Still sounding as vital as when it was released some 36 years ago, Television’s Marquee Moon stands as one of the most important and influential debut releases in the contemporary rock canon. Defined by a penchant for guitar complexities and lead singer Tom Verlaine’s verbose and colourful lyricism, the record has long been lauded from a critical standpoint. Speaking before Television’s first-ever Australian tour, Verlaine examines the potent sense of familiarity that fans tend to crave in this era – and which they’ll be indulging with a healthy dose of Marquee Moon onstage.
“To me, people just like to hear songs they like. Maybe some new things too. I can’t say I think too much about it. If I go see a band, it’s because I like some of their songs, or I like the way they play.”
The abundance of guitar solos authored by Verlaine and former guitarist Richard Lloyd on Marquee Moon won’t necessarily be recreated verbatim in the live setting. “The solos probably won’t be the same. They’ll be in the same mood and some will have familiar phrases. I think things like ‘Friction’are pretty much the same; Jimmy [Rip, Lloyd’s replacement] is playing some of Richard’s solos pretty much the same. Some of those solos, I don’t even know where my hand was on the neck when I played them. So to figure them out is really time-consuming.”
The amicable transition of guitarists in 2007 went smoothly as can be, with Rip and Verlaine’s longstanding rapport proving a natural fit within Television. “I’ve been playing with Jimmy since 1981, including a bunch of instrumental shows and tours of Europe. I’ve actually done more shows with him in my life than any other guitar player. The problem is that he’s lived in Argentina for the past six years. It’s more fun if everybody plays in the same place so you can schedule rehearsals and get together. Our bass player lives two hours north of New York now, so it’s a bit more scattered. I think Jimmy and I can play guitar over Skype. That would be really fun.”
Despite Television’s highly influential legacy, Verlaine is somewhat grounded when it comes to his own influences. “My main influence is drinking too much coffee. That hasn’t changed at all. I stopped smoking for a few years, but now I’ve started it again.”
Along with a gallery of mid-1970s New York punk icons, Television are depicted in the upcoming biopic CBGB – fanning the mythology behind the titular venue. The result is something flippant and less than stellar, much to Verlaine’s chagrin. “I didn’t realise it was going to be a silly comedy, so I let them use some music. But after a while went by I started to hear things about the film that weren’t good at all. I talked to them about the script. They had bands wearing Nike sneakers and shit, just a lot of stuff about the tale that was really off. So I asked how much of it they had shot, and luckily they had not shot much of this shit yet. I tried to steer them somewhat into an authentic appearance, but I spoke to two old-timers who have seen it and said it’s dreadful. They said the actor who plays the club owner is really good, but as a film it’s just a really dumb comedy. It should have just been shot as a comedy at a rock club and changed the names, instead of making it all about CBGB.”
The prospect of a fourth Television LP – the first since the middling 1992 self-titled record – is a very real one. “We have 12 to 14 songs,” Verlaine reveals. “We’ve cut the basic tracks for them, but all sorts of other things happened so we haven’t finished them up. We’re working on another three. We played a tour this May in Japan, and Japan is a great place to play new material because they like to listen to things. Of course they want to hear Marquee Moon, but they also get enthusiastic about hearing something they’ve never heard before. We played a lot of new things over there.”
As for the release of the record, Verlaine is aware that previous strategies need to be adjusted in the current climate. “What we’re aiming to do is finish up this record and figure out what to do with it. Since I last did a record, that whole world has changed and this generation basically gets music for free. All these sponsored tours. Everything’s so different, and we’d have to sit down and plan it all. It’s useless for us to get a record deal, it’s a kind of waste of time. The real factor is how you let people know you have something available, outside the people that would look around for it anyway. That’s the real tricky thing … The word-of-mouth thing is really interesting, it bypasses all publicity. It’s a blessing. That’s the thing that interests me about the internet, how things can come out of nowhere and have an audience within a year or two. I don’t know how to exploit that.”
BY LACHLAN KANONIUK
Television play Enmore Theatre with Ed Kuepper on Wednesday October 30.