In 2012, I sat down with Television’s Richard Lloyd to discuss the making of the band’s seminal debut album, Marquee Moon, which was released in February 1977. The original feature, told entirely in Lloyd’s own words, originally ran in Uncut magazine in March 2012. To celebrate the record’s 40th birthday, I’m running a much (much) longer version of the piece here.
THE ELUSIVE FOUNDING FATHERS of New York punk– they literally built the CBGB stage in 1973 – Television were the last of the first wave of bands to actually record an album. But they more than met the heavy expectations piled upon them by delivering a masterpiece, Marquee Moon.
Now a regular on any Greatest Albums lists, Marquee Moon failed even to scratch the US Billboard Top 200 on release in February 1977, although it hit No. 28 in the UK. It is a defining artifact of New York punk, yet has little to do with its peers. Influences are there to be spotted – shards of Nuggets-style garage, moves copped from the sharpest Brit-invasion groups – but Tom Verlaine’s barked, sneered and whispered lyrics have a tense, abstruse poetry and lend a cool, questing, nocturnal urban intellectual bent to the album. However it’s the long, free-jazz inflected guitar duels, duets, gangfights and trade-offs between Verlaine and the group’s co-founder Richard Lloyd that truly set Television apart, and became their signature.
Marquee Moon is a record that seemed to come rising out of nowhere. But here, in his own words, Richard Lloyd tells the story behind its making – and the eventual unmaking of the band. A tale of disgusting shirts, drunken producers, and power trips…Over to Mr Lloyd:
ACCORDING TO RICHARD LLOYD
1. Meeting Tom Verlaine
In the fall of 1973, I had just come back to New York City and I needed a place to stay.
I’d moved around a lot. I was born just outside Pittsburgh, and I was brought up in New York, and I wanted to be a musician. I’d studied drums as a kid before I took up guitar. When I first left home, I’d gone to Boston, to check out the music scene, because that’s where everybody my age was going. I slept on the street, with my guitar as a pillow. I ate mayonnaise sandwiches for a year. Then I was in LA for a couple of years. This was when there was some really extravagant record company spending going on, so there was always a party to go to, free food. I was in my early twenties, and, I guess, pretty much leading a vagabond life. Then I heard about a band called The New York Dolls and the Mercer Art Centre, and that there was a scene growing in New York, and so back I came again.
I was doing a lot of nightclubbing at Max’s Kansas City, in the back room, and I met a fellow named Terry Ork. Terry had a very large loft in Chinatown, and he had a spare room in the front, and so I moved in.
Mostly what I did during the day was play my guitar, with no amplifier. I didn’t want anybody to hear me until I was good. Terry’s day job was as manager of a movie memorabilia shop on 13th Street, called Cinemabilia. They sold film books, posters, publicity stills. You could go in and say, “Do you have any signed pictures of Cary Grant from North By Northwest?” And Terry would say to his assistant, “Richard, would you look for that?” Then this guy Richard would disgruntledly look through all the pictures. And this was Richard Meyers, who would later become Richard Hell.
One day, Terry said to me, “Oh, I know this guy who does what you do.”
I said, “Huh? What do I do?”
“You play electric guitar all alone, all day long. That’s all you do. That’s all this guy does.”
This turned out to be Richard Meyers’s best friend, a guy named Tom Miller, soon to become known as Tom Verlaine.
Terry told me this guy Tom was going to be playing audition night at Reno Sweeney’s, and asked if I wanted to go. Reno Sweeney’s was a supper club in the Village that was like the CBGB’s of the Broadway set: Liza Minnelli, Peter Lemongello, drag artists, gay wannabe Broadway singers, those kinds of people. I wasn’t too interested. But Terry was going anyway, and I didn’t have anything else to do. So, we got a cab up, and Richard Hell came in with his girlfriend, and we sat down, with two drinks apiece, waiting for Tom to arrive.
He came in with his guitar and old Fender amplifier, and stood there looking irked already, like it was too much trouble to even open the door. Richard ran over and started helping him with his amp, and he set it up on the stage. Then he went back over to Tom.
“You don’t look right,” Richard said.
Tom was wearing what looked like a shirt from 1932. It was old, yellowing, frayed, almost disgusting. Richard put his fingers into a hole by the shoulder, and he tore it. Then he enlarged another hole, so that one of Tom’s nipples could be seen. I sat watching them, feeling like an anthropologist watching strange animals and their social habits.
Tom turned on his amp, and the manager ran straight over in a panic, shouting, “You have to turn that down!” Tom hadn’t played a note yet. It was just the pop you get when you turn one of those old amplifiers on. So Richard got into a fight with the manager, and it went like that for a while. Richard and Tom had between them what I can only describe as universal contempt. But finally, Tom played. Three songs. The second song was “Venus Di Milo.”
Now, Terry Ork worked as an assistant to Andy Warhol during the night, and he wanted to sponsor a band, almost like Andy had done with the Velvets. His idea was he was going to sponsor a band around me. But when I saw Tom playing “Venus Di Milo”, I leaned over to Terry, and I said, “This guy’s got It.”
Tom was playing just all rhythm chords, but I knew that I could add something to what he was doing. I remember leaning over shouting in Terry’s ear, because he could hardly hear me, “Forget my band. Put me and this guy together, and you’ll have the band you’ve been looking for.”
2. Television Mk I; First Rehearsals
A few days later, Tom and Richard came down to Terry’s loft. The only guitar was mine. I played some stuff, then I gave it to Tom and he played some stuff, and asked, “Can you play that?” And in those days, if I saw you play something, I could play it. So Richard and Tom went away, whispered together, then came back and said, “Okay. We’ll try it.”
Tom and I, our guitars meshed together immediately. I had studied a kind of classic rock guitar, where you do whole step bends, half step bends. When I was a teenager, I had a friend who knew Jimi Hendrix, and Jimi gave this guy lessons, who passed them on to me, and I met Hendrix and watched him play, so that’s where I was coming from.
Tom played with a completely different style. He used the classical vibrato. It’s technical to describe, but it’s like on a violin: you move your wrist back and forth, the finger doesn’t move, but the pitch goes up and down. I don’t know where he got it. It was more like a sitar player, but that was Tom’s style, this magnificent classical vibrato. He’d never do whole step bends, always micro-bends. But our two styles just suited each other beautifully. Between the two of us, we had all the different guitar aspects you could want. I was playing much more classical rock, Tom was playing his odd, in-between thing. But if Tom would show me something, I could play it.
The next thing was convincing Richard Hell to play bass. Tom couldn’t do it. Richie said, “I’m not a musician. I can’t do it.” When Tom wasn’t around, I asked him what the problem was. He said, “Listen. Playing with Tom is like going to the dentist. Except you’d rather go to the dentist.”
Tom and Richard had tried to do a band before.
I said, “But Richard, you’ve got the look. You look like a combination of Elvis Presley and some movie star. You can learn, we’re going to rehearse a lot.” And the compliments got to him. So then we had three.
I got together with Tom to talk about drummers. I had a couple in mind, but Tom was insistent the best rock’n’roll drummer he knew was a friend of his, Billy Ficca. I was a little miffed he wasn’t willing to try a few drummers, but we called Billy down. Billy was in Boston, and he’d just left his band, so he had nothing else to do, so he came down, and we started rehearsing. Three days into rehearsals, Tom called me aside and said, “I’m about to pull my hair out. I can’t stand it. Billy’s turned into a jazz drummer.”
And Billy was all over the place – but in a good way. I said to Tom, “Look. All the greatest guitarists we know, Jimmy Page, Jeff Beck, Jimi Hendrix – they all had crazy drummers.” The Who had Keith Moon, Zeppelin had Bonham, just down the line. You know, without a crazy drummer, a guitar solo can sound wimpy.
We started rehearsing and we were having a great time. But Tom was already getting frustrated with Richard Hell, because Richard never practiced. That’s one reason why we ended up having weeks of like six, seven days of five-hour rehearsals. Which of course didn’t hurt, but it didn’t make us better, either, between Richard’s lack of skills on the bass – and I loved Richard’s bass-playing, I thought he was like Paul McCartney – and Billy on the drums going nutzoid.
Sad to admit, when Christmastime came, and Billy left for a week to go visit his father, we did audition other drummers behind his back. We tried Clem Burke who wound up in Blondie, we auditioned a couple of people who’d play in The Ramones. And they were great players. But it was rehearsing with them that made us realise that no one fit like Billy. Billy’s playing, I think, is a very strong reason why Television is still thought of as a great band.
3. First Gig
We meandered along in rehearsals in Terry’s loft, and started planning for our first gig. But there was no place to play. Literally. Finally, we rented The Townhouse Theatre, an 88-seat theatre on 44th Street.
We put up flyers that Hell designed. The four of us went around with paste and paintbrushes, and we plastered the lower west and east sides. We’d go up to journalists and ask them to come and watch us rehearse, so we could get quotes from them. Like Danny Fields – the press agent for The Doors and Jimi Hendrix back in the day, and who had managed The Stooges – we went up to him. He said, “No, I’m not coming down to see your band. But anybody who has the nerve to walk up to me on the street and ask me for a quote, well, I know you must be good.” So he just gave us a quote.
Meanwhile, Terry knew people in the film industry, and asked Nicholas Ray, the director of Rebel Without A Cause, to come down to the loft to see us. Nick didn’t want to come. Terry offered him a gallon of wine. Nick said, “Okay.”
So, Nicholas Ray came down, and sat on the edge of the bed in his eyepatch, drinking wine, while went through our ridiculous repertoire. We would knock things over, and if a mic fell on the floor, we’d lie down and sing into it, still playing. When the wine was almost done, Nicholas said, “Well, I’ll tell you, Terry: These are four cats with a passion.” And then he proceeded to pass out. So we used Nick’s quote.
We took out a little ad in the Village Voice newspaper, and, on the night, we were surprised: 88 seats, and we filled most of them. And, well, we were like The Sex Pistols that couldn’t play. We were all over the map. Especially in singing, when Tom would want a three-part harmony. Neither he nor Hell can hold a goddam pitch. I’m no Frank Sinatra, but I can sing in pitch. We got into these huge arguments about who was off.
Meanwhile, Billy would do these drum solos…The way I look at Billy is, he’s been doing a drum solo since 1973, occasionally interrupted by songs. We used to do a song called “Kingdom Come” – very, very different to the version that Tom later did solo, and Bowie covered – and it had a drum solo in it. During rehearsals, when we got to Billy’s drum solo, the rest of us would go out to lunch in Chinatown, smoke some cigarettes, and then we’d come back and Billy would still be soloing.
I had decided that I wanted my hair to be blue for the gig, but I was scared of getting my ass kicked on the street. So, before the gig, I bleached my hair, and bought a bunch of food colouring. I figured I could put that on, and then wash it out. So I had blue and green, red and yellow hair. We did a two-part set, and during the first part the lights were so hot that all the colour started running out of my hair, down my face, dripping over my t-shirt and guitar. That’s why in some of the early pictures you’ll see me as this…sort of blonde.
4. The Birth of CBGB
After we had to rent our own theatre to get a gig, we started talking about where else there was to play. And there wasn’t anywhere.
In my mind, I was thinking about The Beatles, when they were playing four or five sets a night in Hamburg. I thought, we needed that: to play multiple times a night, to really hone ourselves, and build an audience.
Tom lived on the Lower East Side, and we rehearsed in Chinatown, which meant that, when Tom walked to rehearsal, he walked down The Bowery. Now, The Bowery had a reputation, but it was not a dangerous place, because it was just full of drunkards. The most drunkards are likely to do is beg you for enough cash to buy a drink. You can just step over them on the street. One day, Tom came into rehearsal and said, “I might have found a place. It’s on The Bowery. It’s a dive.”
That’s what we wanted. We needed a place that sounded good, but that was off the beaten track, a dive, where nobody else would want to come and play, so we could become like the house band. That was the plan: get a club that allows music, and sort of take over.
Tom said he had seen a guy outside this place, working on the front, and asked if one of us would go back with him to talk to the guy. Hell was busy drinking whisky, and Billy wasn’t a guy who’d want to go and strike up a conversation. So I said I’d go.
We went up, and we saw the owner, Hilly Kristal, on a stepladder outside the building, firming up the awning: CBGB OMFUG. We looked up at him.
“Are you gonna have live music?”
“Wait a minute. Lemme finish this, and I’ll show you around.”
So, Hilly took us inside. And there was a little stage on the left, that he wanted to move right to the front, facing the back. We talked him out of that. We said, “You’ll get noise complaints if it’s right at the front on the street.”
He said, “Oh, I’m not having loud music.”
And we said, “Well, but the worst part is morale. If people come in right next to the band, how are they gonna leave, except to walk right in front of the band? That’s bad for musicians’ morale.”
So, Hilly said, “Well, where do you think I should put the stage?”
The stage as it was was on the left, in the middle. It didn’t make any sense. And then he had all these open rooms in the back, towards a kitchen that never would have passed inspection. I mean, Jesus Christ. But it was one of the longest wooden bars in New York, built in the 1890s, and it had the world’s largest collection of neon signs, so it was a very interesting-looking place.
We said, “Well, you don’t want to put it in the back, because the club’s too long. Probably the best place is to set it up in the middle, and then use those back rooms behind as dressing rooms and whatever. That way, people sitting at the bar can see the band, and you can put some tables up.”
So, we physically helped Hilly move the stage, from where it was, to where it ended up. We designed that stage. We put it in three levels. We were thinking of how Ringo always had a big drum riser. We did three steps; the top step for the drums, the middle for the amplifiers, and the bottom rung for the singers and players. And it worked out – the club sounded really great.
Hilly asked us what kind of music we played. We said rock. He said, “Well, I’m not having any rock.”
We said, “Hilly, it’s not the kind of rock you’re thinking of. It’s not even that loud. Give us a chance.”
“Nah, I don’t think so.”
The next day, I went back to the club with Terry Ork, and we tried to talk Hilly into letting the band play. Terry was very clever. He said to Hilly, “What’s your best night?”
“Well, what’s your worst night?”
“Uh, well, Sundays. Sometimes we don’t even open.”
So Terry said, “Well, let my band play on a Sunday, and I guarantee that you’ll make at least as much money as you take on a Saturday. Because I’m going to invite a lot of people. And everyone I know is an alcoholic. So they’ll be buying a lot of drinks, and if they don’t, I’ll buy rounds for everybody until it matches your best night.”
How could Hilly say no to that?
So, Hilly said, “Well, alright, but they can’t be that loud.” How could he say no?
We weren’t that loud, anyway. We played through super-reverbs, no peddles, no stomp boxes. Just a pretty clean sound. We’d turn up enough to distort a little, but not much. We had our first gig at CBGB on a Sunday, and, by God, we did it. Hilly made enough money that he thought, “Hmmm.”
Meanwhile, after deducting money for the person we’d hired to do the door, and cab fares for bringing our equipment up and back, we each earned a dollar. One dollar. But that made us professional musicians, so we were ecstatic. It was a success.
Hilly gave us four Sundays in a row at first. Pretty soon, other bands started hearing about it, and started coming down asking for a gig. Hilly didn’t know anything about rock music. You know: Country Blues and Bluegrass, that was where Hilly was coming from. Basically we steamrollered over him. Terry offered to start booking the club, so long as it was understood that it was Television’s place.
Bands would come in on audition night for their shot, and Terry would ask me what I thought: Talking Heads, The Ramones, Blondie. That’s how they started playing at CBGB. Because we needed more bands than just Television, for Christ’s sake. Tom came up with this idea, based on double-features at the movies: two bands each night. Never more, never less. Each would play two sets. So, on one night, you’d have Talking Heads, then Television, then Talking Heads, then Television.
For me, when we were hosting CBGB, picking the bands and playing, it was like hosting a three-and-a-half-year long New Year’s Eve party. Once we got some steam under our belt, CBGB was IT. The place got packed, really crowded, really quickly. Patti Smith sort of took credit for the success of CBGB, and she did bring a lot of people. But, she came in after we were already filling the place. She came in originally with her trio: her, Lenny Kaye and Richard Sohl on piano. But when they saw what was going on, they began to move in a more rock direction.
Sure, the place was a dive. It was very difficult to get people in suits down there, or even the older generation from the back room at Max’s. We were like hobos to them – but there was almost a glamour to the poverty. Nobody had really done that before. Up till then, in rock and roll, everybody wanted to be in the finest shoes. Everybody was chasing this glamorous high-life.
We weren’t. We wanted to be successful, of course. We wanted people to hear us. But when you hear bands who say they don’t care about anything, I guarantee you: they do. We were probably the closest to a band that really didn’t care about what anybody thought.
5. The Brian Eno Demos & Hell’s Departure
Around this point, as CBGB was beginning to take off, labels were showing interest. Richard Williams from Island Records wanted us to go into the studio with him to make a demo, but he said, “I don’t know much about a studio. Can I bring a guy along that will help? His name is Brian Eno, he was in Roxy Music.”
Brian came in with all these whacked ideas. “Let’s glue the amplifiers to the ceiling.” “Let’s cut up the lyrics and throw them up in the air.” We weren’t having any of it. We just wanted to record our music. Every single suggestion that Eno made, we botched. We just said, “No. Way.”
We finally did about five songs for that demo. And Richard Hell was upset because he only got one or two of his songs on the tape, while Tom got three or four. Richard got scorched. Tom was beginning to push him out of the band.
From the very beginning, when we played live, Tom was on at Richard Hell to stop moving. He said it was distracting him. He also said he thought it looked artificial. I’d say, “Look, we’re just playing rock ’n’ roll, man. These moves aren’t faked, they’re just part of the feeling.” But, once Tom gets an idea in his head, it will stay there for months, years, nagging at him until he gets his way.
Tom had a twin, named John, who died a long time ago now. I really think that Tom has a sibling rivalry thing going on that had already started in the womb. It’s the only psychological motive I can come up with for some of Tom’s behavior.
When we first started playing, it used to be that I was in the middle of Richard and Tom on stage. I was the George with the John and the Paul on either side. But then Tom suddenly decided that he wanted to be in the middle, with Richard and I on the sides. That was the beginning of the end of the first Television – the Television that was sloppy, punk-ass, and a mess; but also extremely exciting. That band was like being in a circus. You never knew what was gonna happen. A train wreck, sure, but fun.
It was driving Tom nuts, though. And if you listen to “the Eno tape,” you can hear it. Without a solid bass player, especially with Billy Ficca being nuts all the time on the drums, there was no grounding for the band, no solid bottom.
Tom was beginning to talk about replacing Hell, but Richard quit, which made it easy. I almost quit myself at that point, because I thought, without Richard, all the fun was gone. I was ready to go off and do my own thing. But Tom asked Fred Smith to leave Blondie and join us, and he asked me: “Come on. Just come play.” And within ten minutes, I had to admit it. Fred was keeping down the tempo, which meant that Billy could go crazy nuts, but it still sounded like a band. Television suddenly all made sense.
6. Television, Mk II; signing to Elektra
We waited to sign to a label. There was a lot of interest. We did an audition for Atlantic. Atlantic President Ahmet Ertegun heard us and said, “This is not earth music.” Meanwhile, everybody else from around the CBGB thing signed as soon as they could, for peanuts. We waited until Elektra made us a reasonable offer – not reasonable by today’s standards, but for back then.
The personalities in the band lined up like this. Tom was the acknowledged musical director and leader. Fred didn’t really ever fight Tom about anything. Billy would, musically. And I would fight Tom financially for the rest of the band. I had to stand up for me, Fred and Billy, both of whom would have said yes to just about anything.
I found out many years later that, when we finally signed to Elektra, Tom tried desperately, behind our backs, to make the contract so that he would be the only one signed as Television, while the rest of us would be hired musicians. But Elektra wouldn’t have it, they said, all four, or none. So they forced Tom into a corner where he had to give.
Tom next started putting pressure on us that he should be paid this much, and everybody else should be paid that much. And I said, “Hell, no. When we go out on tour? Are you kidding me?”
Tom said, “I work twice as hard.”
I said, “You work hard twice as hard because you insist on singing. I’m willing to sing a few songs, but you won’t allow it. Why should you get rewarded for getting what you want?”
Meanwhile, Tom had also taken all the publishing, for the most part. I thought, I’ll be damned if I’ll go on tour for less, like his sideman.
Tom was a control freak when it came to music. For me, that was fine. A lot of time, he didn’t want me to come up with my own riffs, because he had a riff, but he couldn’t play it and sing at the same time. If he had a guitar part he couldn’t play while singing he’d give me the part, and I would make it mine. Like, on “Marquee Moon,” basically, I just took over his part so that he could solo.
The way Television worked was, when he was singing, he was playing the chords, rhythm, and I was playing leads – not solos, but leads. I played far more lead guitar than Tom did. And when it came time for the guitar solos, we would swap back and forth. The idea was, it would be 50-50 on the solos, or at the most 60-40 in Tom’s favour. We had an agreement on that.
But that’s not how it went with the creation of all the songs. One day, I was playing this riff as Tom came into rehearsal, and he said, “Oh, keep playing that. I think I have the perfect thing to put on top.” And that was “Friction.” If you listen to “Friction,” if you take my guitar part out of it, you barely have anything.
Or a song like “See No Evil.” Take my part out, all you’ve got is, “duh-duh-duh, duh-duh-duh, duh-duh-duh…” The thing is, I don’t get any songwriting credit. But I was willing to give that up for the sake of the band. We had arguments about it, for a couple of years. But Tom can be very stubborn, very willful, very paranoid, and there’s just no fighting it.
It got to the point that, when I came up with the line for “Guiding Light,” and he came in and did the same thing, I said, “You have to put this down as a co-write, Lloyd-Verlaine.” He said, “No. Copyright doesn’t consist of that.” We had this big argument about copyright. Finally, I said, “Look: you either use my part and I get credit, or you write another part, and I’ll play it for you.” That was what it took to get my writing credit on that song.
It was the same thing with “Friction,” but the part was too good – nothing else could replace it. The funny thing, with “Friction,” the tempo of that part is based on the sound of an oompah band, like Lawrence Welk, German polka. Once you know that, next time you listen to the opening part in “Friction,” you’ll hear it.
8. Recording Marquee Moon
When it finally came time to record the album, Tom and Fred went out to look for a studio. They looked at a number of studios, and finally picked this place on 48th Street, A&R, that was Phil Ramone’s personal studio. The Velvet Underground, Bob Dylan, John Coltrane, these people had all recorded there. It was a small, rectangular room, with a control room that still had the old tube boards, volume knobs that were curved, like the old Beatle consoles.
We didn’t want a producer. We’d already done “Little Johnny Jewel” as an independent single that Terry put out. We knew how we wanted to sound. Tom, especially, didn’t want a producer, and more especially after the experience with Eno. He didn’t want someone coming in with their ideas. We wanted the freedom to make the record we wanted to make.
Tom kept saying, “I wanna make a live record. On the quick.”
Now, the only problem with that is, when Tom Verlaine says that, what he actually means is, “I want all the rest of you to do your parts in two days, then I want to diddle around in the studio spending all our money for six months.” The way Tom worked was always a crazy-maker for me.
With Marquee Moon, though, all the songs were songs we had already hashed out and honed for two or three years. We’d played them live hundreds of times. We were ready. But Elektra would not allow us to produce ourselves. So, we decided we would get in a guy who was a great engineer – someone who knew his way around, and wanted to be a producer – but was just starting.
Finally, we hit on Andy Johns. Andy had been the engineer on a great number of great records, The Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, you name it. He was Glyn Johns’s brother, and anything Glyn produced, Andy was engineer on.
The first day in the studio, we had a 2 o’clock start. We get there, and Andy’s nowhere in sight. So, we wait around and wait around, thinking, What’s this guy’s problem? Has something happened to him?
At 4.30pm, Andy finally comes traipsing in. He says, “I decided to come in yesterday, to see what it was like, and…I can’t work here! They don’t have any 1176s! They don’t have an LA-2A! They don’t have…” He starts listing all these things that were his primary tools, that these studios didn’t have.
We’re trying to calm him down: “Andy, you can rent those, don’t worry about it.”
So Andy says, “Well, I did manage to set the drums up last night, and got a good sound. You wanna hear it?”
So he put on this tape he’d made the night before. And, by god, out of the speakers comes this humungous, pumped-up John Bonham drum sound. Tom starts freaking out. “No! No, no, no, no, no! We don’t want that! We don’t want a big drum sound! You need to take that apart and mic the drums smaller!”
Andy’s outraged. “Well, why did you hire me? That’s what I’m famous for. Fuck it! I’m getting a flight back, to hell with this!”
So now we’re all trying to calm Andy down. I said, “Andy, we hired you because you’ve recorded all the greatest guitarists in the world.” Finally, Tom and Andy went out into the corridor, and I don’t know what was said, but when they came back in, Andy said, “Oh, alright.”
Still, for the next two or three days, Andy would mutter things like, “Oh, so, this is some kind of New York thing. You want to sound bad like The Velvet Underground. You want to sound crap like The Stooges or something. I see. Well, we could do that, but you have to remember I’m putting my name on it…”
But we started recording. And all was well. Except, well, Andy is a real child of rock ’n’ roll. He was used to being with people who are also rock ’n’ roll, and you can imagine whatever that means in the 1970s. He was used to people who didn’t mind taking it very slack in the studio. You know: you’ve got a 2 o’clock start, and the engineer shows up at 4.30, and the guitarist shows up at 5 and the singer rolls in at midnight.
But Television were not like that. We were punctual. And serious.
I had always wanted to be a producer, and I was thinking, What can I do to prevent this from sounding like simply a live recording? One ability I’ve always had is that, anything I play, I can do it again, exactly the same. And again and again and again. Tom isn’t like that. When Tom plays a solo, he never plays the same solo twice.
I was thinking about the chiming parts on “Venus De Milo,” and I said, “Let me double that.” Tom and Andy said, “Huh?” I said, “Well, let me play the part again, so you can have a stereo pair.” They said, “Uh, well, go ahead and try.”
So I went out and did it. When he heard the result, Tom was like, “Holy crap. God – that sounds great. Do that to everything!”
So, for example, on “Elevation,” that guitar solo is me playing twice, double tracked verbatim, except for at the very end: you can hear it separate slightly in the last bar as I go off. We wanted to rent a rotating speaker to get the sound for that track, but the rental people wanted way too much. So Andy came up with an idea. He took a microphone, and while I did the guitar solo to “Elevation,” he stood in front of me in the studio, swinging this microphone around his head like a lasso. He nearly took my fucking nose off. I was backing up while I was playing.
Andy was hilarious, though. One day, he didn’t show up until 6. It turned out, he’d found a couple of ladies of the night the evening before, and they all went up to his hotel room, where these girls somehow talked him into letting them handcuff him to the bed. Of course, as soon as they did that, they went through his pants, took his wallet, and then blew kisses at him as they left. And he’d put a Do Not Disturb sign up on his door, and the hotel, being pretty fancy, had respected it until 4 o’clock in the afternoon. They had to use a hacksaw to release him, and he was left without a dime – he had to call home collect and have his wife wire him money.
Another time, we came into the studio, and Andy was lying flat out in the producer’s chair, snoring. In one hand, barely held, there was a three-quarters-empty bottle of red wine, with a case of wine next to him, and three empty bottles on the floor. And in the other hand, a cigarette that had burned right down to the filter.
We looked at Andy, and then we looked over at the tape operator. We said, “Listen. All the mics are set up. Can we just keep the volume down in here and run a song around him?” The tape op said, “I don’t see why not.”
So we went in and did “Prove It.” Then we came back into the studio to listen back to it. And it sounded pretty good. So we played it back again a little louder. And we kept increasing the volume, until, finally, Andy snorted himself awake. He sat bolt upright, panicky, paranoid as all hell. The music’s playing, and he’s looking back and forth between us all, demanding, “Did I record this?”
We said, “Well, sure Andy, you recorded that before you fell asleep.” He breathed a sigh of relief. “God, I’m good.” That was Andy. And that’s the cut of “Prove It” you hear on the record.
Meanwhile, the struggle over who played what solo continued. It was clear between us that I played the lead, or the single-note lines, while Tom was singing, then took over the rhythm if he was going to take the solo. If I was going to take the solo, he’d just keep playing rhythm. The split was supposed to be 50-50, or 40-60, but we had this giant “Marquee Moon,” where Tom gets to solo for five minutes or whatever, but it was so good that I couldn’t argue about it. So on “Marquee Moon,” the song, I was given this little solo, not terribly extensive. That, and my solos on “See No Evil” and “Elevation,” are what I ended up with.
“Elevation” is probably my favourite, because it’s letter-perfect. I would often play imagining some of the people I’d known when I was younger – Hendrix or Jimmy Page – were looking over my shoulder, saying, “Uh-uh. Not good enough.” But with “Elevation,” I’d have been proud to play that. I could hear them going, “Yep. That’s it.”
Back then there was a kind of formula for recording an album: two weeks for basics, two weeks for overdubs, two weeks for mixing. We adhered to that on Marquee Moon, and delivered it to the record company late in 1976. It came out officially on February 8, 1977. We went out on tour, and we did very well in the UK. Glasgow was our first show, The Apollo. Every place we played was sold out, all these 2,000 seat theatres.
What was interesting about Britain was, they had really never heard us. Some of the New York bands had gone over before us: The Ramones and Richard Hell And The Voidoids, and they all got gobbed on by the punks. When we toured, we decided, one frigging spit, and the show was over. We made an agreement, we’d all just stop, instruments down, leave the stage, and that would be it. But the funny thing is, we never got gobbed once. There was some kind of respect that was going on or something, and nobody gobbed us.
While we did very well in the UK, though, in America it was very different. People forget the UK is about the size of one state in the US. America is so big. You know: the UK had three music magazines weekly back then. In the US, we had Rolling Stone and a couple of others that only came out once a month. So, in the UK, there was all this talk about this fabulous New York scene. But in America, outside New York, it didn’t happen the same way.
Still, in 35 years, Marquee Moon has never been out of print. It’s gone on to become a permanent fixture in rock’n’roll.
9. Adventure and Splitting Up
A lot of people say they were disappointed with the second Television album, Adventure. I’m one of them.
In retrospect, I think it would have been a good idea for us to hire Andy Johns again for that record. But with his shenanigans, that wasn’t going to happen. That wasn’t the most damaging thing, though.
When we did Marquee Moon, we drew the songs from a repertoire that we had been playing live for years. And, actually, we still had a whole other album’s worth of songs from that period – things like “Kingdom Come,” “Double Exposure,” “Breakin’ In My Heart,” But Tom, fickle as he is, didn’t want to play them. Didn’t want to record them. Of all the songs on Adventure, only “Foxhole” and “Careful” were in our repertoire.
And that, to me, was the demise. When you don’t do the work beforehand – when you go into a studio and you don’t have the songs; when you don’t know what you’re going to do, and you’re going to try and invent in the studio? That costs money.
On Marquee Moon, everybody knew what they were going to do. On Adventure, nobody knew. Even Tom didn’t know what he was doing. He would try out ideas and it would go on and on. Sonically, the album has a certain kind of colour that Marquee Moon doesn’t have. Adventure is a kind of saturated-colour record. John Jansen, who came in to help Tom produce, had worked a lot on some of the Hendrix reissues, and he brought that.
But, to me, it was already a losing prospect when we didn’t rehearse for the album at all. We got into the studio, and it was just Tom’s world. We would talk about these other songs that we had left that we could record, and Tom would just say, “No.”
To me, that was the end of Television as I know it. The album came out in April 1978. Within three months, the band had split up.
10. Getting Back Together; The Third Album; the Final Split
In the early 1990s, my manger met Tom’s manager at a Christmas party. And they had a conversation that went like this.
“Hey, what’s Tom doing?”
“Well, uh, not much. What’s Richard doing?”
“Well, uh, not much.”
And so they decided to see if they could get us all together again.
In the meantime, I had taken on a lawyer, Fred Davis – the son of Clive Davis, from Arista Records – who would take demos and get people the best deals, that was his forté. He had taken on a demo that I had done, but while he was working on it, the Television thing got back together.
We booked two hours of studio time together, and we went in, and just jammed together, A to D – and there it was. It was Television. So I called the lawyer, Fred, and said, “How would you like to shop a new Television record around? But there are some rules: there’ll be no demo. Nobody’s going to hear any music. The deal comes first.”
Fred said, “Well, I’d love to. But it’ll be tough if they don’t hear anything.”
Tom said, “No. I’m not working until I’m paid.” Tom’s that kind of person. People ask him to sign record covers and he’s like, “I dunno. You’re gonna put this up on eBay and make money out of me.”
So Fred started to shop Television around. And seventeen major labels wanted to sign the band. Of those, about seven were very serious. Then the bidding started and it came down to three, and then two, and the money got ridiculous.
Finally it was between Capitol and A&M, and the deals were spectacular. We met with the head of Capitol, a wonderful man named Hale Milgrim. This was a guy who personally owned 25,000 vinyl LPs in his own collection. When he took his vacation, he went off on tour with The Grateful Dead. A real music guy who had managed to stay a real music guy in the music industry. So we went with Hale. And, frankly, also because he offered the most.
We started talking about that record, about studios, and the kind of record we would make. One day at lunch, Tom was complaining about being short of breath when he was singing live. Of course, Tom smoked like a chimney and drank coffee all day long. That’s all he did. But I said, “Well, maybe you could take a couple of vocal lessons, just to get some breathing techniques –”
And my god, that was it. Suddenly, Tom was screaming his head off at me. “I need singing lessons!?! Hey: my voice is peculiar and that’s that! Hey: Dylan sells!”
Now, this is the same guy who, when I told him I thought Marquee Moon was going to be an important record, said, “Nah. My vocals are too weird.”
Tom stood up, leaned over and screamed at me: “I’m not making a pop record! And I’m not making a rock record!” And I’m sitting there, thinking, “Jesus. What business does he think he’s in? Flamenco?”
But that is actually is closer to the damn truth. Tom’s into cowboy music and old TV scores. He regularly plays Peter Gunn for 10 minutes when he’s paying live.
So, we went in to make that third record, and any time it comes to record my parts, Tom, in the control room, would say something like, “I hear the amp buzzing. Could you please look into that?” Several times he’d come out and turn it down, until it was barely audible. So that nothing rustled, nothing moved, nothing shook. And, to me, when that third Television record came out, it was Television-lite. Sonically. I mean, yes, it has a beautiful, nice sound. But it’s not rock’n’roll.
Then, though, what happened was: we began playing live together again.
That’s where the real power came out. Songs that sounded tiny on that record really blossomed to life when we stated playing live. In the intervening years when Television didn’t exist, I had done nothing except put out my own records and practice. I’d practice till my hands ached.
But Tom didn’t practice. To take one example, the little solo on the song “1880 Or So.” Live, I took over on that. It became something like “Marquee Moon” – the solo went on six, eight minutes or so. It was supposed to be a song that we traded solos on, but Tom said, “Damn, if you’re playing like that, just keep going.” I think he dropped his solo because the difference between us was extreme, and his guitar sounded shrimpy.
That’s basically what went on across the final period of Television, until I quit. We went on playing every now and then for the next fifteen years. I think that I was playing to the height of my powers. But Tom’s playing was just kind of there. He just meandered. And people noticed it.
We rehearsed, and we played, and we would write new songs – and then Tom would throw them away. Every year, from 1993 to 2007, when I finally quit, Tom would talk about us making a new record. But nothing ever came of it. In fourteen years, Television had written eight songs. Tom, I think, was just done. Finished. Run out of steam.
He did his little meandering music for silent films thing, with one of his best buddies Jimmy Rip, where they would go around and be paid outrageous fees by museums to play music to these silent films. And that took nothing out of Tom. He sat on a chair. He didn’t have to sing. He could just fool around on the guitar. But why should he do Television if his bank account is full?
We recorded nothing. Tom would always poo-poo the notion. “Oh, you can’t get a good drum sound here. Oh, we need to go somewhere else.” Anything to get out of making a record. We had this new song we’d been doing, “Balloon.” It had this one line in it, and one day Tom announced, “I hate that line. Forget it.” The next year, he released two solo records, one instrumental, one with songs – and guess what one of those songs was based on. That line, the line he said he hated.
It was like he didn’t want to give anything to Television. Tom never really wants to share credit. But for fourteen years Television talked about doing a new record. Think about it this way: I left five years ago, in 2007, and within six months, I had my album The Radiant Monkey out. Since then, I’ve put out two more records of my own, and in the meantime, I’ve joined Rocket From The Tombs, we toured, we put out the Rocket Redux album, and then we made a brand new album just last year, Barfly.
Meanwhile, in 2007, just after I left, Jimmy Rip, who now has my place in Television, put a message up on his Facebook page, saying he was looking forward to being on the new Television album that was coming out that year.
Well, guess what? We’re years down the line, and it still hasn’t happened. Tom Verlaine is wonderful to laugh with. Tom can be the funniest guy on Earth. But I’ll never do business with him again.
But there is always Marquee Moon.
I don’t think of that album as just a collection of songs. I think of Marquee Moon as one thing. It contains so many songs that reach you, but there’s no way to separate them. You know, 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.