In Praise of Television

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Someone took this picture of Television, and I thank them for it.

I stand here before you today to sing the praises of Television. Not the medium — though, yes, I love that too — but the band: Tom Verlaine (gtr/voc), Richard Lloyd (gtr), Fred Smith (bass), and Billy Ficca (drums). I specifically wish to single out for praise their debut and masterpiece, 1977’s Marquee Moon. Their second album, Adventure (1978), and self-titled comeback album (1991) are both worthy in their own ways, but Marquee Moon stands alone.

Ye Olde Jeffe Greene introduced me to this album some years ago via old-fashioned audio-magnetical cassette tape, and I was amazed at its sublime balance of aggression and precision. This year, Marquee Moon turns 30, and it has not dated one iota. I pulled the CD (well-scuffed and due for replacement) out of the stacks last week and haven’t been able to stop listening to it. I am listening to it right now. From the first hammering chords of “See No Evil” to the last wistful notes of “Torn Curtain,” this is that rarest of treasures: a full-length recording without a single weak point or misfire. All killer, as we used to say, and no filler.

Because they were part of the New York/CBGB/late-70s scene, Television are often lumped in with the punk and new wave bands of the era, but this is mostly an accident of history. Nothing against bands like Blondie, the Ramones, or my beloved Talking Heads, but Television’s brand of virtuosic, cinematic rock is a different animal altogether. Marquee Moon, with its whipcrack rhythms and strategically intertwining guitar lines, may be the most structurally perfect guitar-based music ever made.
Some people find Tom Verlaine’s voice — technically suspect and borderline whiny — to be an obstacle. I think it fits the music perfectly, and anyway, with a different singer Television would have been a different band. And that would have been unfortunate, because no one was qualified to take their place.

3 Responses to “In Praise of Television”

  1. Michael, in UK Says:

    Pattie Smith famously said someting about Tom Verlaine having the most beautiful neck, like a swan. You can see it right there.

  2. Deiter Says:

    Holed up in the O.C. in my youth, I read about Television in my bible at the time, Creem magazine. It wasn’t what I expected but it soon grew on me. I bought it again when it was released on CD. This record, for those so inclined (and there weren’t many of us), is nothing short of fantastic. It has, as you said, aged brilliantly. A great guitar record, too. (Though, not innovators like Robert Quine or Andy Gill (Gang of Four), their lead/rhythm interplay was peerless.) One of the great albums of the late 70s new wave/punk period. In retrospect, those few years were an amazingly fertile period.

  3. Dr. Doom Says:

    great picture! thanks!

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