Television

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And I fell …

The good folks at genius.com asked me to annotate a passage from my 33 1/3 volume on Television’s Marquee Moon. Here’s what I came up with:

 

Previously on PWHNY.

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tv2In Martvch 1974, a band called Television — Tom Verlaine, Richard Hell, Richard Lloyd, and Billy Ficca — played both their very first show (at Townhouse Theater on W 44th) as well as their first gig, a few weeks later, at a dive country and bluegrass bar on the Bowery recently renamed CBGB + OMFUG. They were not a country or bluegrass band. Within months CBGB had become a mecca for new music, underground rock and roll by New York’s unsigned bands, including The Ramones, Blondie, Talking Heads, Richard Hell and the Voidoids, and the Patti Smith Group. This is where punk rock was born.

Several events this week commemorate punk’s 40th anniversary:

Thursday, March 20, 7 pm, at The Strand, 828 Broadway: Richard Hell in conversation with Bryan Waterman, marking the pbk release of Hell’s autobiography, I Dreamed I Was a Very Clean Tramp. [open to public]

Thursday, March 20, 6pm, third floor, Elmer Holmes Bobst Library, 70 Washington Square South New York University’s Fales Library and Special Collections presents the GoNightclubbing Video Lounge, a multi-media installation curated by Pat Ivers and Emily Armstrong paying tribute to the infamous Danceteria Video Lounge, which they created in 1980. [open to public]

Friday, March 21 through Sunday, March 23, 11 am to 1 pm, Silver 401, NYU: “Punk and the City,” a three-day seminar as part of the annual American Comparative Literature Association meetings. Twelve presenters on a range of related topics, from Latin American punk to Pussy Riot. [registration fees apply]

so so glosSaturday, March 22, 7 pm, Great Hall at Cooper Union: Punk Turns Forty: A Plenary Sponsored by the American Comparative Literature Association and the Fales Library. Part I: Brandon Stosuy, editor at Pitchfork, interviews Richard Hell; Part II: Avital Ronell moderates a panel with Vivien Goldman, Kathleen Hanna, and Tamar-kali. [Free admission at 6:30 for ACLA conference attendees and at 7:00 for the general public, as space allows]

Saturday, March 22, 10:30 pm doors, Judson Memorial Church, 55 Washington Square South: So So Glos, with Household and Arm Candy, a concert to benefit Silent Barn. [$5-$10 sliding donation; all-ages]

Sunday, March 23, 5 to 8 pm, The Panther Room at Output, 74 Wythe Avenue, Williamsburg, Brooklyn: Classic Album Sundays presents Television’s Marquee Moon. Presenter: Bryan Waterman, author of Marquee Moon (33 1/3 series). [Tickets: $10 at the door or online here]

 

 

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We haven’t actually got our hands on copies of these yet, but yesterday this photo popped up over at the 33 1/3 blog. Shiny!

Meanwhile, the folks at Flavorpill were kind enough to include us on a list of their most anticipated summer releases. We’re also looking forward to their arrival!

Cyrus and I will be reading from the books in Manhattan at McNally Jackson on June 20, and in BK at Word Brooklyn on June 28. Release party details still TK.

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A post from last year that rounds up our Patti-related content on this site (and a little bit elsewhere as well). Since then, we took note that her 2010 memoir, Just Kids, won the National Book Award.

Most of what I have to say about Television I’ve saved for this project, due out in June, as most of our readers and/or Twitter followers undoubtedly know (#shamelessselfpromotion #seeadontheright). Our students have a couple preview chapters to make their way through this week and may come out knowing more than they ever wanted to about CBGB arcana. Over the last year or so I’ve posted a few related items here: some memories of Club 82, the drag venue on 4th St. that played co-host to early punk alongside CB’s and Max’s. I mentioned some selections from the CBGB jukebox, along with some of Television and Patti’s rival bands. I embedded a clip of Television performing in the Chinatown loft that was their rehearsal space (1974, w/ Richard Hell). For more, stay tuned. I’m sure Cyrus and I will both have plenty to post leading up to the June release date for both our volumes.

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Sometime in 1974 Richard Hell wrote a review of his own band, Television, playing a set at a newish club called CBGB’s, from the perspective of a fictional audience member. “The place had a grapevine reputation on account of a band called Television that played there Sundays at midnight,” he writes. In the first few lines he sets the scene, describing the club’s sights and smells (“smelled like dogshit”), the sounds of the pool table before the band starts playing, and a particular single on the jukebox: “Talk Talk,” by Music Machine, from 1966. It’s the sort of song that makes you want to walk with a swagger.

You can find Hell’s entire piece in his collection Hot and Cold (2001).

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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.”

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Am I the only one who hears the resemblance between these two songs?

Previously.

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Terry Ork’s loft, 1974. Nice overview by Karate Boogaloo here.

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Welcome back

I know I used this last year, in case anyone’s paying attention who would call me on the carpet for the re-run, but I can’t start a new school year without humming the Welcome Back Kotter theme song. As I noted last year, these Brooklyn street scenes and images of the F train were, along with Sesame Street, responsible for most of my sense of what New York City was like when I was a kid in the remote mountains of northern Arizona:

Since I already used that clip last year, I’ll offer up this segment from Gabe’s first day on the job. Though I do live in a building that also houses a couple hundred students, luckily they don’t come climbing through my windows:

And that, my friends, is why Al Gore invented the Internet: so I could eventually rediscover where I picked up the phrase “Off my case, toilet face” as a kid.

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I’m still on vacation out West and Cyrus, I believe, has been in Europe in his capacity as an associate dean of humanities for NYU Abu Dhabi. I’ve meant to post more often than I have but really, I’m on vacation, my summer’s short this year, and I just haven’t found the extra energy required.

Still, for those four or five people who haven’t written us off completely yet, I thought I’d at least direct you to recurring features on two blogs I quite admire — both of which are ideas I’d had without being fast enough on the draw to execute.

Both features in question fall into the TV after-show blogging department. The first has to do with Work of Art, Bravo’s New York art world answer to Project Runway, whose formula it shamelessly mimics. Most people I know who have an interest in contemporary art watch the show, though they almost universally despise the contestants, the host, the challenges, and the end results. If it seemed a stretch to expect fashion designers to turn out something worthwhile in the 24-hour period allotted most Project Runway challenges, the task seems even steeper here. The bottom line seems to be: Can artists make anything interesting or even coherent under the circumstances of reality TV competition? Even if the answer, in most cases, has clearly been no, it’s been more than entertaining to watch them try, and it’s also been entertaining to watch critics, artists, and gallerists who are well respected become TV characters themselves. (My own experience with the art world is marginal, I admit: I own a little art, including work by someone formerly represented by one of the judges, and I was for a single show a member of a performance art Patsy Cline covers band with someone who served as a guest judge early on. I have friends who are artists and collectors, though, and at least feel conversant enough to know that Jerry is married to Roberta and to get the ways in which the show both magnifies and distorts the art world’s idiosyncrasies.)

Seriously, though, this show would be much less interesting than I find it if it weren’t for some intelligent and bitingly funny Twitterers (including some of the show’s contestants) and the aftershow posts on the blog Art Fag City. Not only is the main commentary there usually spot on, but the comments threads tend to attract art insiders, including eliminated contestants, and TV insiders who have smart things to say about the way Bravo’s producers are shaping the narrative that emerges over the course of the season. For instance, this week someone in comments introduced us to the Reality TV insider term “Frankenbite,” a set of spliced-together comments from a contestant offered in voice-over to introduce or manipulate a particular narrative thread the show wants to foreground. For the most recent episode this problem emerged when Miles, the OCD (faux-CD?) Machiavellian manipulator and darling of the judges, apparently plotted to get his challenge-mate naked and masturbating as they prepared their piece. (The show comes with a Parental Advisory.) However, as one AFC commentator explained: “if you notice he is not on camera saying those things and the inflection of his voice is different between the parts.” AFC, reviewing the tape, agreed. Do I recommend Work of Art? Yes, especially if you have more than a passing interest in new art. But I wouldn’t recommend the show without the new and social media commentary it occasions.

The same shouldn’t be said for Mad Men, which is, simply, terrific TV all on its own. Knowing that Cyrus was also a die hard fan, I suggested before the current season that we should start a series of Monday morning posts in which we tease out some interesting historical allusions or contexts from the prior night’s episode. The new season seems to have coincided with our summer travel, however, and it doesn’t look likely we’ll pull off this feature, at least not this season. But I’m thrilled to note that the intrepid and indefatigable Bowery Boys, among our favorite NYC history bloggers, have taken up the same idea and are offering post-show history lessons of their own. This morning’s post has to do with an allusion to the Ziegfeld Theater: “I’m not sure if Don Draper would have actually met anybody at the Ziegfeld in December 1964,” the Boys write, “as there were no shows running. Although perhaps NBC was still using it at this time as a soundstage; certainly Don might latch onto a script girl or production assistant while visiting a client filming a commercial.” If you’re into Mad Men, this talk-back feature over at BBs looks like a great way to start your week this season.

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