Sometimes I wonder if Television's Marquee Moon is ever going to stop giving.
I purchased my first of several copies of it at J&R Music World when I went to NYC the summer after I turned 16. My incredibly cool aunt and uncle had to work, so they basically turned me loose on Manhattan, which would have made my mother worry her way into a coma. I hit every music and book store I could find. But Marquee Moon was the first disc I bought while I was there and spent most of the rest of the trip just wandering to the tunes of that and the Velvet Underground's White Light/White Heat. At the time, I figured "when in Rome, make sure you have an appropriate soundtrack". I'll admit to being both disappointed and confused with Television at the time, along with the fascination that kept me going back.
"It's a punk record!"
"Err... no it's not."
I was in about my second or third year of punk-ism. I'd read stacks of articles and books about the CBGB scene, and knew that Television wasn't standard issue punk, but was willing to give it a go. Even at the time I could tell it was important, but was a little disappointed in how measured, how polite, and how jammy it seemed. In hindsight, my blueprint of protopunk only included things like the Stooges, not Albert Ayler or King Tubby, so I didn't quite understand how (sonically) this was punk, how this was rebel music. I understood that it was MADE by punks, having practically memorized Please Kill Me even by then, but not punk in it's sound. Obviously, I came around as I got older. Having said that though, it's surprising that it didn't just go on the shelf for a few years to be admired and respected but never listened to. It was, however, an active part of my listening diet all through the rest of high school and into college. Once I'd hit that centre of education, one of my professors got me back into it in a big way, albeit from a different perspective: reminding me that this wasn't the "Marshall backline, Les Paul, epic stage show" sound that was so prevalent at the time it was made. With that in mind, I could hear how, to a teen in 1977, this must have been a revelation. It SOUNDS like it was made with a reasonable drum kit, a few gutars, and a few little Fender combo amps. Realizing that gave the album a fresh meaning to me, and it was like a new record again.
After college, I was a little lost as to what to do with my life, and I found the extended soloing to be both comforting and inspiring to just THINK to, as people in their early-to-mid 20s are wont to do. Recently, after moving across the country, gaining some maturity and realizing the power in subtlety (i.e., not all music needs to be drenched in fuzz and sweat), I keep different meanings in the same notes that I almost know by heart these days.
Will this album ever get old?
I just realized that I've written about Television before, in a blog post for an old, now defunct, blog back in 2006, and while the tone is a bit less refined, it's not awful. It does, however, have a completely different perspective, even three years ago. I was thrilled at finding a bootleg called Portable Electricity, happy that it finally gave Television the low end I felt they were lacking, and because the recording quality is muddy, the whole thing seems heartier and deeper, making them sound more like the punk godfathers they've always been touted as. While I understand that point of view, I don't know if I still feel the same. They were a guitar band, supposed to sound like subway brakes and clattering cityscapes. They didn't need to sound like what I was predisposed to want. Granted, the boot (which came from has been released as Live At The Old Waldorf) does make a case for them being a rockin' band, but after finally meeting Marquee Moon on it's own terms, it's even more enjoyable that whatever predisposition you'd want to lay over it.
And that, I believe, is the brilliance of this record to me. No matter what mindset I bring to the table, the album stands up to it. Punk rock? Listen to that rhythm guitar that opens "See No Evil": it's that "Subway Sound" that everybody talks about the Velvets having. Rock and roll classicism? "Guiding Light" has your 6/8 ballad down pat. The guitar interplay between Tom Verlaine and Richard Lloyd predicts Luna by about 15 years, and most of the songs have a push/pull that pretty accurately lays some groundwork for post-punk. However you want to listen to this, it will deliver.
Their discography, ultimately, allows for a this same range, but it's not quite as tied together. Bootlegs of their pre-MM material show a rougher band working closer to the garage bands of the mid-60s; their second album, Adventure is the softer, nuanced side of the band; the live collection The Blow-Up shows them stretching songs to their tensile breaking point, adding improv to garage tunes, creating an almost free-jazz-and-garage-rock hybrid, and their reunion album is spare to the point of ghostliness, sounding like nothing so much as post-millennial indie rock. But the brilliance of Marquee Moon is that it's all there from the outset. Not to take away from the later records, which often fit a specific tone, you can listen to Marquee Moon to enjoy any of those. My iPod usually has two Television records on it: Marquee Moon and whichever other one I'm feeling in the mood for. In a punky mood? MM plus a bootleg of the Brian Eno demos. Feeling heady and volatile? MM and The Blow Up. Introspective and reserved? Marquee Moon and the self-titled reunion album. You get the idea.
It's a rare feat to find an album that applies to everything while always sounding just like, and ONLY like, itself. This is one of those. The reissue makes it even more beautiful, by including their first single, the magnificent "Little Johnny Jewel". Highly recommended.