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Vinyl Tap: Television – Marquee Moon

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I get a new turntable and dust off some old records. Vinyl Tap #17:

Marquee Moon is upsetting my dog. It’s the first time he’s heard it, although since it’s after 3am – not so much in the wee small hours of my soul as in the quotidian demeanor of my neighbors’ nocturnal mattress-cide slumber sprees – he’s not hearing it to full advantage.

Instead of catching some Zzzzs, I'm latching onto some CBGB ambiance with new headphones on – and this is an album that demands the full Nigel Tufneleven ear-bleed increment. I don’t have headphones for my dog, didn‘t even give him my old ones – call PETA if you feel this falls under the rubric of unethical treatment, though I’ve already told them the only rights animals have is the right to be medium rare – so he’s only hearing filtered full-frontal sonic seepage spillover. And while I’m listening to Television’s innovative and monumentally-maniacal 1977 masterpiece, poetic and punkish with-a-twist more riveting than raw, I'm wondering how I’m ever going to find words to do it justice (and realizing quite well that I’m going to come up very, very short, thank you very much).

Gus is getting nervous and going into omni-directional semi-woof mode, distracting me from what is hands-down the best and most intense album side ever, soundscape as off-the-scale earthquake: side one of Marquee Moon, alternately crook-and-nanny angularity and sinuous energy – no bumper-guitar bombast here – with the dazzling and cleanly interweaving lead guitar careening of Tom Verlaine and Richard Lloyd.

Suddenly Gus, looking up at me, has focused in on his prey that is, in turn, preying on his fraying nerves. I seem to be the source of his canine cogitation – or more specifically, and as oddly as it sounds, the Television emanating from my head, as oddly as that sounds to him. The fidelity is not for Fido, so fine. But I rub a couple synapses together and spark a thought: Gus is kinda like that old "His Master's Voice" RCA Victor dog, Nipper, in front of that Victrola, perked ears and tilted head, amazed at the early 20th-century sound revolution he’s witness to.

Only my mutt isn’t nearly as iconic-looking, and it loses some impact to have him perturbed at a pair of headphones. And besides, he doesn't seem amenable to accepting this particular revolution-per-minute album as the revolutionary music that it was, and the always refreshing aural sensation it remains. And "his master's voice" isn't going to persuade him otherwise.

But instead of discontinuing my listen altogether to tend to the delicate sensibilities of man's best spoilsport, or constantly interrupting it with mid-track cue-stick nips and tucks, I begrudgingly decide to stop between tracks. In between, say, the slippery wig-out "See No Evil" and “Venus” mix of the instrumentally majestic but lyrically droll, a song about a surreal “Tight toy night,” featuring a hilarious call and response between lead singer Verlaine and the boys in the background vocals: “Didja feel low? No, not at all. Huh??? / I fell right into the Arms of Venus de Milo” – the punning not as funny as the underpinning incredulity, “Huh???”

But more than not allowing Gus to divert my rapt attention from the absolutely frightening and tightly manic guitar frenzy of the aptly-titled “Friction,” there was no way I was going to let him keep me from total enjoyment of the essential 10-minute title track’s non-stop flight of imagination and perfect amalgam of crescendoing instrumentation and evocative lyrics:

    I remember
    how the darkness doubled
    I recall
    lightning struck itself.
    I was listening
    listening to the rain
    I was hearing
    hearing something else.

    Life in the hive puckered up my night,
    the kiss of death, the embrace of life.
    There I stand ‘neath the Marquee Moon
    Just waiting,
    Hesitating…
    I ain't waiting…

The sense of intuitive seeking and heightened anticipation is more than paid off in the interplay of Verlaine and Lloyd’s mesmerizing lightening-striking-itself guitar build up, a heady brew that simmers and gradually comes to full boil and even to a boiling-over point.

Speaking of things coming to a boiling point, as “Marquee Moon” wanes, I look out the window and see Gus barking furiously, and no doubt waking the neighbors. He wants back in. Has he completely forgotten I'd done him a favor by letting him out, or has he had second thoughts? Maybe he can get into the dog-friendly second side of the album, which is just as good but not so tightly-compressed – there are even some exquisite and graceful moments in "Guiding Light" and "Prove It."

He can have my old headphones.

I'm now feeling kind of good about having the opportunity to teach an old dog new tricks with some classic, trailblazing tracks. On the subject of tracks, though, I stop in mine. With my luck, he's probably going to want to listen to Lou Reed's Metal Machine Music. All four sides. Again.

Come to think of it, that dog never did have good taste in music.

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About Gordon Hauptfleisch

  • http://www.markiscranky.org Mark Saleski

    great reading gordon. Marquee Moon is a killer record. those two guys extracted some torturous sounds from their guitars.

  • http://alienboysworld.blogspot.com Christopher Rose

    Brilliant album, brilliant writeup, still one of the great rock albums even after thirty years!

    FUCK!

    Thirty fucking years!!

    How did that happen?

    Thanks from someone who did listen to all 4 sides of Metal Machine Music in a row. Twice!

  • http://gohah.blogspot.com Gordon Hauptfleisch

    Thanks Mark–even after all these years, it demands repeated listens. I can’t get by with just playing it once and putting it away.

  • http://gohah.blogspot.com Gordon Hauptfleisch

    Christopher–thanks for the comments. I don’t like to think about that thirty year mark, but I must say, the record never sounds dated.

    About Metal Machine: only heard parts of it once, when I was working in a record store and, blissfully ignorant, we tore open a store-play copy and started to play it for the crew and customers. A very abbreviated sampling of all four sides told us all we needed to know. Probably chased away a couple customers, too.

  • http://www.rebeccawright.com Rebecca

    This is a great album! I have it on CD. I remember the first time I heard it, I was convinced they couldn’t possibly be getting those sounds out of their guitars.

  • http://www.ThePlaceUnderTheHouse.com Herman

    “alternately crook-and-nanny angularity and sinuous energy” is a great description! You didn’t come up short. MM is one of my absolute favorite deserted island records – a very short list, too.
    You should hear the newest Verlaine albums, or better yet, see him live.

  • http://gohah.blogspot.com Gordon Hauptfleisch

    Thanks Rebecca–that sense of extra-mile guitars snagged me the first time around, too.

  • http://gohah.blogspot.com Gordon Hauptfleisch

    Herman–Though I’ve never seen him live, I have several Verlaine albums–but nothing real recent. Time to seek out something new, right after I stop wearing out the grooves on MM again.

  • http://alienboysworld.blogspot.com Christopher Rose

    I don’t have it in me to be loyal to artists any more – Marquee Moon is awesome and I listen to some or all of it often. The rest of Television and Tom’s solo work just never makes my personal playlist.

    I’m fickle, I am.

  • http://www.markiscranky.org Mark Saleski

    wasn’t a ‘new’ Verlaine record released not to long ago? an instrumental album that was out of print? am i hallucinating?

  • http://gohah.blogspot.com Gordon Hauptfleisch

    You’re more right than you know, Mark: Two new albums–“Songs and Other Things” w/ vocals AND “Around,” instrumental and largely improvised. Turns out to be first releases since 1992, so I’m like Rip Vinyl Winkle–fell asleep and didn’t miss anything, only thought I had.

  • Vern Halen

    The 2003 Rhino / Elecktra CD reissue is great -includes the indie single “Little Johnny Jewel” and some alternate takes, including another studio version of “Marquee Moon.” And the Adventure reissue is pretty good too. Do yourself a favor and go buy ‘em both.

  • http://gohah.blogspot.com Gordon Hauptfleisch

    Thanks Vern–that alternate take of “Marquee Moon” sounds especially intriguing.