The Marquee Moon project I’ve been working on in earnest for the last several months has given me occasion to read an enormous amount of music journalism from the scene at large and also the excuse to spend countless hours on YouTube looking for stray footage that’s survived and been made public.
Here are a couple clips I find quite compelling. They’re united in their indebtedness to simple rock and roll structures, though the Suicide track obviously pushes the boundaries and reimagines the form a little more forcefully than the rather straight-forward Mink DeVille song. But the acts are related as well by their mutual impulse to define themselves against the band Television, who were clearly, from 1975-77, kings of the scene. Tracks first, talk later:
Here’s Willy DeVille ragging on Tom Verlaine and Richard Hell (and the Ramones, for good measure) to NME in August 1977:
The first time Mink DeVille played CBGBs they opened for The Ramones and before the show they almost got into a rumble with them. “What a buncha fuckin’ pussies, man! ‘Punk Rockers’ and we’re antagonistic!” Maybe Mink were just a bit too real – or maybe the Ramones just felt threatened: “We used to play double bills with the Ramones and end up in fisticuffs. It is a very competitive scene in New York and as soon as the contracts started floating around everyone started getting edgy.
“Yeah, the Blank Generation – I understand what guys like Tom Verlaine and Richard Hell are talking about, but they’re fuckin’ rich kids from private schools in New Jersey. Personally I live close enough to the void that I don’t have to flirt with it. Once I walked around the streets for a coupla months thinking I was dead – but I couldn’t remember dying.”
And here’s Suicide’s Martin Rev, interviewed for the book Suicide: No Compromise, on their disconnect with the CBGB’s scene:
I was never close with either Television or Patti. The only conversation I had with any of their members was one occasion with Richard Hell, who once at an after-club party told me how much he dug Suicide. He also asked me to join his new group, the Voidoids, which he was forming when he left Television. He seemed genuinely disappointed when I avoided coming to the early rehearsals. I told Hell, I have a band, it’s Suicide.
Turns out Television was indirectly responsible for Suicide cutting its first single. Rev again:
I heard that there was a Television single on the jukebox at Max’s. I asked Tommy if we could put a single in the juebox and he said, “Yes.” I took a tape of “Rocket USA” and “Keep Your Dreams” to a guy on 48th Street. We cut two copies of the single and I put one on the jukebox. That was our first record.
The quality of the vinyl, apparently, was negligible. These were meant to be cheap pressings to pass to labels. After a while on the Max’s box, the sound started to deteriorate, but somehow that seemed fitting for Suicide’s general aesthetic. Recalled Peter Crowley, the booking agent at Max’s: “It just added another layer of sound.”