“I Stand Neath The Marquee Moon..”: Tom Verlaine and Television

After college, I returned back to my home, trying to get a foothold onto this thing called life. Coincidentally, my brother also moved back home after realizing that a future life in academia was not what really cared for either. I was a serious deadhead in college and was playing bass in a band that played Dead and southern rock (Allman Brothers, Marshall Tucker Band, etc). I also had expanded my interest in jazz and for a while I played guitar in a little jazz chamber trio of vibes, guitar and bass that was heavily into the ECM school. My brother meanwhile had begun to listen to some of the more critic approved punk and new wave bands. As in our younger days, our separate record collections began to merge so next to my Dead bootlegs and Gary Burton Quintet (featuring a very young Pat Metheny) albums were his records by Blondie, Talking Heads and Television’s debt album, Marquee Moon.

Television, like Blondie, Talking Heads and The Ramones were part of the New York rock scene of the 1970’s that centered around clubs like CBGB and Max’s Kansas City. In fact, Television was the first band to ever play at CBGB. But like Blondie and the Talking Heads, their identification as a “punk rock” band was more a function of hype and being affiliated with a scene than their actual sound. While the stereotypical punk band tried to portray an attitude of anti-virtuosity and defiant primitivism, Television featured the interplay of their two guitarists, Tom Verlaine and Richard Loyd, who were not afraid to take extended solos. It was because of their dual lead guitar attack that I would describe Television as The Velvet Underground meets The Allman Brothers but on further consideration I would say they were more like The Velvet Underground meets early Quicksilver Messenger Service. This is primarily due to the guitar sound of Tom Verlaine which Patti Smith described as “a thousand bluebirds screaming”. Not being as poetic as Ms. Smith, I hear Quicksilver’s John Cipollina mixed with surf guitar and the garage band rock that served as models for many of the early punk bands. With their use of inter-meshing cyclic guitar riffs, I hear elements of the early minimalist composers like Steve Reich. While Verlaine was the principal songwriter and vocalist, guitarist Richard Loyd was a more than capable partner in the sound equation. The interplay of their guitars over the tight and lean rhythm section of Fred Smith on bass and Billy Ficca on drums made them a band to be reckoned with. Tom Verlaine’s strangled vocals may take some getting used to but they fit his lyrics which paint surreal pictures of a nocturnal lower Manhattan that seemed timeless.

The centerpiece of the album is the 11 minute title cut. The first guitar solo (at around the 3:02 mark in the video clip below) is by Loyd and bursts out of the gate and is short and concise. Verlaine’s solo starts at the 4:50 mark and it’s more subdued start quickly builds in intensity until the whole band is pounding away at a series of ascending chords with the tension breaks into a moment of sublime resolution.

Television Marquee Moon

The next clip is the audio of a show from San Francisco on the Television’s final tour before their 1992 reunion and demonstrates the band playing harder and looser than on their two more crafted studio albums. The rhythm section is still drum head tight but playing with a lot more muscle while the guitars sound grittier.

Television – Live At The Old Waldorf, San Francisco, 06/29/1978

Marquee Moon gets it’s share of critic love, often being cited as one of the great albums of the New York punk scene and a cornerstone of alternative rock (whatever that is). The acclaim is well deserved.

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Posted in Classic Rock, Improvisation, Music Appreciation and Analysis

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