Below: Television: 21st Century.........................Television: Circa 1978
Television were one of the pioneering groups of rock and roll’s ‘punk & new wave’ movement which started with the Ramones in 1976…Curiously, Televison were neither ‘punk’ nor ‘new wave’ but rather a completely new mix of many classic elements of Guitar rock & roll, mixed with lyrics/poetry loosely connected to the ‘beat movement’ and it’s rock & roll offshoots…There sound was based in the tradition of American guitar rock, incorporating elements of 50s Fender guitar twang, surf-guitar, Chicago blues, and Link Wray-Dick Dale style guitar sound…This as opposed to the then emerging heavy metal guitar sound…But they also mixed Hendrix-like psychedelic elements with open ended improvisations…The result was a rock sound that was completely unique, and like many truly individual creations, has a quality of timelessness that has transcended trends and still sounds fresh today, 30 years later.
Television along with bands like the Ramones, Blondie, the Patti Smith Group and others were there at the beginning of the Punk/New Wave movement that had it’s germination at the NYC bar CBGBs in the middle 1970s…In fact, Television were there first, and actually helped build the stage at the NY Bowery bar.
Formed in 1973 by Guitarist/vocalist/composer Tom Verlaine (real name Miller/Seklavy) , Television went through a number of changes before settling on their classic lineup of Verlaine (Wilmington DE), bassist Fred Smith (NY), drummer Billy Ficca (Wilmington) and guitarist Richard Lloyd (Pittsburg PA)…This was the lineup that epitomized their ‘wheels within wheels’ guitar style over a rock and roll rythmn section that had the subtlety and imagination of a good jazz band.
Television honed their style during this period, and after a number of abortive attempts at landing record deals, the first one through a demo tape produced by Brian Eno, finally got the notice of a number of records with a demo they did with Blue Oyster Cult member Alan Lanier. They finally signed a record contract with Elektra Records, circa 1976. Their first album ‘Marquee Moon’, a highly original offering that is still considered a rock and roll classic was released in 1977.
Although usually lumped in with the Punk and New Wave genres, Television are more accurately described as an ‘Art Rock’ group…Now, when we think of ‘Art Rock’ what usually comes to mind are British groups like Yes, King Crimson, Emerson, Lake & Palmer and that school….Television were Art but on a street level as opposed to a more pompous or academic level…They had much more in common with the Velvet Underground; Television’s ‘stripped down’ style/sound/POV had much more in common with this NYC ‘existential’ viewpoint than with the more elaborate and showy ‘Prog Rock’ sensibilities of the British bands I mentioned…Television had American roots,
‘Marquee Moon' was quite an album....At the time it came out, I worked at probably the leading independent record store on the East Coast of the US, 'Third Street Jazz & Rock' in Philadelphia PA...We specialized in Jazz of all types, but with an emphasis on free jazz and hard to get items, including a large selection of imported vinyl...We also had a 'basement section' that was entirely devoted to the newly emerging punk & new wave genre, again with an emphasis on imports, primarily from the UK...Every Saturday we always had a line down the street of folks coming from NY, NJ and other points waiting to get in the door...
'Marquee Moon' was quite popular, and played frequently on turntables in the store...I liked what I heard, but I must admit that at that time I was primarily into jazz (I am also a musician/composer), and didn't quite get it's full impact...But it was a very good seller, along with albums by The Ramones, The Clash, Buzzcocks, Sex Pistols, Elvis Costello, Patti Smith and the like…But as I said, since I was involved in my own musical pursuits that were slightly different and not oriented to rock and roll, I didn’t really get the chance to get into their music deeply at that point in time…But, curiously, there were some personal connections…A friend of mine worked with Televison’s Richard Lloyd after the band broke up in 1978 following the release of their second record ‘Adventure’ (also excellent) and an American tour…Like many of the new generation of rock artists, Television could not get their records played on the radio in the US: the record companies didn’t quite know how to promote them…And, of course, even if a group has a record deal, without proper promotion a record won’t sell, and a group cannot make a living.
After Television broke up in 1978, the band members pursued various and sundry projects...Tom Verlaine released a series of solo albums during the 80s, and Richard Lloyd released a few of his own...But aside from Verlaine's first solo project 'Tom Verlaine' the records, although quite good in varying degrees, lacked the magic that was produced by the Television partnership...There is something special about a BAND...Bassist Smith and drummer Ficca worked with an assortment of artists, and on different recordings..
Television reformed in 1993, signed a new record deal with Capitol, and put out an extraordinary album, the eponomously titled ‘Television’…I first heard it while walking to catch a trolley on a summer evening…There was something about the sound that I recognized, but it was so unique I had to just stop and listen…When the DJ came on, he said ‘That’s the new album from the reformed Television’…Wow...This was a the dawning of the CD era, and I rushed out to get the record…It was only available on cassette…But I bought it, and still have the cassette…The album is no longer available in any format...But ‘Television’ might be their best album…The group had updated their sound, but the growth was organic and didn’t sound artificial…It just sounded like they had seamlessly incorporated everything they had heard or been influenced by in the last ten years, and blended it into the classic Television style…A beautiful record…But, as before, their new label, Capitol, didn’t seem to understand them or be willing to give them support…After a change in management at the label, with the individuals who signed them having departed, Capitol Records never released a follow up…This at the height of the ‘alternative rock’ period (with groups like Nirvana) when it seemed to be a ripe time for the kind of intelligent/individualistic rock that a band like Television played to finally reach a wider and younger audience.
Around the year 2000, somehow I stumbled onto Television again, and this time around I was ready to really listen, closely...I bought the CD of 'Marquee Moon' and was quite amazed...Being a guitarist, the first thing that jumped out was the interplay of the guitars, and the sheer imagination of the guitar lines and parts...Verlaine, with his more fragmented and dissonant style, and Lloyd with his more straight ahead rock sensibility and fluidity made for a great combination...Plus, the great rythmn section of Fred Smith and Billy Ficca held everything in check, but with great subtlety and imagination, like a jazz rythmn section, but playing a rock beat...And the songs?...tremendous, every last one...All unique...'White Boy' rythmn taken to the limit...'See No Evil', ''Venus de Milo', 'Friction', 'Elevation' all great and unique in structure and performance: Swirling guitars that wouldn’t quit, some of the most interesting and imaginative drumming from Ficca, and bass-extrodinaire from Smith…All this, with Verlaine’s cryptic lyrical symbolism ...Then you had more 'epic' rock opuses like 'Marquee Moon' and 'Torn Curtain', along with a bit of doo-woppy American 50s style rock on 'Guiding Light' and 'Prove It'...Quite a unique rock and roll experience...And always, the guitars played like the rock and roll equivalent of a classical string quartet, but with funk, slash and resonance.
I saw the reformed Televison in 2003 in Philadelphia, and even shared some conversation over dinner with Richard Lloyd at a local eatery before the show...The concert was fantastic...While the group could still rock out, they had developed the sensitivity of a jazz chamber ensemble, al la the Modern Jazz Quartet, and integrated elements of jazz, Middle Eastern modality and other elements seamlesly into their set...Every member stood out as individuals, but the sum of it all was greater than the parts...Mr. Verlaine had a few problems with his guitar and amp, but eventually straightened things out...Richard Lloyd was at a peak, and his playing was top notch rock, again with other elements mixed in...Verlaine's unique voice was in good stead, and they mixed old material from the 'Marquee Moon' era with new songs, and great material from their 1993 comeback album 'Television'.
I last saw Television at Central Park in NYC in 2007...Richard Lloyd was hosptalized with pneumonia, so Tom Verlaine's musical compatriot Jimmy Ripp handled the other guitar chores...But, this was quite an amazing concert, as Verlaine got to really stretch out with his playing, fusing elements of surf-guitar, raga-rock, 50s style Fender sound, which have always been present in his playing, into a small rock symphony for lead guitar...Without Mr. Lloyd to lean on, Verlaine really stretched out and got into a whole different realm...But it was still Televison, with the redoubtable Mr. Smith and Ficca as the rythmn engine...As the sun went down, I just sat in Central Park and heard them turn their magnum opus 'Marquee Moon' into a Beethoven-like musical soundscape...I kid you not.
So, this is just a little word-up about a largely unknown but very amazing rock and roll group…History’s pioneers are often overlooked or pushed to the side during their own lifetimes…Others make the profits from their original inventions…But this is the way of the world, and with art or music, it is the work itself that transcends, and stands the test of time…Tom Verlaine’s original partner in the group, Richard Hell (Myers), was apparently the one who came up with the name ‘Television’ for the group…He picked it because, being the nihilist that he was then, he thought it fit the time perfectly : ‘So omnipresent, so NOTHING…’…But Tom Verlaine, who agreed to the name, apparently saw the word in a different light…’Television…I always looked at it like ‘tell-a=vision, you know, trying to communicate something you see, or a vision you have of something…’…Yes, ‘tell a vision’ indeed.
Television 'The Wonder' : http://www.thewonder.co.uk
Richard Lloyd/Television Guitarist:
Television Fan Site: 'Last Word Is the Lost Word'
The music of Television can be listened to or downloaded at various sites on the Web...Some YouTube footage is also available.