Television: Marquee Moon/Adventure/Live at the Old Waldorf San Francisco, 6/29/1978
This review originally appeared on Froggy's Delight, "le site web qui excite vos oreilles", and was translated by Emilie Hsu of the Marquee Moon Mailing List.
Rhino did it again -- they have just issued three CDs of the Television -- the long-awaited reisses of their two first albums: Marquee Moon and Adventure, and the first official publication of one of the best bootlegs of the band (and there have been many of those...): Live at the Old Waldorf San Francisco, 6/29/1978. All three are nicely packaged in digipacks with never-seen-before pictures, excellent introductions, lyrics and outtakes.
Television was in existence from 1973 to 1978. The original line-up included Tom Verlaine (vocal and guitar), Richard Lloyd (guitar), Billy Ficca (drums) and Richard Hell (bass and vocals). The magnificent Richard Hell, inventor of the Punk look, was soon fired by Tom Verlaine, who didn't want to share the limelight and who wanted a bass-player who could actually play... and replaced by Fred Smith (nothing to do with the guitar player of the MC5, Patti Smith's husband). Richard Hell left to form the Voidoids and to record the Punk hymn "(I belong to the) Blank Generation" (which Television had previously played live).
Any New Yorker at the time could have told you this: not only did Television invent Punk, they did it back in 1975! 1977, London, Malcom McLaren, the Pistols: all these guys have seen Television and the Ramones at CBGB's two years before. Johnny Rotten's "destroy" look, his punk haircut, everything was stolen from Richard Hell.
Even in New York, it was Television who started it all: they found CBGB's, then a crappy New York bar - and convinced Hilly Kristal, the owner, to turn it into a rock club. The Ramones, Blondie, the Dead Boys, Wayne County, Talking Heads (David Byrne: another one who, so it seems, had carefully studied Tom Verlaine live before starting his own band...) - all of them went through that hole in the wall. The club became super-hip, and even oldies like the Velvets wanted to be seen there. Rumor has that Verlaine prohibited Lou Reed from taping a Television show.
Patti Smith wanted a piece of the party too. She became for a while, Verlaine's girlfriend, she invited him to play on her first single (he plays guitar on the legendary B-side of "Piss Factory", the cover of Hendrix's "Hey Joe") and on her first album Horses (he writes and plays guitar on "Break It Up"). Patti recommends her friend, the famous photographer, Robert Mapplethorpe, for the cover of the band's first album, Marquee Moon.
There are many who would say that the world started with Marquee Moon. It was the end of the awful 70's, the end of the bloated bands of the 60's that spent years in studios, the end of the triple live albums of Yes, Peter Gabriel and his vegetable masks, the end of the abominable transformation of blues bands like Fleetwood Mac into pop hit-machines, Peter Frampton who made his guitar sing, Clapton crooner... let alone disco and French pop music (help! I am having a flash back of "Les Maladies d'Amour"!).
Everything became clear, the first Ramones, Marquee Moon - something new is afoot. Listening to Marquee Moon, one wonders what is so punk about the Television - they were all accomplished musicians and their record has nothing to do with Never Mind the Bollocks (and even less with Green Day)... All these New York bands of the 70's have in common was their willingness to say "No, Thanks" to pompous rock and disco music that used to monopolize the charts at the time. (See extracts of the magnificent punk compilation box-set by Rhino (again!) No Thanks, the 70's Punk Rebellion).
Fans called Television "the Punk Grateful Dead" because Verlaine and Lloyd played solos that lasted hours. But Verlaine said that he was more inspired by Coltrane. His insane and unpredictable solos can be traced back to Richard Thompson of the Fairport Convention (which Television did not know then) and to Michael Bloomfield of East-West with the Butterfield Blues Band in 1966, which was then an insanity that reinvented solo guitar playing.
Because Television was a guitar band. Just like the Velvets. With a superbly austere sound (Television's adventures with their producer, as told in the booklet accompanying Marquee Moon are worth their weight in gold...), the two guitars criss-crossed each other, answered each other and created music as one has never heard before: "Venus" or "Elevation" takes us into an unknown world where anything can happen. And where anything did happen: "Marquee Moon", the title song, takes its own sweet time to explore new territories. As a bonus, the reissued CD offers us the hard-to-find and legendary first single, "Little Johnny Jewel", which at the time took both sides of the 45! Very minimalist on the single, the live versions (the one on The Blow Up, for example) could last up to 20 minutes and went in directions that, indeed, only Coltrane would dare to explore.
The year after (1978) came Adventure, which to fans, appeared tamer (even too much so) and disappointed them. With time, it is now clear that it was an essential album, full of allusions to Rolling Stones in their prime ("Glory" or "Foxhole"), with perfect guitar solos ("The Fire") and beautiful ballads ("Days").
As to Live at the Old Waldorf San Francisco, 6/29/1978, this is hard evidence to fans who have never seen them live that Television was an incredible live concert band: the opening of the concert with "The Dream's Dream" is uniquely daring.
The band split in 1978, re-united in 1992 and came out with a third excellent album, modestly titled Television and split again. Re-united in 2000, they tour regularly nowadays and are still at the top of their game.
These reissues, which at last replace the lousy cheap CDs issued back in the 90's, are the perfect occasion to discover or rediscover this unique band.
To read: Please Kill Me by Legs McNeil and Gillian McCain, the incredible history of American Punk movement told by those who lived it.

This page last updated 20-Nov-2003. Back to Television news