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by Dan Grunebaum

Television
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 it happen.

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 was born.

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 freedom with."

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," Lloyd says.

"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 England.'"

Television play Shibuya AX on September 25 and Camp in Asagiri Jam on September 27. See concert listings for details.

credit: John Telfer

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