bassist] Fred [Smith] and [drummer] Billy [Ficca]. I haven’t talked to Tom in ages, so I don’t know where that stands. I like him as a friend; he could be one of the funniest people I know. In fact, sometimes he used humor to change the subject from something serious – like record royalties, etcetera. He’ll just start making jokes. That part is not so pleasant, but I love the guy. I spent 35 years with him, so what’s to say? It’s just a marriage that came to an end.”

Verlaine recently grabbed headlines – and received a fair amount of criticism – when he was recorded telling an audience member that he’d “chop [her] head off” if she didn’t stop video recording his live performance. Lloyd calls these antics “pathetic” while encouraging his audience to take all the video and photos at his shows as they want.

“I’m fine with it. Please, get it out there! I would hope the recordings are worthy in terms of sound quality, but I’m happy when people record me. When people put cell phones in the air and take pictures, that’s delightful.”

When I last spoke with Lloyd in 2011, he was gearing up for the release of Barfly, his second album with reactivated early ’70s-era Cleveland cult heroes Rocket From The Tombs (RFTT). While the album ultimately proved to be another stellar addition to the RFTT canon, the band (fronted by Pere Ubu’s David Thomas and featuring Dead Boys legend Cheetah Chrome on guitar) parted ways with Lloyd shortly after its release.

“Mr. Crocus Behemoth – otherwise known as David Thomas – is as much a control freak as Verlaine. Finally, we were fed up; Cheetah left, and then I was dropped or left. I wouldn’t have stayed anyway without Cheetah. To me, playing with Cheetah was as interesting as me and Tom, but much more Hard Rock. Very, very interesting. In fact, we were talking about doing something together late next year.”

In addition to this possible collaboration with Chrome, Lloyd is working on a new solo album – the follow-up to last year’s stellar Rosedale – and plans to soon record an audio version of Everything Is Combustible. In the meantime, the book will arrive on Kindle on January 30 with a softcover edition to follow.

Away from music, Lloyd has spent recent times selling original art pieces through the Richard Lloyd Painting Page on Facebook.

“About three years ago, I started painting again. I’ve been painting since I was a child. I have synesthesia, so music is colors and colors are musical. My paintings generally have a lot of colors in them, although some have a share of black and white, but that’s another color. I don’t much like earth tones… I don’t like browns. They’re always a mess!”

While some might be tempted to write a memoir when they feel much of their life’s work is in the rearview mirror, Richard Lloyd published his at a time when he is still very much committed to working, creating and exploring. Everything Is Combustible is a beautiful tale, but it’s also indicative of a life that is still unfolding in extraordinary ways. Richard Lloyd’s future is unwritten, but it’s sure to be an intriguing and adventurous ride.

“Maybe I’ll write a book called Everything Is Ashes when I’m 90!”

Richard Lloyd performs this Friday at ONCE Ballroom in Somerville, MA with The Dream Syndicate. Tickets are available HERE.


Friday, November 24, 2017

BOOK EXCERPT: Richard Hell and the Voidoids' "Blank Generation" at 40

Today marks the release of the 40th Anniversary Deluxe Edition of one of the greatest albums ever - Richard Hell and the Voidoids' 1977 classic, Blank Generation. In celebration of this momentum occasion, I have posted an excerpt of my chapter on that album that appears in my book-in-progress, Albums That (Should've) Changed the World (which is really just a grandiose way of saying, "Albums that deserve a second listen.") The book has been a pet project of mine for the past 12 years, and it's something I hope to finally unveil in full within the next year or two. What appears below is roughly 30 percent of the Richard Hell chapter, and it represents some of the earliest writing I did for the project when I started it in 2005. The words below are a snapshot of a work in progress; various tweaks and edits will very likely occur between now and the final publication date. I hope these words will provide the uninitiated with a strong introduction to a truly fantastic record

Long before the great Dee Dee Ramone first shouted “1,2,3,4!” and John Lydon unleashed his anarchic whine, Richard Hell pioneered a sound, attitude and aesthetic that would (for better or for worse) launch a thousand bands. A disheveled court jester with an intellectual bent, Hell is responsible for proving early on that punk rock was not always the battle hymn of imbeciles. Since making his musical debut in the early ’70s, Hell has lived a life marked by drug addiction, music industry indifference, self-imposed obscurity…and truly amazing rock ‘n’ roll. Although his celebrated work as a writer/essayist/poet has often overshadowed his sporadic musical endeavors, Hell is the man behind Blank Generation, one of the smartest, most exhilarating music collections ever produced in Manhattan’s Lower East Side.
But before diving into any of that, a history lesson is in order. 
Born in Lexington, Kentucky in 1949, the man who would become Richard Hell began life as Richard Meyers, a rambunctious problem child with a gift for getting into trouble. At 16, he was awarded for his talents with a one-way ticket to a Delaware boarding school. There, the young miscreant met fellow student Tom Miller. Sharing a mutual love of poetry and music, the pair quickly became inseparable. Belong long, the two partners in crime were hatching plans to escape Delaware and explore new creative opportunities.
After a botched attempt to run off to Florida, Meyers and Miller eventually made their way to New York City by the close of the ’60s.  With the help of Delaware drummer Billy Ficca, they formed their first band, the Stones-flavored Neon Boys, in the fall of 1972. Like most inaugural music projects, the Neon Boys’ existence was crude and short-lived. Although the trio disbanded in the spring of ’73 without performing a single show, they stuck together long enough to record a now-legendary six-song demo. While the tape marked the recorded debut of Miller’s skillful guitar playing, bassist/singer Meyers was clearly the star of the show – even if the man couldn’t sing a lick. Like all great artists, Meyers made the absolute most of what he had, using his shaky, Dylan-esque pipes and barely adequate string plucking to their fullest advantage. The recording’s standout track, “Love Comes In Spurts,” showcased the new performer’s gift for wordplay:

I stood and stared at her face and nothing seemed to come
And then she smiled and that look just licked me like a tongue

Because love comes in spurts for sure
Though sometimes it hurts far more
You just get love in spurts

By early 1974, Meyers and Miller were ready to take a second stab at music. After reconnecting with Ficca, they joined forces with guitarist Richard Lloyd and began writing new material under the name “Television.” Around the same time, the pair reinvented themselves with new monikers: Miller became “Tom Verlaine,” while Meyers went to Hell.
With Verlaine and Hell splitting songwriting and vocal duties, Television quickly found their niche. Hell’s strongest number, the incendiary “(I Belong To The) Blank Generation,” utilized Ficca’s jazzy drumming and a sly Verlaine/Lloyd rockabilly attack to showcase the singer’s expanding lyrical talents:

I was sayin' let me out of here before I was born – It’s such a gamble when you get a face
It’s fascinatin’ to observe what the mirror does
But when I dine it’s for the wall that I set a place

I belong to the blank generation and
I can take it or leave it each time.
I belong to the _________ generation but
I can take it or leave it each time.

While it is tempting to categorize “Blank Generation” as well-crafted nihilism, its author clearly had other intentions in mind. In Clinton Heylin’s exceptional 1992 book From The Velvets to the Voidoids: The Birth of American Punk Rock, Hell cleared the air on his most (in)famous composition:

People misread what I meant by ‘Blank Generation.’ To me, ‘blank’ is a line where you can fill in anything. It’s positive. It’s the idea that you have the option of making yourself anything you want, filling in the blank. And that’s something that provides a uniquely powerful sense to this generation. It’s saying, ‘I entirely reject your standards for judging my behavior.’
Before long, Hell developed an image to accompany his hard-hitting sound. Rejecting the flamboyant pomposity of glam rock, Hell took to the streets in dirty, torn clothing (often held together by safety pins) and wildly unkempt hair. While major, soon-to-be-obsolete rockers celebrated glamour, Hell championed the grimiest aspects of human existence.
Appropriately, Hell found his first audience at one of New York City’s biggest dumps. In the spring of 1974, Television started a live residency at a brand new Bowery dive characterized by its funny name (“Country Bluegrass And Blues”) and less-than-sanitary amenities (the regular presence of owner Hilly Kristal’s dog brought new meaning to the word “shithole”). For the next several months, Television performed weekly at “CBGB,” drawing greater crowds with each performance. Before long, Television were the undisputed toast of the town, regularly sharing the CBGB stage with such up-and-coming acts as the Stilettos (featuring a young Debbie Harry) and the Patti Smith Group.[1]
With Hell and Television leading the way, CBGB quickly became the hotbed of the newly dubbed “punk” music scene. Although the name would eventually come to symbolize Mohawks and three-chord blasts, “punk” was originally used to describe virtually anything that fell outside the drab spectrum of mainstream radio. Not surprisingly, “punk” music of the day included everything from the roots rock of Tuff Darts to the sophisticated geek chic of pop wizard Jonathan Richman. The rapidly expanding New York crowd soon featured a host of new faces, including a young San Francisco Bay native named Roberta Bayley.
Worldly and well traveled, Bayley is one of a small few who can claim to have seen the beginnings of punk rock on both sides of the Atlantic. While living in London in the early ’70s, Bayley had briefly worked at Let It Rock, a clothes shop owned by budding impresario Malcolm McLaren. Finally settling down in New York, Bayley first met Hell in the summer of 1974. Needless to say, the striking southern boy made an immediate impression.
“I thought Richard had a combination of charm with a little danger added,” remembers Bayley. “He was smart, funny and as it turned out later, extremely photogenic.”
In addition to her regular gig as the doorperson at CBGB, Bayley soon built a reputation as an ace photographer, providing some of the earliest visual representations of New York punk. Her legendary work includes the cover shot for the first Ramones album, the infamous Heartbreakers “blood” photo (used as the front cover as the notorious Leg McNeil/Gillian McCain tome Please Kill Me), the Joey Ramone/Debbie Harry “Mutant Monster Beach Party” spread for Punk Magazine and “some of the only photos of Johnny Ramone smiling.” Of course, Hell became one of her most frequent subjects.
With Hell’s theatrical persona now in full swing, it wasn’t long before his notorious act caught the eye of Bayley’s former employer. First introduced to the thrills and spills of American punk while serving as the final manager of the New York Dolls, Malcolm McLaren became infatuated with Television’s intense bassist while staying in New York following the Dolls’ demise. Always looking for new and exciting ways to shake things up, McLaren decided it was time to introduce the Hell look and worldview to the young musicians who frequented his London shop, a plan he detailed in the pages of Please Kill Me:
I came back to England determined. I had these images that I came back with, it was like Marco Polo, or Walter Raleigh. These are the things I brought back: the image of this demented, strange thing called Richard Hell. And this phrase, “the blank generation.”

Soon, McLaren was hard at work overseeing the development of the band that would become the Sex Pistols. In his 1990 autobiography I Was A Teenage Sex Pistol, founding member Glen Matlock recalled how McLaren lobbied for the soon-to-be infamous John Lydon, a spiky-haired wiseass who clearly couldn’t sing, to be the Sex Pistols’ lead singer:

What we didn’t realize at the time was that one of the main reasons that Malcolm was so keen on John was that he was so like Richard Hell – who was one of Malcolm’s mates in New York. He was as near as dammit to being a stylistic carbon copy of Hell.

By early 1975, Television could do no wrong. With label interest mounting, the illustrious Brian Eno came on board to supervise the recording of the group’s five-song industry demo. Yet, despite Television’s growing success, nothing could mask the mounting friction between the band’s co-founders. Verlaine, keen on expanding the band’s music into long-form, improvisational territories (exemplified by the eleven-minute “Marquee Moon”), resented Hell’s primitive musical abilities and trashy image. Hell, meanwhile, watched as more and more of his songs (including the decidedly unsophisticated “Fuck Rock ‘N’ Roll”) were deleted from the set list. With his role in the band clearly disintegrating, Hell jumped ship in the spring of 1975.[2]
In Bayley’s mind, Hell’s absence left a noticeable mark on his former band.
“I was a big fan of the original Television with Richard,” she says. “They were a lot more fun, with a sense of outrageousness and humor and stage ‘antics.’ Verlaine was not one to follow antics. I kind of like the second version of Television now, but then I thought they were kind of like the Grateful Dead.”
Hell, meanwhile, didn’t have to wait long to find his next musical venture. Within days, he joined up with Johnny Thunders and Jerry Nolan of the recently defunct New York Dolls to create the Heartbreakers. After a shaky live debut as a three-piece, the Heartbreakers auditioned a series of second guitarists (including future Plasmatics maniac Richie Stotts) before settling on Walter Lure.
Armed with an impressive pedigree and a batch of amazing tunes, the Heartbreakers quickly became one of the scene’s most popular attractions. Hell’s greatest musical contribution to the band came in the form of “Chinese Rocks,” a catchy slab of junkie blues written with the help of friend Dee Dee Ramone. While a truly fantastic song, “Rocks” provided clear proof that Hell was more than a mere observer of drug culture. Like bandmates Thunders and Nolan, Hell had become fully submerged in the world of heroin.
Although enormously popular, the Heartbreakers would not survive in their original form. With two established (and equally strung out) scenesters vying for the spotlight, it was inevitable that that the Hell/Thunders union would eventually crash. By the spring of 1976, Hell finally hung up his second fiddle status for good.[3]
Wasting little time, Hell began scouring the scene for musicians to fill his new outfit, the Voidoids. After sharing the stage with the likes of Thunders and Verlaine, Hell had no choice but to find a guitarist who could really play. Luckily, he found his man in the remarkable Robert Quine. 
Born in Akron, Ohio in 1942, Quine was around early enough to discover rock ‘n’ roll at its glorious inception. By the early ’60s, the young guitarist had developed wider tastes, becoming well versed in almost every genre imaginable. While a student at Earlman College in Indiana, he spun jazz and blues records on his own campus radio show. After attending law school in St. Louis, Quine relocated to San Francisco in 1969. While there, he was lucky enough to catch (and tape record) a series of shows by his favorite band, The Velvet Underground.[4]
After arriving in New York City in 1971, Quine spent three years writing tax law before the tedium of the job forced him to pursue his first love. To pay the bills, he took a job at Cinemabilia, a Village bookstore that also happened to employ one Richard Hell. Nearly two decades after first picking up a guitar, Quine had finally found his musical home. Of course, that home needed further decorating.
Born in 1956, Brooklynite Marc Bell began his musical career as the drummer for Dust, a power rock trio that released two hard-to-find albums before splitting in 1972.[5] After losing out to Jerry Nolan for a spot in the New York Dolls, Bell enjoyed a two-year stint drumming for outrageous transvestite rocker Wayne County. A chance encounter with Hell at New York’s Max’s Kansas City club led to an offer Bell couldn’t refuse. While Bell was intrigued by the idea of working with the ever-present punk progenitor, the drummer admits to having his reservations.
“I knew he wasn’t from New York, and Johnny Thunders and Jerry Nolan warned me that he would be difficult,” he remembers.  “I was told he had a drug problem, but I decided to give it a chance.”
Opting to flesh out their sound with a second guitarist, the Voidoids soon enlisted the services of 21-year-old whiz kid Ivan Julian. A musician since his early teens, Julian spent his formative years carving out one of the most adventurous careers in music history. In addition to a stint studying gypsy scales in northeastern Yugoslavia, the classically trained bassoonist spent time as a touring member of The Foundations, the British soul group best known for their 1967 hit, “Build Me Up Buttercup.”
With his newfound conspirators in place, Hell was finally free to explore his own ideas without restrictions.
Debuting at CBGB in November 1976, Hell’s latest creation quickly succeeded in standing out from the crowd. Even in a scene brimming with weirdoes, the Voidoids – the scrawny poet, the dread-locked soul fan, the longhaired New Yawker and the balding, 34-year-old sport coat aficionado – seemed to arrive on the CBGB stage from another planet. Yet, these differences were precisely what made the whole thing work.
As Bell says, “We all liked different kinds of music. I liked the British Invasion and the Phil Spector stuff, and Bob Quine liked jazz. So you mix it up and you have an unusual punk rock group.”
“There was no ‘lead guitar,’” adds Julian. “Sometimes I would play lead, and sometimes Bob would play lead, and we’d both contribute to the song. We’d always go over our parts and make sure that neither one of us was playing on the same part of the neck. We’d say, ‘What’s the point of having two guitarists if they’re both playing F down at the bottom?’”
Thanks to his bandmates’ various skills, Hell soon gave his former bands a run for their money. Vastly improved from its original version, a completely re-worked “Love Comes in Spurts” benefited from all new lyrics and an explosive solo by Quine. Other early Voidoids standouts included a revamped “Blank Generation,” the ballad “Betrayal Takes Two” (co-written by Julian) and the Bell-driven “New Pleasure.”
With the Voidoids’ star quickly rising, Hell was finally able to commit his musical ideas to vinyl. In the fall of 1976, the Voidoids (with financial help from Cinemabilia owner Terry Ork) unveiled the three-song Blank Generation EP to rave reviews. By year’s end, the unlikely ensemble was cutting songs for Sire Records. 
Produced by Hell and Sire co-founder Richard Gottehrer, Blank Generation found the one-time Kentuckian at the highest peak of his powers. In addition to boasting Hell’s markedly developed bass playing and literary charms, the 10-song album brilliantly expanded on Hell’s earlier work thanks to a healthy production (the result of scrapping and re-recording most of the album) and flawless contributions from his eclectic cronies.
Like any decent bandleader, Hell allowed each of his sidemen an opportunity to perform under his own spotlight. Quine and Julian were born to play together, as the two effortlessly fluctuated between disjointed sheets of white noise and moments of sheer bluesy beauty. Bell, who found the right pocket each and every time, flavored Blank Generation with a steady performance that mixed the best parts of Bill Ficca’s intricate jazz leanings with Jerry Nolan’s to-the-point timekeeping. Of course, these ingredients made for an album full of highlights.  
Aided by Julian’s seductive intro, the album’s title track easily eclipsed the original Television version by incorporating Bell’s swinging drums and a typically intense Quine/Julian twelve-string assault. Four years after its onstage premiere, “Blank Generation” finally took its place as the American punk movement’s definitive call to arms.
While the lyrics to “Blank Generation” may have been up for interpretation, the chorus to the funk-driven “Who Says (It’s Good to Be Alive”) offered little to the imagination:

“Who says it’s good good good to be alive?
Same ones who keep it a perpetual jive,
Who say’s it’s good to be alive?
It ain’t no good, it’s a perpetual dive.

Opening with a series of dissonant guitar slams that instantly set the mood, the venomous “Liars Beware” found Hell in full-attack mode, offering a healthy slab of pointed rage to the unfortunate objects of his disaffection:

Look out liars and you highlife scum
Who gotta keep you victims poor and dumb
Your motives and your methods are not disguised
By your silk, soap, sex or your smiling lies.

Bolstered by an obvious ’60s garage rock influence, “Down At The Rock ‘N’ Roll Club” effectively summed up the fashion and self-indulgent spirit of a trip to New York’s most infamous punk nightspot: 

They say, “Richard are you going to go out tonight?”
I say I’m uncertain, I ain’t feeling too right,
But I rip up my shirt,
Watch the mirror n’ flirt.
Yeah, I’m going out, out inta sight.

Blank Generation also made excellent use of Hell’s downright sick humor, as the lyrics to the deceptively poppy “The Plan” can be summed up as follows: Boy meets girl, boy impregnates girl, girl gives birth to daughter, girl splits, boy sleeps with daughter.
While “The Plan”’s subject matter was certainly shocking by ’70s pop standards, Quine’s bulletproof performance on a chilling cover of Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Walking on The Water” remains Blank Generation’s most stunning element. In a scene dominated by anyone-can-do-it incompetence, Quine was a musician capable of turning a single note into a jaw-dropping epiphany. 
The album’s closing opus, “Another World,” recalled the spirit of Hell’s former Television days by offering a musical jam well beyond the six-minute mark. Backed by the same kind of angular drive that would soon characterize Gang of Four’s early material, Hell concluded “Another World” by turning his already key-impaired voice into a whirlwind of whines, moans, groans and uncontrollable hacking. A star was born!

[1] In August ’74, four twentysomethings from Forest Hills, Queens called the Ramones made their CBGB debut. The Television guys already knew the Ramones’ quirky bassist, Doug “Dee Dee” Colvin, from when he unsuccessfully auditioned for the spot later taken by Lloyd.
[2] Television quickly recovered, picked up former Blondie bassist Fred Smith and eventually signed with Elektra Records. The band’s debut album, 1977’s Marquee Moon, remains an undisputed classic.
[3] With Billy Rath replacing Hell, the Heartbreakers issued LAMF in 1977. The band split and reformed innumerable times throughout the ’80s, while Thunders pursued a solo career with varying success. Thunders died of a heroin overdose in 1991, while Nolan died of pneumonia a year later. Lure continues to perform in New York City, often busting out “Chinese Rocks” and other Heartbreakers classics with his longtime band, the Waldos.
[4] In 2001, Polydor Records released a three-disk box set of these recordings, Bootleg Series, Vol. 1: The Quine Tapes.
[5] Following Dust’s demise, bassist Kenny Aaronson became a member of Stories, who topped the American charts in August ’73 with “Brother Louie.” Guitarist Richie Wise later produced the first two KISS albums.

Copyright 2005-2017 Joel Gausten/Gausten Books. Reproduction of any of the above material is prohibited without permission from the author.