|Home > Entertainment > Music|
|Home > Entertainment > Music|
Sunday, Sept. 14, 2003
Television stands test of time
Special to The Japan Times
It seems every band that broke up in the decade prior to, say, 1985 has reunited in the past few years to take advantage of whatever shred of nostalgia still dangles from its reputation. Television, the guitar band that emerged from the underground New York scene centered on the Bowery dive CBGB's in 1975, is one such band. But Television was never easy to categorize, and their reunion isn't really a reunion according to Richard Lloyd, who is one of the band's guitarists.
"The thing about Television is that we don't convene and break up and reconvene," he says over the phone from his home in New York City. "We're back together. We've been doing shows for three or four years now, full-time, steadily." When asked to define "steadily" he says, "About 10 or 15 shows a year. Basically, we do the shows we want to do. We're not on the hungry career track. We're not into touring little clubs, living off rice and beans."
Historically speaking, Television broke up in 1978 shortly after releasing their second album, "Adventure." In 1992, they reunited and released an eponymous album that, like their earlier two, didn't dent the U.S. charts, though, also like those two, it received glowing reviews.
"Back in 92 we didn't want it to stop, necessarily," Lloyd elaborates. "But the record company did a number on us, so we took a break. And then we started getting offers in the late '90s. We were invited to All Tomorrow's Parties, an English festival, and we decided that as long as we were going over we might as well do some other shows. That time we did Ireland, Scotland, England, Spain, Denmark."
Television always seemed to be more commercially viable in England than they were in the United States. Their 1977 debut, "Marquee Moon," made it to No. 28 on the British charts, and "Adventure" reached as high as seven. According to the archives, two singles even made it into the British Top 40, but for some reason Lloyd doesn't believe it.
"If we cracked the Top 40, nobody notified me. What's interesting about England is that it's sort of like Japan. It's a small country, so when something is big in England it seems really big. Smart people like Jimi Hendrix went over there, became famous, and then came back here. And it's good for the English bands when they come to America. Everybody's like, wow, they're big already back home, and don't realize it's like being big in Connecticut."
Lloyd is similarly unimpressed with bands emerging now, like The Strokes, who claim Television as an influence. He points out that while the band was appreciated it was never understood. "We hated [the punk label]. The only band we knew that could stand it was the Ramones. But it stuck and there's nothing you could do about it."
With its twinned lead guitars, Tom Verlaine's surrealistic poetry and fragile vocals, and a willingness to stretch songs with improvisational bridges, Television was closer in method, if not spirit, to '60s experimental rock bands who treasured their instrumental abilities. The difference was that Television's solos were not blues-based, and their song structures had no precedent.
They also rocked harder, an aspect that Lloyd contributed to more than Verlaine, who started the band and wrote most of its songs. Lloyd picked up the guitar to "chase Jimi Hendrix down the block. Hendrix, Jimmy Page, Jeff Beck, Buddy Guy, Mike Bloomfield. Those were my heroes. I wanted to gain admission to that kind of club."
Television offered Lloyd a unique opportunity to help develop a new kind of guitar vocabulary, but after four years of playing the same songs night after night, he felt stifled. "When Television broke up I went through a kind of blue period. I didn't want to do anything like that. Sometimes that's smart and sometimes it's just shooting yourself in the foot."
He released a solo album, "Alchemy," that was conventionally rockish, and while it received praise, it was overshadowed by Verlaine's solo career, which seemed to chart the direction that Television might have followed had they stayed together: ever more adventurous, but also more tuneful and playful.
Some have claimed that the 1992 reunion CD is just another Verlaine solo album, but if it is, it's his best solo album, and the reason is Lloyd's contribution. However, despite recent rumors surrounding comments Lloyd made to Billboard magazine, the band is not planning on recording soon.
"We've got some new songs, and every once in a while we talk about recording. But we don't have a record company. Now, of course, everybody will read what I just said to you and they'll start calling me. 'When is the record coming out? I want to sign you guys to Potato Head Records in Talahassee, Fla.' I mean, it wouldn't be hard to make a record. We're just really lackadaisical."
Nonetheless, Rhino Records is releasing three Television albums later this month: remastered versions of "Marquee Moon" and "Adventure" with bonus tracks, and a 1978 live show recorded in San Francisco. "They sent the stuff for our approval. They're treating us very nicely, and, to tell you the truth, they didn't have to." Television didn't leave much of a studio legacy. What you got on those two albums and the rarely heard self-released single "Little Johnny Jewel" (one of the bonus tracks) was pretty much everything the band knew.
"The song 'Adventure,' which was recorded for the album 'Adventure,' is one of the bonus tracks. We never finished the song. But it sounds like it might as well be done.
"There's a lot of Television bootlegs out there," he says when asked about the live album. "I think we rival the Grateful Dead in bootlegativity. I think [the show] is one of the better ones that's been circulating. They took it and remastered it. I remember it distinctly because we were particularly loud. Somehow at that show we had these amps that The Rolling Stones used at one of their outdoor concerts. They were huge. You have to turn them up to get a decent quality sound, and we were playing these things in clubs. From the stage I'd watch people's beverages dance across the table and fall off."
If he can't get enough volume with Television this time around, he can probably get it with Rocket From the Tombs, another '70s band that caught the reunion bug. "Yeah, we go back out on tour in November and December. It's great. I feel like I'm in the Led Zeppelin, Alice Cooper, Black Sabbath world."
RFTT was the legendary Cleveland band that spawned The Dead Boys and Pere Ubu, and while they were closer to pure punk than Television was, Lloyd says it wasn't difficult to step into the shoes of the band's late guitarist Peter Laughner.
"I remember they opened for Television in 1975 in Cleveland. We showed up at the sound check and they were having a fist fight. I thought, get these people away from us. And then they played and I thought, wow, they're really good. But I knew they weren't going to last, they were too volatile. And Peter Laughner died shortly thereafter. That's the way it is. I'm sure I did much more harm to myself than he did to himself, but he's croaked and I'm not. Now I'm playing his guitar parts."
Lloyd also has his own band (now on hiatus), teaches and dabbles in outside production work. For that matter, the other members of Television seem to have full musical lives apart from the band. In other words, nobody has to open a Starbucks franchise, but considering the limited repertoire that Television has always had to contend with, isn't it sometimes difficult to be Television circa 1977 forever?
"Well, of course we're going to play 'Marquee Moon' and 'See No Evil.' I don't have a problem with it, but I don't have to sing them. I can imagine how some songs might. . . . I mean, sometimes I say, 'Why don't we do this one?' And Tom will say, 'Not this time.' You know what I mean? That's understandable, but there's no problem in revisiting the old material. It's all embedded in the muscles."
Television: Sept. 25, 7 p.m. at Shibuya AX. Tickets 6,000 yen. Sept. 17, 7:40 p.m. at Camp in Asagiri Jam, Shizuok Asagiri Arena. Tickets 8,000 yen. For more information, call Smash at (03) 3444-6751.