Archive for Tom Verlaine

Television, A Friend From Many Stages, Return To D.C.’s 930 Club

Posted in Music with tags , , , , , , , on September 7, 2016 by johnbuckley100


Speaking of bands who’ve been around for 40 years, Television played at D.C.’s 930 Club, and to say they were in fine form understates the impact of the Platonic ideal.

With only one song from 1992’s Television — “1880 or So” — and none at all from Adventure, this set was Marquee Moon all the way.  Only it was like Marquee Moon from the inside out: no “See No Evil,” and we heard “Prove It” and “Torn Curtain” before “Venus.”  A special highlight was hearing the gorgeous “Guiding Light,” and the closer of the set, “Marquee Moon,” was as good as we have ever heard it — and our hearing it live traces back to New Year’s Eve 1976.

Richard Lloyd has left the band, but Jimmy Rip — who has played with Verlaine since his 1980s solo tours — filled in and then some.  Yes, it was a little odd to hear a stand-in play Lloyd’s lines, but Rip is such an excellent guitarist in his own right, it was like hearing a gifted Branagh fill in for Olivier as Hamlet.

Richard Lloyd once famously said that with while some bands look to see whether they have the crowd moving, Television always judged its performance by whether the audience was motionless.  And yes, when Verlaine and Rip traded guitar lines, the crowd reaction was transfixion.  Verlaine was as loose as we have ever seen him, fronting Television or his own band (often comprised of a similar set of musicians.)  The volume was low, the torque was loose, and it was magnificent.


The last time we saw Television play was at Georgetown, when they were pushing their 1992 eponymous  reunion album.  The playing then was a bit like this: quieter and more self-contained than those shows we saw as they were exiting stage left in 1978.  But then and now, there was plenty that was raucous contained at an adult volume.

We once had Tom Verlaine explain to us, while sitting in our apartment in New York for an interview for the Soho Weekly News, that Television’s two-Fender guitar sound was aimed at extracting the jaggedness of wild songs.  But last night, he and Rip convened a harmonic convergence — on the unreleased, and very long, “Persia,” the fusion music had the audience guessing where the Farfisa , violins, and synths were hiding, though it was only the two guitars.  And on that post-Bolero finish to “Marquee Moon,” the return to the melody was like a post-coital urge for more, unheralded by the drums.

Fred Smith, the Harvey Keitel of rock’n’roll, was his wonderfully understated self, and Billy Ficca proved anew why he’s the greatest jazz drummer to ever center a punk-era band.  But it was Verlaine, of course, who people came to see, and both his singing and his magically elusive guitar were a reminder that one of the greatest bands in history can still evoke the era in which we first saw them, all those years ago.

Richard Hell’s “I Dreamed I Was A Very Clean Tramp”

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , on March 19, 2013 by johnbuckley100

Like many of rock’n’roll’s greatest vocalists, Richard Hell doesn’t have a very good voice.  As one of the greatest punk rock musicians, he couldn’t play his instrument very well.  For a guy who left Television before it made arguably the best album of the 1970s; left the Heartbreakers before L.A.M.F.; and whose output — not including the almost unlistenable Dim Stars record (bad sound quality) — is only the two records he put out with his band, The Voidoids, he sure does cut an outsized figure.  Even if all we had to go on was his song “Time,” from the Destiny Street album, or maybe his version of Dylan’s “Going Going Gone,” or (the lyrically reprehensible, since it would seem to promote incest) “The Plan” from Blank Generation, Richard Myers (Hell) would hulk in the corner of our rock Pantheon, casting a very large shadow.  And with the release of I Dreamed I Was A Very Clean Tramp, he’s now produced one of the most honest, funniest, best written and compelling autobiographies of any rock star ever — a book that holds its own with Keith Richards’ Life and Dean Wareham’s Black Postcards.

We enjoyed his novel Go Now, which came out in ’97, so we were prepared for a well-told story.  And what a story!  Whatever you think of him — talentless jester who was all style over substance, or seminal figure who helped launch the CBGB wave — credit him with balls.  Running away from boarding school with his pal Tom Miller, whom the world now knows as Tom Verlaine; moving to NY as a teenager without a high school diploma, and somehow surviving junk and basically three decades without a new record; Richard Myers reinvented himself as Richard Hell and helped create not just punk’s style — the torn shirts and safety pins that would be shamelessly ripped off by his admirer, Malcolm McLaren, when he was inventing the Sex Pistols — but some fair measure of it ethos: true heart and burning energy trumping anything so bourgeois as actual musical chops.

From what’s available through bootlegs and other artifacts, Television circa 1974 was a tug of war between Verlaine’s genius on a Fender guitar and Hell’s propulsive antics.  Neither really could sing, and both were pretty pretentious.  But Verlaine was a guitar god, and Hell was something else.  You read his account of leaving Television, and joining up with Johnny Thunders in the Heartbreakers (not to be confused, as it was, with Tom Petty’s band), only to leave to form the Voidoids with two of the greatest rock guitarists of all time, Bob Quine and Ivan Julian, and you keep waiting for the story to become a triumph. Keep waiting to hear how he got it together and achieved his dreams, fulfilled his promise.  And of course it didn’t happen.  By the time we got to New York in the late ’70s, Hell had already failed to sustain the momentum created with the amazing first Voidoid’s album, Blank Generation.  We only got to see him twice — once fronting the Raybeats at the NY Rocker 1979 holiday party (and that was a scream; Hell singing while the space-cowboy uniformed, No Wave surf instrumentalists backed him up), and then at the Peppermint Lounge around the time Destiny Street provided the Hell/Quine combo its swan song  — and by ’84 it was all over.  He blames other factors in addition to junk, but heroin addiction trumps all other factors in stories like this.  Heroin addiction may start as a manifestation, not a cause, of one’s problems, but by now we all know how quickly it piggybacks into rendering things the other way around.

The book is a great read.  His take down of his former high school chum Verlaine is vengeance served cold — with the meanest twist of the knife being not his remembrance of things past, but the book’s end, when he runs into his old friend, by now middle-aged, buying books from a dollar bin on the streets of Lower Manhattan.  While his Zelig-as-Casanova rounds of all the eligible women in ’70s New York gets old, he’s honest to admit relationships with two of rock’n’roll’s most horrific people, Nancy Spungeon and Anya Phillips, neither of whom met good ends.  In fact, the soundtrack for the book is less anything Hell recorded so much as it’s Jim Carroll’s “People Who Died,” as so many of the players succumbed to both drugs and natural causes… Lester Bangs and Peter Laughner and Lizzy Mercier Descloux and Johnny Thunders and Dee Dee Ramone and Bob Quine and on and on.

But not Hell.  Hell’s a survivor.  And a great storyteller.  And a man who understands that his greatest asset, circa 2013, is what he witnessed nearly 40 years ago, when Lower Manhattan, not Brooklyn, was the center of the universe, and things were grungy and sexy and fun.  You could think of Richard Hell as a man who with a modicum of talent played with a line up of the best guitarists of his generation, and created a small body of work that both will live for the ages and provide a clue about that brief moment when a handful of New York bands changed the world.  Or you could think of him as a very clean tramp, who has written a book we will enjoy as much as any of his collaborations with Bob Quine.

The Past And Present Of Patti Smith’s “Banga”

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , on June 11, 2012 by johnbuckley100

It is a tantalizing tell, to use the terminology of poker players who seek that small tic that will reveal what a player thinks of his own hand, that the first note of Patti Smith’s unbelievably great new album Banga is a single piano note that happens to be the same note that begins Patti Smith-protege PJ Harvey’s “We Float.”  Yeah, she’s been listening, listening to her acolytes, listening, by our reckoning to bands like Blood Meridian, artists like Bowie, and even old folkies like the Youngbloods (whose “Darkness Darkness” returns here in “Nine.”)

Banga is a remarkable album because it connects in a straight line to Horses, released, what, 37 years ago, and to virtually every bit of great music waiting to be played in the great Jungian juke box.  It’s  not just hearing Tom Verlaine play lead on “April Fool” that produces the rapture — yeah, rapture — this classic album inspires.  Maybe it’s the thought that unlike Dylan, who when he produced Love and Theft had lost the voice that could really do the songs justice, Smith still can sing, those years spent inactive paying off now, as like a pitcher with a fresh arm stemming from a late start, she can come in and finish the game without the seeming accumulation of age.

Here we have Patti Smith, not just a survivor but someone who proves she’s learned a lot since those thrilling, annoying, early days when she played the obnoxious tyro spouting pretentious gibberish while making gorgeous rock’n’roll music.  Banga is a revelation, an extension of “Birdland,” but so much more: current, sublime.  “Maria” is something that will make even an artist like PJ Harvey stand up and cheer for the master, who this time around repays the favor by taking her sound back again.  When the final words are written, Banga will be connected to Horses in that long sentence describing Patti Smith’s greatness.

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

Posted in Music with tags , , , , , , , on February 7, 2012 by johnbuckley100

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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