Saturday, January 8, 2011

5 Years: Part 1

I have a lot of CDs. Not as many as some, but more than most. I won’t give any numbers for fear of being scoffed by someone with twice as many and to spare. My music snob ego couldn’t take that. And with so many CDs (not to mention downloaded music), is there possibly enough time to listen to it all? Of course not. I’ve considered starting from the beginning of my collection and burning through back to back all the way to the end just to see how long it would take. But I know I’d get halfway through the Bs, see a butterfly and go chasing it off in another direction.

This isn’t a singular plight. My good pal MSP is dealing with the same situation and is attempting to do something about it. You can follow his saga here.

What I’m doing isn’t quite as cold turkey. In short, I’ve decided to run through my collection of CDs and pull the albums I’ve not listened to in five or more years, give them a spin and determine if they should remain on the shelf. Now whether they should or should not really has nothing to do with where they’ll be in six months, but it’s a reason to listen to some possibly/probably good music that I’ve been neglecting for awhile.

So without further ado, let us begin…

Artist: Television

Album: Marquee Moon

Released: 1977

Television was one of the first bands to take the punk movement, the movement that took popular music and spun it over on its ear, and spin it back the way it came – only to land it on a completely different side. Something like that. That was story at least. As a kid they were one of those bands I’d heard of but never heard ‘cos I never knew anyone who owned their records, so exposure level was nil.

My first encounter with them came around 2000 or so. I lived in a duplex and my next-door neighbor was the aforementioned MSP’s then girlfriend/now wife. She wasn’t home but he was there along with a couple of other guys and we were hanging out one night. I noticed Marquee Moon sitting at the top of a short stack, so I asked if we could put it on. Of course we could.

I remember we had the music set at conversation level, but wishing the chatter would lull to nothing so that I could better hear what was going on. It was one of those situations where you're familiar with many of the artists influenced by said group (in this case REM, Sonic Youth, The Feelies, etc), can trace back and think, "Yeah, I hear where they got that...," but it was still like nothing you’d ever heard before. At least that’s how it was for me.

Within the week I had my own copy of Marquee Moon and listened to it a lot. A whole lot. For weeks and weeks. I remember going to Atlanta one Labor Day weekend, stuck in traffic outside Chattanooga, and being totally lost in the swirling guitar work, especially on the title track; the keystone and emotional/artistic climax of the album. It was a realization moment – the punk DIY credo was not 100%. Not just anyone can do certain types of music. Some folks just have the gift or the spirit or the mojo necessary to make a certain groove be exactly what it is, and anyone attempting to do the same is an obvious sham. So I continued to listen, taking it in, happy to be a bystander.

And then one day I stopped. I have no idea why, though certainly not because I was tired of the music, but because a butterfly had twittered by and I was off in another direction. La, la, la… Also, I know I’ve listened to Marquee Moon since that initial bender, but not as frequently or for as long and, for some reason, not recently. So it goes…

Now there is A LOT of hype surrounding Television and especially Marquee Moon. So much so that when I pulled the case off the shelf a couple of weeks ago I was afraid my 30 something jaded self was going to puke all over it. Thankfully this was not the case, not by a long shot. This album holds up easily. It sounds as fresh and inventive as I know it must have 30+ years ago and there really is no other group or album (i.e. their 1978 follow up Adventure or their 1992 s/t reunion effort) that sounds quite like Marquee Moon.

These nine songs are abstract, eccentric, so far out in left field they spin back around and make an odd, comforting sort of sense. There are some common rock thoughts here, hints of love, soiled relations, very delicate moments, but a brooding darkness throughout. The room is never fully lit, the faces never clearly seen, all thoughts and intentions cryptically safe but with a distinctly sinister undertone.

Tom Verlaine

Basically, this is a smart album. At the core these are pop songs, verse-chorus-verse, etc. But they're approached from a jam perspective. And yet even then it’s not a free for all. These tunes are calculated and executed with precision. Minimal is the key, but there is still quite a bit going on, with each separate instrument providing and then placing its own unique piece to a very well planned puzzle. Nowhere else will you hear guitar interplay quite like this, two virtuosos not attempting to outdo one another, but compliment one another, enhancing the integrity of the song and the overall listening experience. This is jazz put through the rock filter. Essentially Marquee Moon is the genesis of math rock, but with way more melody, heart and overall accessibility. Remember that these guys were part of the punk movement, playing with Blondie, the Ramones, the Talking Heads, yet defying the then-established standard of rock n roll not by scaling it down to its basic parts, but by totaling deconstructing it and reassembling it as something different and yet, if you really listen, not completely foreign.

Lyrically Tom Verlaine is giving poetry a melody. There’s a certain amount of sensitivity, of self-awareness, but handled with an adept aloofness and a sneering nonchalance that implies, “Yes, I’m saying something, but do you know what it means?” And with lines like I was listening to the rain…I was hearing something else, my answer is, “Er, no, not really, but I like it.” There are references to other cultural and artistic mediums, such as proverbs (See No Evil), fine art (Venus…as in de Milo, pronounced “mee-lo”) and film (Prove It…inspired by The Long Goodbye). You could spend several listens just deciphering the lyrics, what they are, what they mean, can you apply them - because you want to. Something this good, this inspired, you want to somehow find a way to insert into your own life, the way you walk and breathe and look at things. But really, it’s just as simple as listening and letting the music do the rest.

But ultimately, what it all boils down to, is Verlaine and Lloyd, these two guitarists, these two eagles that wind and soar and dive straight through your ears and down into your heart. If you like guitar rock you'll love Marquee Moon. It's just a fact.

So what happened when I’d not heard this album for five years? Well, I played it over and over for a week and it’s still out in the “on deck” section of the listening area. Now when it goes back to the shelf will it sit moping for another five years? Maybe, but I hope not.

Sadly, I can find no vintage footage of Television live, but here's Elevation, my favorite song from the album.

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