Friday, April 15, 2016

Hippies vs. Punks: Television's Marquee Moon (1977)

The problem with this time of year, spring, is that it is actually colder in my 100-plus-year-old apartment building than during the winter. With the return of the sun and the increase in air temperature, the landlord ratchets down the furnace in preparation for a complete boiler shutdown in May.

The radiator now fires up briefly, if at all, for about a half hour around seven a.m. For someone used to waking up at four a.m., getting out of bed only to sit huddled in a fleece and stocking cap in front of a laptop becomes a lousy choice. Combined with a cascading workload at my job, I have basically abandoned this page the last week. I have chosen instead to stay in bed until the last possible moment. Then I bathe, dress and leave the apartment for work downtown.

It was on such morning, Wednesday it was, that dazed and confused I stumbled into my neighborhood Starbucks to get a "shot in the dark." In front of me in the line to the register was a loquacious Metro bus driver. She was talking to any- and everyone in the shop. I think her topic was homelessness because there were several people sleeping bundled in blankets on the sidewalk outside. Her language was somewhat oblique. She was talking at one remove about how it takes time for people to get to know you; that you need to live in a place for a while before trust develops; but things are always changing so it is a balance.

By this time the bus driver had moved to the other side of the espresso machine and was talking to a young guy who was eating breakfast at a window counter seat. I was at the cash register waiting for my "shot in the dark." Suddenly I noticed a song that had been playing on the sound system. I noticed it because I knew it but in my dazed and confused cold spring morning state couldn't place it.

As my brain searched for the artist, it struck me that whoever it was, it was certainly au courant, tasteful, incisive guitar music. I thought maybe a Wilco release with Nels Cline on lead guitar, or Stephen Malkmus & the Jicks. Then it dawned on me. Of course, It was Television!

What had happened is I had wandered into the Starbucks during the long Tom Verlaine guitar solo that consumes the second half of the 11-minute "Marquee Moon."

Last October I wrote about Televison's second album, Adventure (1978); about how I heard "See No Evil" playing on the PA in my neighborhood supermarket and how it struck me as completely in tune with whatever Zeitgeist we are currently living through.

Here it is happening again. A message is obviously being relayed. But what is it?

Marquee Moon (1977), Television's first album, from which "Marquee Moon" is the first single, was recorded in September 1976, a critical time for UK Punk. Television had been around since 1974. The band was the anchor of the CBGBs scene. But like Quicksilver Messenger Service, the San Francisco Sound Hippie band who Verlaine admired, Television waited several years to sign a recording contract. The band had worked with Brian Eno, but Verlaine did not like the sound that resulted. He held out until he could produce, which Elektra allowed him to do.

Marquee Moon was a hit in the UK and elsewhere but not in the United States, where it failed to chart. Yet here it is ambient 40 years later, and not as a golden lite rock oldie like Fleetwood Mac's Rumours (1977) of the same period.

I think Television's Marquee Moon is a vindication of the Hippies vs. Punks hypothesis. Something happened in the United States and the rest of the West in the years from 1974-1975 to 1979. Social democracy was scrapped in favor of something new, a new paradigm, and that turned out to be what we now call neoliberalism. We are still in its thrall after many decades. If you want to hear what the essence of that is, where it gets its power, listen to Marquee Moon.

Christgau described Television as champions of a "single-minded Utopian individualism." When I was doing my week-long immersion in Adventure last fall, I wandered into a trendy cafe frequented by the young digerati and I realized that this is who Television is. That is why Marquee Moon sounds so fresh. "Single-minded Utopian individualism" has been translated into a cyber infinity where the digital and the spiritual are indistinguishable.

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