Revisited: Television’s Marquee Moon

From the ragged opening guitar chords of ‘See No Evil’, to the strained, ending notes of album closer ‘Torn Curtain’,moon Television’s Marquee Moon was and is an all out classic.  No other album from CBGBs golden age of post punk, new wave, and no wave captured the essence of the 50s free-thinking beat poets, the 60s hard bop jazz improv, and the oncoming thunder of proto punk bands New York Dolls, MC5, Love, and The Velvet Underground like Marquee Moon did.  There could not have been any other line-up for Television.  Tom Verlaine, Richard Lloyd, Fred Smith, and Billy Ficca had a chemistry that allowed for a recklessness in their music other bands just couldn’t capture.  Not only did these guys go out on a limb in live performances, they jumped up and down on the limb anticipating the crack that would lead to certain death.  Verlaine was the mastermind.  His quirky, beat poet lyrics; his quivering, bratty voice delivering vocals in a way that you thought for sure he was smirking as he delivered every syllable.  But even more than his lyrics and bowery-stained storytelling, his guitar work spoke louder than anything.  Verlaine and Lloyd shared solo duties throughout the album, with both of them splitting fretwork time evenly throughout Marquee Moon’s masterpiece of a title track.  Verlaine’s playing was more fluid; it captured the spirit of improvisation.  You felt Tom Verlaine was on another plain as he worked his way through tracks like ‘Friction’, ‘Prove It’, and ‘Torn Curtain’.  There seemed to be more refinement in what Verlaine played, where as Richard Lloyd had more grit under his fingernails.  Richard Lloyd was more in line with the Voidoids’ lead guitarist Robert Quine(both of which played on several Matthew Sweet records in the 90s, including his power pop masterpiece Girlfriend).  Richard Lloyd’s playing was more guttural and knee jerk.  More unpredictable than improvisational, which is what makes his playing so important to Marquee Moon’s overall aesthetic.  Without him Television may have ended up way more cerebral.  He’s definitely the ying to Verlaine’s yang.  Fred Smith and Billy Ficca kept the band anchored to earth with a solid rhythm section, which allowed the Verlaine/Lloyd guitar section to take flight and blow minds.

New York in the 70s was like the ‘Industrial Revolution’ of alternative music.  The lower east side and the Bowery were ground zero, with CBGBs being the epicenter of what became the evolution of ‘alternative’ music.  Many bands and albums made this evolution possible.  In my book, the one band and album that truly innovated, gutted, refurbished, and redefined what our ideas of what punk music could mean was Television.  And that album was Marquee Moon.  ‘See No Evil’, ‘Venus’, and  ‘Marquee Moon’, along with ‘Elevation’, ‘Guiding Light’, and ‘Torn Curtain’ established a DNA strand that would go on to push artists like Stephen Malkmus, Wilco, and The Strokes to give us some of the best modern rock ‘n roll albums in the last 20 years.  Television made it cool to actually play your guitar, instead of just beating it to death.

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