|From left: Billy Fica
(drums), Richard Lloyd (gtr/vcls), Tom Verlaine (gtr/vcls),
Fred Smith (bass/vcls)
Punk in its current form, whether in the
pre-torn jeans of teen heartthrob Avril Lavigne or the faux
cockney accents of Green Day, has become so co-opted, so corporatized,
as to have long lost its essential rebelliousness-in
an era when punk fashions are bought off the rack, body piercing
seems almost more an act of conformity than rebellion.
But there was a time when a pre-Filthy Lucre Sex Pistols,
kitted up in ripped T-shirts barely held together by safety
pins, seemed the height of anti-authoritarianism. And as rock
lore has it, it was prescient manager Malcolm McClaren and
his fashion designer wife Vivian Westwood who crafted this
anarchic message, concocting The Sex Pistols out of a bunch
of good-for-nothings who hung around their London boutique.
Not so simple, says guitarist Richard Lloyd of veteran proto-punk
band Television, over the phone from New York. In a wide-ranging
interview prior to this week's Japan tour, the musician
looked back at a three-decade career in rock, providing some
behind-the-scenes insight into the genesis of punk and the
cross-fertilization between New York and London that made
Television were there from the beginning. First forming as
the Neon Boys with guitarist/vocalist Tom Verlaine, drummer
Billy Ficca and bassist Richard Hell, the band changed their
name to Television with the addition of Lloyd in 1973. When
Verlaine convinced CBGB to begin featuring live bands on a
regular basis, and when Television, Blondie, the Ramones and
other key acts began to gig there, the New York punk scene
While Blondie, the Ramones and others were bringing punk and
new wave to the masses, Television were crafting a more intellectual,
musically sophisticated vision of punk that made up for in
influence what it lacked in popularity. Their 1977 debut album,
Marquee Moon, never made much headway in the charts, but the
angular, minimalist guitar interplay between Verlaine and
Lloyd set the template for the punk esthetic, contrasting
sharply with the bombastic guitar solos of contemporary chart-toppers
like "Stairway to Heaven" or "Freebird."
While fame may have eluded Television in the US, where they
remained mostly an underground phenomenon, they were received
better in the UK, where their 1978 follow-up, Adventure, became
a Top Ten hit amid the punk explosion sweeping the British
Isles. But this was to be the peak of their popularity.
At the end of the decade, amid acrimony between the two guitarists,
Television broke up, with Verlaine and Lloyd both leaving
to pursue solo careers. Lloyd didn't waste time, releasing
his 1979 solo debut, Alchemy to good reviews. A bout with
drug addiction followed, delaying his sophomore effort, Field
of Fire, until six years later. Lloyd also kept himself busy
with production and studio work, contributing pointed guitar
work on albums by singer-songwriter Matthew Sweet and others.
Putting their tensions behind them, Television finally reunited
in 1991, releasing Television for Capitol Records and announcing
their comeback with a performance at England's Glastonbury
Festival in 1992. It was this tour that saw the band first
visit Japan. "I remember it with great fondness,"
Lloyd recalls. "I remember the strange details, like
in Tokyo we played in a 2,000-seat theater on the ninth floor
of some department store. It was a very odd sort of thing
for an American to see golf courses on the tops of buildings
and that sort of stuff."
It was to be another decade until Television again made the
trip across the Pacific, returning for 2001's Fuji
Rock Festival. Lloyd says the changes in Japan were immediately
evident. "This last time I think we were all shocked,"
he says. "It seemed like everybody had gotten much
more rocking in the time we were gone, and a lot of people
knew the lyrics and were singing along. They seem much more
open-there's a certain sort of politeness and
Japanese decorum that rock is helping them to explore a greater
While Television have new material, they're not in
a great hurry to release a new album. "Television is
the least career-concerned band that I know about,"
Lloyd says. "We have our own way of doing things, our
own thinking. Whereas most bands are salivating at the doors
of record companies, like 'Please sign me, I want to
make a record,' Television doesn't really
Television is one of the bands that cares the very least about
what people think."
The band gig only selectively, and each member has his own
career, with fatherhood, production work and his 2001 solo
album Cover Doesn't Matter occupying much of Lloyd's
recent time. "Television is an absolute priority for
all of us-always has been, always will be,"
he says. "But we only do a handful of dates every year,
so that's not a whole lot of time out of 365 days
There's a certain comfort we like, and we're
not going to go out and tour in a van and sleep on people's
floors just to be out there."
So what exactly is the link between Television, Malcolm McClaren
and The Sex Pistols? "If some historian wanted to dig
in the right way, it would be very easy to see the development
of Malcolm out of his involvement with the New York Dolls
and the weeklong sting that we did with them in New York,"
"For some reason, the Dolls were on their way down.
Malcolm got involved and had them do a tour of the South.
They got back to New York and were concerned about not filling
up the theater, so we did a co-bill with them for like five
days at some place on 56th street.
"Malcolm fell in love with Television and the look
of the band, and really wanted to manage us. Richard Hell
was still in the band at the time and Richard came up with
the look of torn, tattered T-shirts and ripped clothes. Malcolm
was crazy over Richard's look and the sound of Television
and he called his wife and said to her, 'There's
this great band and I really want to manage them, but they
don't want it so I'm going to make my own.'
So he went back to England and out of the kids that hung out
at his wife Vivian's clothing store, he just picked
a bunch of kids.
"He did the Svengali thing and built The Sex Pistols
and engineered that whole thing, which is fantastic, more
power to him. But then of course it went very big and everybody
said, 'That's where all that music started, in
Television play Shibuya AX on September
25 and Camp in Asagiri Jam on September 27. See concert listings
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