33 1/3: Richard Hell & The Voidoids – Blank Generation by Pete Astor (Bloomsbury)


You may know Pete Astor as the singer for The Loft and Weather Prophets, two rather likable bands from the early years of Creation Records. Well, in addition to his credentials as a performer, he also gives lectures on Musicology at the University of Westminster, so he understands rock from an academic perspective as well as a visceral one. This makes him just about the perfect person to write a book on Blank Generation, an album that brilliantly combined the intelligence of Hell’s poetry with the rebellious force of rock music. Astor comes through big time here, telling personal stories of Hell and the album, while also explaining the influences that made Blank Generation such a powerful statement, musically, lyrically and aesthetically. Personally, I’ve loved the album since I first heard it about 15 years ago, and even though I’ve read Hell’s autobiography and countless other books on early New York punk, Astor adds new information and perspective to the story. Take the album’s title song for example, an often misunderstood punk classic, which I never realized was a combination of the chords from Ray Charles “Hit The Road Jack”, and the ideas from a novelty single called “I Belong To The Beat Generation” purposefully re-designed to make a statement similar to The Who’s “My Generation”. The book also gives just due to guitarists Ivan Julian & Robert Quine, along with drummer Marc Bell, who all had a crucial role in enhancing Hell’s visions in a unique and actually quite accomplished way. Astor recounts their pre-Voidoids resumes as well, letting you know that these were no punk amateurs. As with any volume of the 33 1/3 series, the book’s success lies squarely on whether it makes you think differently about the album and listen to it again with fresh ears – and it does both.

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