MU­SI­CAL CHEM­ISTRY

TOM VER­LAINE’S TELE­VI­SION TO MAKE AUS­TRALIAN DE­BUT

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Front Page -

HE dated Patti Smith, was one of the last peo­ple to work with Jeff Buck­ley and is re­spon­si­ble for writ­ing and record­ing one of the most crit­i­cally ac­claimed al­bums in Amer­i­can rock his­tory. Those are just a few snip­pets from the life and ca­reer of Tom Ver­laine, whose New York band Tele­vi­sion re­leased that land­mark al­bum, Mar­quee Moon, 36 years ago.

One could add that the 63-year-old mu­si­cian is a gifted and un­ortho­dox gui­tar player, that he has a fond­ness for French po­etry and that he gave up lis­ten­ing to pop mu­sic a long time ago. Most im­por­tant of all to Aus­tralian fans of Tele­vi­sion and of Ver­laine’s con­sid­er­able solo out­put span­ning 27 years, is that he’s about to make his Aus­tralian de­but.

Forty years since form­ing Tele­vi­sion, which emerged as one of the lead­ing bands of the punk rock era of the late 1970s, Ver­laine is bring­ing the band to Aus­tralia for the first time in Oc­to­ber. The short tour in­cludes a spot at the Re­lease the Bats Fes­ti­val in Melbourne, at which Tele­vi­sion will per­form Mar­quee Moon in its en­tirety and in or­der for the first time.

‘‘ We’ve played some of Mar­quee Moon be­fore but we’ve never played the whole al­bum like that,’’ Ver­laine says, ‘‘ so we’ll have to learn some of the songs.’’

The tour, which also in­cludes (not ex­clu­sively Mar­quee Moon) shows in Syd­ney, Fremantle and Ho­bart, pro­vides a rare op­por­tu­nity to see one of the bands that was piv­otal to the new wave mu­sic scene blos­som­ing in New York and else­where in the 70s. New York was a hot­bed of rad­i­cal mu­sic ac­tiv­ity. Young bands not con­tent to fol­low the es­tab­lished paths of west coast coun­try rock or bland, over­pro­duced pop were look­ing for an­other an­gle. Among them were Talk­ing Heads, the Ra­mones and Blondie. Oth­ers, such as Smith and Richard Hell, both in­te­gral to the Ver­laine story, were also forg­ing new ground.

Sit­ting left-field in this Big Ap­ple shake­down was Tele­vi­sion, whose songs weren’t par­tic­u­larly fast or sin­ga­long. Some of them lasted 10 min­utes. The band liked to jam. Tele­vi­sion had en­ergy and mu­si­cal chem­istry, but the re­sult­ing melange of noise, par­tic­u­larly from the two-pronged gui­tar at­tack of Richard Lloyd and singer Ver­laine, was like noth­ing that had come be­fore.

Not that Ver­laine felt they were part of any so-called punk move­ment. ‘‘ We felt out­side of that,’’ he says. ‘‘ I don’t think any of those bands were punk and ev­ery­body knows they’re not punk so it’s kind of a dead is­sue. No­body calls those bands punk, out­side of maybe the Ra­mones.’’

Tele­vi­sion was well re­ceived by the crit­ics, par­tic­u­larly in Europe, but failed to garner com­mer­cial suc­cess and broke up af­ter the re­lease of its sec­ond al­bum, Ad­ven­ture, in 1978. A self-ti­tled re­union al­bum fol­lowed in 1992 and the band has re­united oc­ca­sion­ally to tour since then.

For this year’s trip, Ver­laine will be joined by drum­mer Billy Ficca and bassist Fred Smith, both of whom were in the band that recorded

Mar­quee Moon, and long-time Ver­laine col­lab­o­ra­tor, gui­tarist Jimmy Rip, who has re­placed Lloyd. It’s a line-up that has played to­gether oc­ca­sion­ally dur­ing the lat­ter part of the group’s 21st-cen­tury re­nais­sance, fol­low­ing Lloyd’s de­par­ture from the band in 2007.

The com­plex chem­istry of Ver­laine and Lloyd and the dis­parate mu­si­cal back­grounds of all four mem­bers — Ver­laine had a ground­ing in jazz and had played sax­o­phone as a teenager — made Tele­vi­sion stand out from the three-chord won­ders that were such a ubiq­ui­tous part of the 70s punk scene.

‘‘ That didn’t oc­cur to me at the time,’’ Ver­laine says, ‘‘ but in ret­ro­spect it is kind of true. Most bands were play­ing a riff over and over or strum­ming a cou­ple of chords. The way our songs are ar­ranged isn’t so com­mon, I guess.’’ Mar­quee Moon’s songs See No Evil, Fric­tion and Venus are an­gu­lar pop con­struc­tions, while the much longer ti­tle track and Torn Cur­tain al­low Ver­laine and Lloyd to trade so­los and in­ter­weave dis­so­nant gui­tar pas­sages. It was a win­ning chem­istry at the time, as it is now, con­ceived in the clubs of New York, such as CBGB’s and Max’s Kansas City, be­fore Tele­vi­sion or any of the other as­pi­rant New York new wave tal­ents had record­ing deals.

By the time the band signed to Elektra Records in 1976, Ver­laine knew what he wanted Mar­quee Moon to sound like. The band worked con­stantly to get the com­plex ar­range­ments just right.

‘‘ The main idea,’’ Ver­laine says, ‘‘ was to just record our live show and erase or fix up the mis­takes, which is ba­si­cally what we did. We re­hearsed a lot, maybe four or five days a week for quite a while. A cou­ple of the songs were writ­ten on pi­ano. I’d take the left hand on the pi­ano and write one part and then the right hand on the pi­ano to write an­other part; then Lloyd and I would play that and change it to make it sound bet­ter. That’s prob­a­bly a strange way to write for a gui­tar band.’’ BORN in New Jersey and reared in Delaware, Ver­laine didn’t get much of a ground­ing in rock ’ n’ roll, or gui­tar, dur­ing his for­ma­tive years. ‘‘ I never set out to be a lead gui­tarist,’’ he says. ‘‘ I played sax­o­phone in the 60s and lis­tened to mostly jazz then. I started mess­ing around with songs, but I didn’t re­ally like sit­ting at the pi­ano singing, so I got a cheap gui­tar and re­alised it was very easy to play and a cool thing to write songs on.’’

Ver­laine moved to New York City as a teenager in 1968 with a school friend, Hell (Richard Mey­ers). Both shared a pas­sion for mu­sic and po­etry and formed their first band, the Neon Boys with Ficca on drums and Hell on bass. It was a short-lived out­fit that even­tu­ally be­came Tele­vi­sion af­ter Lloyd’s re­cruit­ment. Hell, con­sid­ered by his friend not to be up to the task, was re­placed by bassist Smith in 1975. Hell went on to record un­der his own name and with his band the Voidoids, cre­at­ing one of the clas­sic songs of the punk era, Blank Gen­er­a­tion.

Dur­ing those early years in New York, un­sure about his fu­ture, Ver­laine im­mersed him­self in the city’s lit­er­ary cul­ture as much as its mu­si­cal one, thanks to tak­ing a job in the Strand book store, which re­mains a land­mark in­sti­tu­tion in New York’s East Vil­lage. It was a learn­ing ex­pe­ri­ence.

‘‘ I grew up in Delaware and there weren’t

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