On my trip to New York last year, I was dead set on returning with a specific record. A modern repress was no good – you can get them anywhere after all – it had to be an original ‘70s pressing of an album recorded in the city, by a group from the city, with the grime and grind of lower Manhattan embedded deep within its grooves for added, authentic punkish effect. A ‘pre-loved’ and battered sleeve could only add to the funk of it all and I wouldn’t rest until I had tracked one down.
D’you know how hard it turned out to be, to find a decent record shop in Manhattan, let alone find one that had that one copy of Television’s Marquee Moon sitting idly and unloved at the back of its racks, waiting for the day when I’d show up with twenty bucks to rescue it from forgotten-ness for ever?
Dead hard to impossible, that’s how hard.
At the bottom of the High Line near the entrance to Chelsea Food Market was a wee artisan boutique where various local artists sold their wares. And right in the corner was an old disinterested guy selling records. They were packed in torn and ripped cardboard boxes, handwritten labels denoting the music genres within. Damn! Two guys were digging deep in the ‘Punk/Noo Wave’ box. And they weren’t moving anytime soon. I ignored the ‘Rawk/Hard Rawk’ selection, found the ‘Funk/Soul/Disco/‘70s Shit’ box and, with one eye on the two guys who, I was convinced, would unearth a Rocket To Russia or Plastic Letters or, no!, a Marquee Moon any second now, began rifling through a box of records that had seen better days.
I pulled loose a copy of Isaac Hayes’ Hot Buttered Soul, horrified first at the price – $50 – and then at the state of the thing. A well-worn sleeve suggests a life well-lived, the untold stories of get downs and skin-ups that were soundtracked by the record within. I don’t mind a tatty sleeve at all – you should see the state of the mouse-nibbled copy of Sandinista! I found in Liverpool a few years ago – but this record…all these records here…were wrecked to the point of uselessness. If I’d found this copy for £1 in the British Heart Foundation shop at Irvine Cross, I’d have swithered over the pros and cons of parting with my money. Fifty bucks?! Get real! Those two guys making their way through the box I really wanted to explore weren’t going anywhere fast, and by now the family had caught up with me, eager to move on. I’ll never know what was in that box, or what New York prices were being asked…but it still eats away at me that I’ll never find out.
We weren’t in New York, Craig, to spend hours looking for and then browsing through record shops, but I managed to syphon off some me time to spend scouring the Rough Trade that’s next to Radio City. Right at the back was a second-hand section. No Marquee Moon here either, but in amongst the overpriced jazz reissues and (bizarrely) Gerry Rafferty’s back catalogue, I fell upon an original ‘76 press of Dylan’s Desire, replete with its original 1970s price sticker, for a mere $8. Re-sult, as the crate diggers say.
On the way to the counter was a display of ‘Classic NYC Albums’ – I’ll let you work out which records were displayed – and, in an impulsive move, emboldened by the original Dylan and happy that I’d finally found a New York-ish record that met my stringent criteria, I picked up a minty fresh and shrink wrapped copy of Marquee Moon to complete my purchase.
“Cool rekkid,” said the counter girl through her dyed black fringe and piercings. “Great guitar playin’ awl ovah it.”
“I know,” I smiled. “When in New York…”
“You gotta,” she finished for me, giving nary an acknowledgment to the Bob record she was ringing up. “Have a great day!”
I was delighted. Not particularly with the Marquee Moon which I’d had forever anyway – it was one of the first CDs I bought, but with the Dylan record which, after a quick Google while sitting on the wall opposite Rough Trade, I discovered was originally sold in Jordan Marsh, an NYC chainstore with its own record department. Not the New York record I had my heart set on, but a New York record all the same.
Unfortunately then, my vinyl copy of Marquee Moon comes not with the essence of the Bowery engrained in it, nor the mucky fingerprints of some speed-damaged old punk rocker across it, but still with the greatest free-form guitar playing that sets it out as the most individualised trailblazing record in an era chock-full of individualised trailblazers.
The band Television first entered my teenage orbit on the back of The Family Cat’s forever support-band sounding ‘Tom Verlaine’. Who was the titular Tom that had this loud and caterwauling indie rock track named after him? I soon found out.
The sound Television made was, especially when you consider the mid ‘70s, the sound of the future. Think how many of your favourite bands have replicated Tom Verlaine’s guitar playing since; spidery thin then creamy thick, loose and ragged then fat-free but flashy all at once. Will Sergeant… John McGeoch… the entire alumni of Scots’ post-punk six string alchemists… you can perhaps trace a direct line from the hot wired fretboard of Verlaine’s Fender Jaguar or Jazzmaster to any number of single coiled, solid bodied fetishists the world over, but you won’t find any other examples of the guitarist’s initials mirroring the band in which he plays. A happy accident, for TV and Television for sure.
Television – Friction
I’ve always loved Tom Verlaine’s playing on Television’s Friction; the jerky riffing, the unexpected notes in the solos that are always strictly non-blues, but especially the little electrified sound effects he coaxes from the wound strings as the, ‘my eyes are like telescopes’ line creeps out. You can ‘see’ those eyes, pirouetting out on little stalks as the music matches the vocal.
‘EFF, ARR, EYE, SEE, T-I-O-ENN!’ it goes, wired and paranoid, a thousand bedroom guitar players tuning in intently. Not all guitar players would match Verlaine – few ever will – but that free-flowing metallic sound will ring forever, whether it’s from an old and battered copy of Marquee Moon or a bog standard original that’s straight from an Eastern European pressing plant. Great rekkid, with great guitar playin’ awl ovah it. Shine on, Tom Verlaine.