by Bryan Waterman (2012)
First of all, the album: 5 stars for the album. It’s in my top 5 favorite albums of all-time, moving freely between slots on any given day.
If you haven’t heard it you probably need to. If you like Talking Heads you need to hear this album. If you like Patti Smith you need to hear this album. If you like Velvet Underground you need to hear it. If you like The Ramones or The Clash or The Sex Pistols you need to hear this album. If you like Nirvana or Meat Puppets or Pixies or Sonic Youth or The Cure or Radiohead, or any group influenced by any of the above, you need to hear this album.
If you like guitars you need to hear it, because this album’s got two of ’em, and good ones. Or drums, because Ficca is the swingingest jazziest punkiest rock drummer ever. Basically, just listen to the goddamn album already!
As for the book itself: meh. I like the idea of this series, something my friend recommended to me, but I’m not sure if this particular subject merited 200 pages. Waterman uses a lot of other things than this album or even this band to fill space, and while I understand the benefit of context, making half the book context is overkill. It doesn’t really pick up until halfway through Ch. 4 when discussing their first single, “Little Johnny Jewel.”
I did enjoy seeing documentation of just how big a deal Television was within their scene, and their influence on punk and other music of the 70s and beyond. It’s interesting to see the possible explanations of why they never made it. Ultimately I think they just weren’t commercially appealing enough. They weren’t “easy.” Popular opinion is necessarily ruled by a lower common denominator, and in such an environment commercial failure by no means implies artistic failure.
And indeed not in Television’s case, because Marquee Moon is a frickin masterpiece. Just in finishing this book I began to liken it to John Fante’s magnificent Ask the Dust (see my review). Both are arguably the “one-hit wonders” (though really WAY more than that) of supremely talented artists. And both relatively obscure artists created other solid works that pale in comparison to their magnum opuses. And both masterpieces resulted from a perfect storm of external and internal factors, and would be buried at the time but later gain devout admiration from a loyal cult following. (And on a personal note, both would become one of my all-time favorites.)
So in sum: the album? Essential. The book? Not so much, unless you’re really obsessed. Really you’d be better off just listening to the album for a few hours straight.
Here’s my favorite quote to sum up Television:
“Television is representative of nothing,” Christgau wrote. “Almost every great rock band and a lot of the most successful bad ones culminate some general social tendency, be it the Ramones’ pop economy or Kansas’ greedy middle-American pseudo-seriousness or Steely Dan’s expert programmability or Kiss’s life-sized caricature. But while it’s possible to imagine a late-’60s revival in which Television would spawn countless imitators, at the moment their single-minded Utopian individualism sets them apart. And it is just that that makes them seem so precious” 205.