On The 35th Anniversary Of Television’s “Marquee Moon”

I used to think that if I could lug just one album to the proverbial desert island, as the boat was sinking, I’d be in my stateroom weighing The Clash in one hand, Exile On Main Street in the other.  But as we get ready to celebrate tomorrow’s 35th anniversary of the release of  Television’s Marquee Moon — no question the single greatest album by any of the CBGB bands, the ur-document of an innocent age — I’m wavering.

I say no question, but then Jonathan Lethem has just published will imminently publish his addition to the great 33 1/3d series, in which obsessives weigh in, and at book length, on their favorite albums, and his is Fear of Music by the Talking Heads.  A wise choice, that one, but I’m glad I’ve been reading the quite excellent Marquee Moon by Bryan Waterman, which makes the case for Television’ debut as the standout album of that particularly scuzzy late ’70s epoch.

In recent months, in addition to Waterman’s book, we’ve been able to find the remastered versions of Marquee Moon, Adventure, and Live At The Waldorf issued by Elektra as an all-in-one, and the upgrade in the sound has been remarkable.  Those first two Television albums always sounded good — particularly on vinyl — but the remastered versions make you feel you’re witnessing each movement of Verlaine’s long fingers as they sustain every magic note.

Just as good, Television’s authorized bootleg of Live At The Academy NYC 12.4.92, recorded during their first reunion tour, is now available via Amazon.  And just this week, the 35th anniversary of Television’s opus very much in mind, Uncut published a long, snarky, highly readable interview with Richard Lloyd that illuminates a fair bit of history, not just about the making of Marquee Moon, but about his relations with Tom Verlaine, from the start of the band in ’73 to the final denouement in 2007.  (We’re pretty sure that if Television hadn’t played its last show before the interview was published, plans for Reunion #7 are, as of today, canceled.)

From the moment we first saw Television open for Patti Smith (and John Cale) at the Beacon Theater’s Palladium’s 1976 New Year’s Eve show (a few weeks before Marquee Moon came out), we were signed to a lifetime’s fan contract.  Yeah, we’d seen the Ramones the previous summer, and to anyone in New York it was clear that the Next Big Thing was crawling its way, like an albino alligator in the city’s sewers, up from the Bowery toward all those record label offices in Midtown.  The thing about Television, once Fred Smith replaced Richard Hell on bass, was that these guys really could play, I mean like The Rolling Stones could play, but there was something completely new about the way the guitars jangled, and even though Verlaine moved smoothly, the very gawkiness of his giraffe’s frame was exotic.  His Fender looked tiny in his hands.

Later, we saw what we’re pretty sure was their final New York show — Bottom Line, August 1978 — when it was easy to believe that whatever megadose was coursing through Richard Lloyd’s bloodstream as he closed his eyes and played the long ending to “Ain’t That Something,” well, it had to be good for him.  It wasn’t, of course, and the band went out quietly, as it were, giving birth to what was in the early days two remarkable solo careers, Verlaine’s and Lloyd’s.  Still, by then Television had a career that, even though it spanned a mere two albums, gave them a first-floor diorama in the Real Rock’n’Roll Of Fame.  (The one housed in the old TR3, not that temple to bombast in Cleveland.)

And then they came back in ’92 and we saw them, of all places, in the same gothic hall at Georgetown where Lech Walesa had come to get an award for taking down the Soviet Union just a few months earlier.   If CBGB embodies some rock’n’roll ideal, this was its opposite: an ornate room in a Jesuit college.  And of course they blew it up.  We believe, and Lloyd’s interview in Uncut somewhat confirms this, that the single best period for Television as a live band was during that ’92 tour, when they were out backing the solid Television album, with the incredible “In World,” along with some of the best songs from their two ’70s albums —  “See No Evil,” “Friction,” “Prove It,” “Venus,” “Foxhole,” and “Marquee Moon.”  The only thing missing was “Glory,” or “Guiding Light.” Yes, we missed them at CBs (though not by much.)  But the two shows we saw in ’76 and ’78 paled in comparison to how great they were on that ’92 tour, after years of touring by both Verlaine and Lloyd, and with the joy apparent in how well they played together, the greatest double axe tandem since Keith Richards and Mick Taylor broke up, at just about the time Television was forming on the Lower East Side.

Marquee Moon is worthy of taking to a desert island.  And it is worthy of dusting off tomorrow, in celebration of how well it has held up.  Television may have ushered in the punk era, what with their torn tee shirts and their persuading Hilly Kristol to let rock bands play in a venue he’d designated for Country Bluegrass and Blues & Other Music For Upstanding Gourmandizers, but with they were always a serious band, and amazing musicians.  No matter how many others have tried incorporating their sound, they were sui generis, and sadly — if the definitiveness of Lloyd’s rejection of his old pal Verlaine is any indicator — we won’t see their like, or they themselves, again.

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