Thursday, November 5, 2015

Television, Marquee Moon Piece

In 2001, I drove 12 hours to Chicago, just to see Television perform. At the time, the band had reformed after a eight-year hiatus, and were only going to play one show in the US, the Noise Pop festival, after a brief European tour. The venue in Chicago was packed, and insanely humid, due to their air conditioner conking out. The emcee introduced the band to great fanfare, whereupon guitarist and singer Tom Verlaine walked on stage, and spent the next ten mintues setting up his effects pedals. The band, and the whole audience, just stood there quietly, waiting for him to finish and begin playing. It got so humid that one of my lenses warped and locked on one of my cameras, rendering the camera and lens useless for the rest of the show. It was not a perfect show, but seven songs into the set, the band played “See No Evil,” the opening song on Marquee Moon, and absolutely nailed it. At that moment, the trip to Chicago seemed totally justified.

Marquee Moon, Television’s debut album, demonstrates the differences in the New York City punk scene of the time, and the English punk scene that was also emerging at that same moment. The punk scene in England, as enjoyable as it sill is to hear much of that music, was based as much about a new look and attitude than it was the music. The scene in New York City grew out of a young group of musicians that wanted to create something different. Something that wasn’t on the radio, or the TV. Yet. In New York, Television, the Ramones, Patti Smith (who had dated Verlaine for some time), Blondie (who bassist Fred Smith had bolted from to join Television), Wayne County, Talking Heads, and many more were all “punk”. 

All of these artists were also looking for places to play, which is why they all gravitated to one place- CBGB’s- and made it their new home. Verlaine and original band bassist Richard Hell had been the first to walk into the club in 1974, and the new music scene soon folllowed. Television were not only influential musicians, they were also groundbreaking in the New York scene. Their first single, 1975’s “Little Johnny Jewel”, is now considered one of the first singles of the punk rock music that was soon to arrive.

Television were also punks that could really play, with a dexterity and ferocity that few other bands had. The intertwining guitars of Verlaine and Richard Lloyd run rings around melodies. The band was also one of the few “punk” bands that took their cues from jazz albums. The songs credits on Marquee Moon credit the solos that Verlaine and Lloyd play, including who played which solo, and in which order, an idea that the band got from looking at the liner notes of jazz records.

Marquee Moon was recorded in September of 1976, and released in May of the following year. The band signed to Elektra with the understanding that Verlaine would produce the record, despite having very little production experience. Verlaine ended up co-producing the album with engineer Andy Johns, who had worked with the Rolling Stones, and was able to get the guitar sounds that both Verlaine and Lloyd wanted. Many of the songs on the record was done in one take, which included the ten minute title track. 

The lyrics are an expression of everything, all at once. Youth falling into adulthood. Falling into the arms of Venus de Milo, wandering New York with dreams of its possibilities, both good and bad. Even Verlaine himself has said that he’s not sure what all the lyrics mean. The songs lend themselves to endless interpretation, and for new listeners to find their own hidden meanings.

The cover shot was photographed by Robert Mapplethrope, who had also done the cover of Patti Smith’s debut album, Horses. The band took Mapplethorpe’s print of the photo, and had it reprinted to a photocopy store, which was then used on the album’s cover. The look of the photo also represents the tension that existed in the music, and in the personalities that made up the band. The band would only last for one more album, before splitting for the first time in 1978. The band has since reformed a few times since then, and are currently touring again, minus Richard Lloyd.

Marquee Moon, to me, represents one of those beautiful moments where the possibilities are endless, and something new emerges to influence all that arrive in its wake.  I have heard bands cover “See No Evil”, and listened as grown men shouted gutteral squeals of joy at hearing their favorite song played live. If anyone ever comes to my house while I’m playing Marquee Moon, that person will always stop and say, “Wow! This is great! What is this?” It literally happens every time. Marquee Moon is the sound of four people reaching out to create something diffferent, and better. And we’re still listening to that achievement.

Listen in, listen on and enjoy.

This case is closed. 
-Daniel Coston
November 5, 2015

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