New York Rocker Issue #1

By Craig Gholson

On February 8, 1977 Elektra/Asylum records released "Marquee Moon", Television's debut album produced by Stones veteran Andy Johns and TV vocalist/guitarist Tom Verlaine. The long-awaited album contains eight songs; the four comprising the first side are predominately faster and older material (except for "See No Evil" which is fast, but new), while the four on the second side are slower and newer (again, excepting "Prove It", which is middle period TV). Cautious and self-protective, like the group itself, in its selection of material, the album is by no means all of Television's best material, but the chosen songs are strong and well-produced. The one stinker is the plodding "Torn Curtain", while "Guiding Light" is saved from tedium by Tom Verlaine's tasteful keyboard work and Richard Lloyd's soaring fade. Selfishly, I would have preferred to see "Mi Amore" and "I Don't Care" in their places, but the danger in expending all one's best and hardest material on a first album is obvious and both "Torn Curtain" and "Guiding Light" are in-concert crowd pleasers. The six other songs are masterful.

What came first and foremost to Television was mystique. They were the premiere NY band in many respects — TV inaugurated rock at CBGB; their "Little Johnny Jewel" was among the first privately pressed singles and thereby gave some indication of exactly how large and far-reaching the audience for NY rock was; they generated such industrial interest resulting in the ill-fated Eno demo, one of the first demos by a NY group and more amazingly; even without a record contract managed to be the first NY group to go national. In short, they were legendary.

A year ago, I met a 16-year-old LA runaway who would only identify herself as Allison. She had heard of and seen pictures of Television, but never actually heard the group. However, her formulations about the group were surprisingly concrete. "I just know they're soft and melodic. Look at how delicate Verlaine looks." When I played "Little Johnny Jewel" for her and it proved to be more hard edged than she had expected, Allison neither expressed disappointment nor surprise. The aura she had created about Television completely obliterated any such gross realities as what they actually sounded like. That sort of all-encompassing mystique is difficult to capture much less maintain on vinyl, but "Marquee Moon" successfully represents Television without destroying any of the illusion surrounding the group. And that places Television in the staggering position of holding the promise of unlimited potential.

"I don't know how people view us, but since the album came out, we've had people coming up to us at CBGB to see if our veins stick out like that," Fred Smith said confirming that the album itself had in no way weakened Television's mystique, only strengthened it.

On December 30, 1976 Television played a second set at CBGB to approximately 100 people. Technically plagued, but warmly received, the set consisted of "See No Evil", "Prove It", "Falling", "Mi Amore", "Knockin' on Heaven's Door" and "Kingdom Come" with "Satisfaction" as the encore. Less than 24 hours later on December 31 as one audience member shouted, "Hot fuckin' tuna," Television began their one set at the Palladium to approximately 3,000 people. The juxtaposition of stages and audiences had little obvious effect on the group. In fact, they were even in almost exactly the same clothes as they had worn the night before. Without delay, they launched into "Fire Engine", "Friction", "Elevation", "Little Johnny Jewel", "Adventure", "Knockin' on Heaven's Door" and "Kingdom Come". Verlaine said, "We wish Patti Smith happy birthday," the house lights came on immediately and quashed the enthusiastic applause.

Fred Smith: "I loved playing the Palladium. That kind of stage is really great. You can't really see the audience, except for the first few rows. All you can see are the spotlights and the blackness, but you know there are a bunch of people out there."

Richard Lloyd: "I spent a lot of my time looking at the balcony which I found very interesting. I've never been on a stage in a theatre, except for the Fillmore when there was nobody in it, and seeing people from that angle is very bizarre. You try to play to them once and awhile to see if they get it. I was using an unfamiliar amp so I was having a terrible time, but I like playing on a stage that large."

Was the set planned differently?

Lloyd: "Well, no. It's only one set as opposed to two in the club, so obviously we cut out the stuff that has more chances and stick with stuff we know is going to work and stuff off the record of course."

After many projected titles for the album, "Marquee Moon" was chosen, as Lloyd explains "because that was the last one we decided up before it was irreversible. It's as simple as that. If the record had come out two weeks later, it might be called something else." At 23 minutes per side, the album is so long as to threaten sound distortion. "See No Evil", "Venus" and "Friction" had to be placed on the side with "Marquee Moon" because of their shorter times and "Marquee Moon" itself had to be edited because of its length. Lloyd said, "I think it's mood-evoking in a way that the voice starts to come in and then just fades away. It gives you the conception that the song never really ends.

On "Marquee Moon" Verlaine's voice sounds completely different from the rest of the album.

Lloyd: "Marquee Moon' is the only song that has that. It has a bit of echo and some digital delay. There's very few places on the album where the voice is changed substantially like that work. That seems to have a slight metallic ring to it, right? Like a robot. Actually, very little is being done. There's one on 'Elevation'. There's a mechanical harmonizer that adds the third, fifth and octave of a voice. Just on the word 'elevation' to fill it out."

Does he really say, "Television, don't go to my head"?

Lloyd: "No, he really doesn't say that. We even thought so when it was happening and he articulated it as best he could. It's just magic or something."

What do you think working with Andy Johns brought out in the band?

Lloyd: "He gets really good sounds. Also he's a very humorous fellow to work with. He's a real joy most of the time. He was just someone we could laugh along with. He's always joking around."

Smith: "He took alot of pressure off us."

Lloyd: "He's got the conception that to record rock and roll, you've got to be having a good time. That's a really great attitude."

What have you learned that you would change for the second album?

Smith: "We would probably pick a different studio. Maybe we haven't learned enough to tell you what we'd change. We're thinking about the next album, but we're not discussing it yet. We have enough other problems to deal with right now. We'll spend more time on it. We did this too fast."

Lloyd: "Three weeks we recorded it in."

Career wise, at what point do you see the band?

Lloyd: "The beginning. We just wrote chapter one. It just got released."

What's different now?

Lloyd: "More ground under your feet, it's not so…it's a little less…it's like we got a chance now. Before it was just a dream where you hope you have a chance and you really push it and push it, but it's not until you have a recording contract that you might have a chance to get across to people."

Many people are going to listen to and even look at the album package and see it as a psychedelic album.

Lloyd: "I can definitely see that."

Does that bother you?

Lloyd: "I think it's great. Some of the albums I like best in the whole world are considered psychedelic albums. A psychedelic album is an album that when you put it on, if you listen to both sides, when it's over, your perceptions have been changed and I think that our record can do that."