24-INCH PARTY PEOPLE
Source: NME (June 27, 1992)
by David Swift
Beyond the crusties and the ravers, Glast's biggest thrill may well be the
return of TELEVISION, genuinely seminal New York art-punkers whose debut
LP, 'Marquee Moon', has justly gone down as one of the all-time greats. Now
back together and recording, 14 years down the line, DAVID SWIFT extracts a few
words from giggling genius TOM VERLAINE.
The biggest news is in smaller print on this year's Glastonbury bill.
Slotted alongside old sensations and new phenomenons, is a bona fide
legend: Television, playing their first show for 14 years.|
Long-time readers will know the name, but, for those who do not: This dazzling group represented the cool school of the flowering New York rock-n-roll scene of the mid-'70s. Hip citizens could catch them and their emerging contemporaries in scuzzy clubs like CBGB's, Max's Kansas City and My Father's Place. Television, Blondie, Talking Heads, Patti Smith, Richard Hell (ex-TV) And The Voidoids, The Heartbreakers, Suicide, The Ramones...an extended family of inspired outcasts, oddballs and art students, reclaiming the night from the hated boogie men. Long before Television were signed, David Bowie was raving about them and Lou Reed was taping their gigs.
Television's debut LP, 'Marquee Moon', arrived by February 1977, after time lost label-shopping and on false starts. By then, three chords were poised to take over the world, yet these guys unashamedly offered TWO guitars soloing and a title cut more than ten minutes long.
NME's Nick Kent reviewed the disc as "a 24-carat work of pure genius. Television are a band in a million, the songs are some of the greatest ever." As usual, he was right.
In 1992, we can all dish up retrospective praise, but old Nick's pronouncement was some foresight considering the major names since who have paid tribute to Television. Step up U2, REM, The Smiths, The Cure, Echo and The Bunnymen, Lloyd Cole, The Fall and Hüsker Dü, to name a few. Primal Scream and Teenage Fanclub lead the new-school devotees, while a list of the indie-level TV doppelgangers of the last decade would fill this page.
Fifteen years ago, their impact on amphetamined inkslingers was remarkable, especially as the six-minute musicianship and compositional talents of Tom Verlaine (guitar/vocals), Richard Lloyd (guitar), Fred Smith (bass) and Billy Ficca (drums) were so out of time. The Damned were so aghast at the tidal wave of approval for such political incorrectness in 1977 that they offered a recorded gob'Idiot Box'.
'Marquee Moon' not only blew away reviewers worldwide, it saw off the debuts by the Sex Pistols and The Clash to sweep most critics' polls at year-end. Nowadays it's a regular in the 20 Greatest Albums Of All Time lists, a desert island disc for hipsters. Stay tuned as to why.
After unsuccessful tours, management wrangles and an undeserved half-hearted welcome for the accomplished follow-up, 'Adventure' (we build 'em up, we knock 'em down), Television split amicably in August, 1978, on a full-moon night. In their farewell statement, they said Moby Grape, casualties of the Haight-Ashbury scene, broke up in similar astrological circumstances, "so we wanted to too".
Now they return with the Glastonbury date, an LP for September/October release and a mini-tour to promote it. The reformation was agreed early last year because, Verlaine says, "we thought it might be fun".
Either Tom Verlaine's stage personaicy and aloofand his after-hours personality are genuinely miles apart, or he has the worst case of studio tan in history. Whatever the reason, he is on the line from a mixing suite in New York, finishing off the most unexpected LP of the year, and he can't stop chuckling.
Thrown a couple of lobs about how the reformation could be brave or dumb, he creases up: "Myself, I usually just try to make the worst record I can. This time, we've got four guys trying to make the worst record we can. Ha ha ha!"
Well, you've made a pretty crap job of that throughout your career, then.
"Ha ha ha! Yeah, sure! Heh heh heh."
So have you approached this project any differently to your solo works?
"I dunno, it's all two guitars, bass and drums to me, ha ha ha ha ha!"
How would you describe Television to anyone going to Glastonbury who knows nothing about you?
"A semi-twangy two-guitars, bass and drums group. Heheheheh! SERIOUSLY!"
He tones it down when asked about the original split, pleading "let's get more modern". He professes no interest in recalling New York days (he hasn't seen old flame and spiritual ally Patti Smith in 12 years) and, when asked if he feels that Television in 1992 are under any pressure to deliver the goods or risk staining the name, states flatly, "No."
"There's nothing you can do about people's expectations. There's no telling what people will think and I can't say I care a lot. I hope we do well, of course, but a lot of what people think is pretty predictable. A lot of it is in journalists' and audiences' minds."
Of Glastonbury, he says, "Frankly, it will be a hilarious way of coming back. There's no soundchecks and it will be us just winging it to an enourmous number of people. How can anybody take a band seriously that hasn't played for 14 years and is going to do a festival without a soundcheck?
"We haven't rehearsed for it yet. I think we are gonna rehearse for two or three days, go through everything we know and pick five to ten songs. Maybe a couple of old ones."
He affirms that the new EMI LP is in step with their recorded legacy and adds that the ten cuts are "all singles. Of the pile of songs I had hanging around, the ones that ended up on it are more upbeat."
He is not just a prolific writer, his craftsmanship is esteemed ("I spend more time writing the words than anything else"). And there are no bets on the duelling between he and Lloydno unit has come close, before or sincenot being up to scratch. OK, he doesn't care for any new fuss, but take as read a desire to maintain integrity. He describes their renewed partnership as "just bashing out something that sounds really good".
Since 1978, Lloyd has recorded a couple of LPs of his own and done irregular session work; Smith has been sighted in Verlaine's occasional touring outfit; and Ficca, an incredible player, has sat in on many minor projects. Verlaine's fistful of solo outings have ranged from the good to two genuine nine-out-of-tens'Tom Verlaine' (1979) and 'Flash Light' (1987).
He seems to hold no particular ambition for Television Mk II beyond job satisfaction. If the forthcoming LP does well they may do another. "Or next year we may decide it's not fun anymore."
When asked where the reactivated foursome could go from here, he deadpans: "Ceylon...I've always wanted to visit it." When told he may have a little trouble finding that on the map these days, he's off and giggling again.
By now, my fears of being inadequately informed about Rimbaud, Baudelaire, Sun Ra and John Coltrane have evaporated. Perhaps we are both victims of his press. His only comment on the oft-reported influences of his youth, some of which he now denies is: "There are people I like, but I can't sit around and play a Coltrane record for 20 years..."
One record I will definitely still be playing in 20 years is 'Marquee Moon'. Verlaine's only dissatisfaction with this masterpiecethe word is in its natural habitat hereis that they have yet to collect a cent, despite the chart success and international reissue on CD six years ago.
"Y'know, outside of when we first signed for Elektra, we have never seen a cheque for that record. You might wanna print that 'cos people don't believe it, but it's true. Sooner or later, maybe something will occur."
The cover of 'Marquee Moon'a wiry quartet as doped-looking mannequins, faces bleachedwon't stun you, but the contents will.
This was the ultimate garage band with brains, caught at their peak. It was recorded with no public groundswell of expectation and released to international accclaim, which explains why most landmark LPs are debuts: comparatively minimal pressure.
On all eight tracks, their love for the fist-in-the-face rush of '60s punkers like the 13th Floor Elevator and The Seeds is allied to a righteous self-belief in, and passion for, individual expressionism.
Ficca displays his jazz-prodigy ability to trip the light fantastic around the kit. He's less on a backbeat than in the forefront, propelling and punctuating the whole shebang. 'Marquee Moon' would be a drumming textbook, were most of his flourishes learnable.
Smith's bass contribution is as essential: He sturdily covers the waterfront while the others flash their licks and tricks, but without him there is no combustion.
It's from the 12 strings of Verlaine and Lloyd that the sparks fly highest. The guitars tango in sync, war between or during the verses, and cut loose with alternate solos, coiling and striking at will. Don't under-estimate the improvisational element.
It is unlikely, but Television could come back from the dead only to injure the name. But, like the man says, so what? Nothing can dissolve the joy of switching on 'Marquee Moon' for the first time, then never tiring of the repeats.