“These days, people download a song or two from an album. Well, Marquee Moon is not for that. Marquee Moon is the whole thing. One thing. Like Mount Everest.”
Former Television guitarist Richard Lloyd is open to embracing the legacy of his band’s seminal debut, his contribution to it and what a truly extraordinary outfit they were together.
He recounted in a 2013 documentary that DJs used to call the band The Ice Kings of Rock due to their detached onstage demeanour
“At that stage, the music was so transcendent, there was no need to move around on stage,” he said. “I used to come off stage and think ‘four human beings can’t do that’.”
In the mid-90s, it was a different story. Lloyd was in Australia touring as a member of Matthew Sweet’s band. Huge Marquee Moon fan Richard Kingsmill tried to approach him for an interview, only to be told that he doesn’t talk about Television.
One imagines that with such creativity in a band like Television comes a degree of volatility and friction, a matter that Lloyd offers up plenty of detail on in the Prism Archive interview.
Lifelong careers in music are the exception, rather than the rule. For some bands, there need only be one distinguished work that endures. Television’s intricate guitar skill, inventiveness and chemistry on Marquee Moon forged its own singular path and in the process shaped the trajectory of rock music.
David Bowie apparently described Television as being ‘the most original band’ he’d seen in New York after witnessing a gig at Club 82.
To a 13-year-old Kingsmill, who discovered Television via his older brother’s record collection, the band projected something irresistibly cool via Robert Mapplethorpe’s picture that graced the album’s front cover. On the inside sleeve was a simple shot of four guys standing around in the studio looking at each other, an image that was at odds to the complex sounds that came from the record, a contrast Kingsmill found extremely affecting.
“I just loved the image of those four guys just mastering their instruments so well, to come up with this music,” he said. “To me, that’s what a great band is. I just loved everything about what that band achieved on that record.”
What they’d achieved on Marquee Moon was generating something akin to a metaphysical experience.
“Everything just plays off each other,” Kingsmill says of the remarkable title track. “There’s not one extraneous note in the whole thing. Everything builds.
“Tom Verlaine was a huge jazz fan and he listened to a lot of things outside of just guitar rock. You can hear that in the way that song is constructed. It’s a journey. There’s something very poetic about it.
“And the climax in that track, I don’t wanna sound pretentious, but it sounds like a whole flock of birds just flying away. There’s this imagery that comes to mind when you listen to that piece of music. It’s got a film happening at the same time that you hear the music being played. It’s kinda rare for music to conjure such strong imagery, for me anyway.”
It wasn’t just about guitars though. The sound of Tom Verlaine’s voice was penetrating, yet full of intrigue. Lyrically his strong literary instincts came through as well as an inclination for the surreal. Cadillacs pulling out of graveyards (‘Marquee Moon’), tight toy nights (‘Venus’) and boats made of ocean (‘See No Evil’), Verlaine’s stories and observations of his surroundings must have seemed bizarre and alien, but New York City in the ‘70s was a magnet for all sorts of colourful characters and their many indulgences.
Channelling that excitement and energy, as well as his exposure to other writers was freeing.
“To me there’s something else in there, where you don’t have to be confined to the kind of rhetoric you get, at least I got, when I was growing up,” Verlaine explained in a 1992 interview with American radio DJ Frank Andrick.
“So much of everything is conditioning and so much of conditioning is language, so I supposed reading some of those poets at a certain time lit me up somehow.”
Four decades later, his band’s first musical document still fires up the imagination and inspires awe, the type reserved for those albums that deservedly sit atop the musical summit.