So the 1970's punk/new wave supergroup reunion I'm actually excited about happens tomorrow -- Television is playing Central Park Summerstage. For free. Hopefully with Richard Lloyd, although I'm very saddened (and a bit disturbed) to learn about his recent health troubles. Although Television only released two records (both of them gems) back in the day, they have been getting together again off and on since '92. But this Central Park hit was supposed to be Richard Lloyd's farewell to Television, so I sincerely hope he's well enough to make it out for at least a couple of tunes. That said, dude's just coming off eight days of intensive care, so I doubt anyone will hold it against him if he decides to sit this one out. Get well, Richard.
Anyway, it's recently come to my attention that a lot of you jazzy/new music types don't necessarily know about Television. They are basically responsible for kicking off the scene at CB's in the 1970's, but I guarantee you they don't sound anything like the speedy, sloppy sound you probably associate with early New York punk. First off, they were all virtuoso players -- Richard Lloyd and Tom Verlaine are bona-fide guitar heroes, but not in the overwrought post-Jimmy Page shredder mode, or in the proggy, heady Robert Fripp mode either. Both of them found new ways to solo that were less about flash and more about slow burn. But their sinewy, intertwining rhythm parts are really where it's at -- the classic example being the long-short chordal stabs vs. the back-and-forth double-stop sixteenths that open "Marquee Moon." (Did I mention that this song, their biggest "hit," is ten minutes long? Did I mention they are considered a punk band?)
Here are some of my favorite bits from Alan Licht's awesome liner notes for the reissue of Marquee Moon:
Verlaine wanted to work with Rudy Van Gelder, who'd recorded dozens of classic Blue Note jazz records in his small studio in New Jersey. This was perhaps too out of left field for even a CBGB band, so Fred Smith played a bunch of Stones and Zeppelin records for Verlaine and told him the same guy, Andy Johns, recorded all of them.
Lloyd remembers Andy's introduction to Television's aesthetic:We got to the studio on 48th St. Andy wasn't there... but the drums were set up -- we were wondering about that. A long time later Andy comes in and says, "Sorry I'm late. I came in early yesterday and set the drums up; let me play it for you." He plays the tape of the drums. All of a sudden out of the speakers comes the John Bonham drum sound, that huge, compressed, smacked sound. Tom shook his head and said, "No, no, no, no, no, you've got to take all that down -- that's got to go. We don't want that drum sound." And Andy was flabbergasted, saying, "I thought you hired me for that. That's my trademark. So what the hell am I doing here?" We said, "We want a dry sound, no reverb, no giant compression -- nice, tight, smaller kit." Andy didn't know what to make of it. We said, "We hired you because you did all these great guitar records and because you're a master engineer." And that kind of softened him a bit. "Oh, it's a New York thing, right? Like a Velvets thing, right?" he said, undoing all the things he had done and starting over again.
One of the reasons for this is Lloyd's skill at developing written-out solos "that had a melody and a plot... a kind of playwriting." He was also fond of The Beatles' use of double-tracked vocals and wanted to transfer it to lead guitars, "instead of using chorus or delay." So, with his solos already worked out, he adeptly double-tracked them. Andy tried to convince Tom to double-track his solos too, but it was too difficult for Verlaine to remember what he had exactly played, given his spontaneous approach. The enduring quality of the Verlaine/Lloyd guitar teaming is due to the effective contrast of their techniques."
The song ["Venus"] starts off with a sped-up tango beat and shifts into an almost classical, cascading dual guitar figure that Tom wrote on piano. "I thought two guitars could be the left and right hand of a piano, so that concept was different for a guitar band."
Marquee Moon closes with "Torn Curtain," perhaps the moodiest song on either Television record. Verlaine's concept was a ballad with "weird chords, because the song before is like a '50s major-chord song and I wanted this contrast. I heard some Stravinsky in the '70s 'cause some guy in a club said, 'God, you guys sound like Stravinsky.' So I went and bought three Stravinsky records for a dollar apiece, and I still had no idea what this guy was talking about [laughs], except for these weird chords."
Interested now? Okay, here is a pretty good video someone has made to accompany the alternate take of "Marquee Moon":