Like Patti Smith, Richard Hell transitioned into rock after spending time in the underground poetry scene, where he learned a useful DIY skill set. “I had become completely acclimated to that culture of doing it yourself as a writer in the world of street poets,” he said, “so when I started doing music it felt familiar.” Hell was a bit nervous about having no previous musical experience, but Tom Verlaine assured him that the bass was an easy instrument to learn, and the two friends began rehearsing in Verlaine’s apartment. “At the same time I started working on lyrics and melodies to some guitar compositions he’d got going that he hadn’t worked up words for,” Hell recalled. “The idea was that he’d sing his lyrics and I’d sing mine, and eventually I’d write music, too. I had the name for the group: the Neon Boys.” Hell and Verlaine wanted to strip rock ’n’ roll down to its essential core, doing away with the showbiz theatricality of the glam bands and jettisoning the kind of excesses that dominated 1970s corporate rock. Looking to flesh out their lineup, they placed an ad in the Village Voice classifieds section: “Narcissistic rhythm guitarist wanted—minimal talent okay.” Blondie’s Chris Stein auditioned, but wasn’t a good fit, and Dee Dee Ramone also tried out even though he couldn’t play guitar. Hell and Verlaine never found the right musician for the Neon Boys, and in 1974 the fledgling group hooked up with guitarist Richard Lloyd, morphed into Television, and began playing regularly at CBGB.
From Chapter 30 of The Downtown Pop Underground — order online, or from a local independent bookstore
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