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Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Suggested Reading: "Marquee Moon" by Bryan Waterman (2011)

    Television's Marquee Moon (33 1/3)

    Television's Marquee Moon
    by Bryan Waterman (2011)
    Continuum 33 1/3 Series Vol. #83

    My rating: 5 of 5 stars


    When word circulated earlier this year that Television's 1977 debut LP "Marquee Moon" would be the subject of a new volume in the Continuum Books 33 1/3 series, fans of the band - and fans of the 70's era NYC downtown music scene in general - marked their calendars and held their breath, waiting impatiently for the book to be released. You can exhale, music lovers. The book is on store shelves now, and, as expected, it was well worth the wait.

    Stitching together untold hours of exhaustive research through library archives, books, newspapers, magazines, internet websites and who knows what other obscure sources, author Bryan Waterman takes us back in time to the spring of 1974 and begins our journey through New York City's Lower East Side music scene - through the front doors of a dingy little dive bar called CBGBs - and details the story of one of the most celebrated and influential bands to emerge from the club: Television.

    Beginning with the well circulated story of how Television founding members Tom Verlaine and Richard Hell talked CBGB owner Hilly Kristal into booking the group during a chance encounter outside the club on a spring day back in 1974, author Waterman details some of the earliest days of what will come to be known a few years later as the New York City punk rock scene. Television's story IS a CBGB's/punk rock story in some respects...up to a certain point. You can't tell the story of one without the other, they are too intricately tied together in history to seperate them. The same is true for many of the other artists who emerged from the same downtown scene as the members of Television. The New York Dolls, Suicide, Wayne/Jayne County, Patti Smith, the Ramones, Blondie...each of these groups and many others to a greater or lesser extent, share a part of Television's early story. They are all well represented in the pages of this book.

    In Marquee Moon, Waterman digs back even a bit further, examining the various and numerous early musical, literary and artistic influences that would later be reflected back in Television's music and in their live performances. The fact that the group was based in New York City and the influence the city itself had on their development is explored. The formation and earliest days of the band are outlined and we tag along as the group slowly and methodically build themselves up from just another buch of kids with a practice space making some noise and trying to write some songs. The story progresses on through their early shows at CBGB's, Max's Kansas City, the Hotel Diplomat and other fabled 70's era NYC music venues that have now all passed into history. Only the stories of those hallowed venues remain now and Television's story is a part of the legend of each of them.

    The book also details Television's early demo recording sessions and the groups seemingly never ending quest to secure a recording deal. Being one of the earliest of the CBGB bands, it must have been with some slight sense of chagrin that the members of Television watched as bands such as the Ramones and Blondie came up on the scene just behind them but were soon signed to recording deals and already releasing albums while Television continued to court the ever-elusive deal.

    Finally, in July 1976, Television signed with Elektra Records. That November, after a few months of intense rehearsals, the band convened with legendary Led Zeppelin engineer Andy Johns at A&R studios in New York to begin work on capturing their sound on vinyl. In February 1977, the bands long-delayed and highly anticipated debut album, "Marquee Moon," featuring a color-stressed group photo (by famed photographer and friend of the band Robert Mapplethorpe) gracing it's cover, was finally released to a mostly positive critical reception and nearly universal fan acclaim. In the 30-plus years since the album was released it has greatly influenced the music of untold numbers of musicians the world over and is still being discovered by new listeners all these many years later in 2011.

    Chapter 6 of "Marquee Moon" goes into a detailed song-by-song lyrical and musical analysis of the album. The author does a fine job deconstructing and examining the musical and lyrical content of the songs appearing on the album. I know lots of people love to read this kind of geeked-out, overly analytical stuff, but for me, I've never really been too interested in what other people perceive as "the meaning" of song lyrics. To me, each song (by any group) is interpreted best by the individual listener. As a reader, I usually have a pretty difficult time retaining my interest when an author gets too deep into the "true meaning" behind any given song - after all, it is his interpretation only. So as I read chapter 6, I must admit to skipping around a bit in order to keep my eyes from glazing over. Be certain, this is no slam on the author - it's just how it is in general when I read this kind of critique on any group and their recorded musical output...I love the history of a band and the details of the creation of an album, but I'm just not the lyrical analysis guy - it's just not my thing. The chapter certainly takes nothing away from the fact that the rest of the book is a real page-turner, and I'm sure there are those readers who will find it to be the most interesting chapter in the entire book.

    Being that the release of the album culminates the Television story as far as this particular book is concerned, Waterman wraps things up in chapter 7, devoting a few pages to discussing the events surrounding the release of Marque Moon and what happened to Television after the album was finally released.

    Obviously, fans of the band should consider "Marquee Moon" as required reading. The book will also be a welcome addition to the bookshelves of anyone who is seriously interested in the history of the CBGB scene and the early-mid 70's era musical and artistic landscape of New York City as a whole. With the amazingly accurate detail of attention paid to the early history of the band, there is no doubt in my mind that Bryan Waterman, had he chosen to do so, could have written the authoritative and complete history of the group. Considering that the band split up in 1978 shortly after releasing a second album ("Adventure") for Elektra Records and have only regrouped a few times in the past couple of decades to perform and record on an infrequent basis, he has basically accomplished this task anyway and has done an entertaining and well organized, informative and chronological job in doing so.

    -NYCDreamin


    *As part of the promotion for the book, author Bryan Waterman along with "Some Girls" (Continuum's 33 1/3 series Vol. #81) author Cyrus Patell were interviewed on WFMU's "This Is The Modern World with Trouble" show on June 28th. The interview segment runs nearly an hour and features some great music including a rare live recording of a Television performance of "Satisfaction" from 1978. Click HERE to listen to the archived audio.

    *You can keep up with the latest events surrounding the release of both books and also read more from both authors on their blog Patell & Waterman's History of New York.

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