As I’ve noted in a couple of other items here, one recurring feature in my musical life has been discovering bands a few years after everyone else knew about them. (Or everyone else who was cool, anyway.) Television is one band where I was behind the curve by the least amount of time: I’m pretty sure I was in high school, sometime in the early 1980s, when my friend Chris came over with an LP of Marquee Moon, their instantly classic 1977 debut.
I was still mostly listening then to the kind of prog rock (though we didn’t call it “prog” then, and certainly not “classic” — it was just “rock”) that bands like Television were largely a reaction against; for me, CBGB’s was just an odd storefront that I walked past sometimes on the Bowery, though I’m sure I had at least heard of the Ramones. Still, this was a language I could understand: interweaving insistent guitars, obliquely clever lyrics (“I want a nice little boat made out of ocean” from “See No Evil” remains one of my all-time favorites), and even some epic song lengths (the title track is 9:58, closing with a several-minute guitar duel between Tom Verlaine and Richard Lloyd) that wouldn’t have looked entirely out of place on a Yes album. This was rock music, and brilliant rock music, and I couldn’t get enough of it. And it definitely pricked up my ears for the rest of this “punk” thing that I’d previously mostly ignored.
Being five years behind the curve on Television, though, was as good as a century. Soon enough, I’d discovered their 1978 followup Adventure, and that that had been their swan song to date, as Verlaine and Lloyd had famously imploded right after it was released. (Founding member Richard Hell had previously left after another run-in with Verlaine, and Lloyd had almost departed on another occasion, so really it’s somewhat of a miracle that there were any albums at all.) I ran across a Reach Out International Records semi-official live cassette called The Blow-Up that had a couple of songs that hadn’t made it onto either studio record, and those three albums became my only glimpse into this strange phenomenon that had just barely passed me by.
Verlaine and Lloyd later made up, or at least decided to put aside their differences, and Television finally came out with a third studio album, Television, in 1992. I wore that one out, too — I remember a stretch of time when that and Sugar’s Copper Blue were all I would listen to, possibly the only time in my life when I was listening solely to music released that year — but never saw the band on its ensuing tour for some reason. I finally got my chance in 2007, when they were booked to play an outdoor show at Central Park’s Summerstage festival — one that Lloyd soon announced would be his last with the band, as he was leaving yet again. Unfortunately, the week before the show, he ended up in the hospital, and the band went on with Verlaine’s solo bandmate Jimmy Rip in his spot. (The only mention of this from Verlaine was to mumble between songs, “Our other guitarist couldn’t be here today,” at which point Rip had to chime in, “We all wish Richard Lloyd a speedy recovery.”) The show was still great — in particular, it gave me an appreciation of how much of what makes the band special comes from Billy Ficca’s incredible drumming — but it wasn’t entirely Television.
The band is still around, with Rip on board full-time now: I saw them last year play an odd instrumental set over a screen lit with projections by the Joshua Light Show. I’ve still never seen Richard Lloyd in any shape or form. And I still listen to Marquee Moon more than any other Television album, and as much as most any other album in my collection by any artist. When you get something that right, I guess encores aren’t really necessary.