Thursday, August 20, 2009

"Marquee Moon" by Television (1977)



Have you ever met the kind of music obsessive who seems dedicated to liking whatever critics like and hating whatever they don't? I've met a million of them - gritting their teeth while pretending to love Ornette Coleman, instinctively dissing anything by Britney Spears (some of whose songs are, in my opinion, great). I don't really get it, to be honest. I mean, just like what you like, right?

Having said that, however, I've been guilty in the past of taking critics too seriously - on more than one occasion buying an album without having heard a note just because critics seemed to like it. I have my requisite Velvet Underground and Sonic Youth CDs as well...

So, even though I would have been an infant and/or foetus at the time, I had, by my teenage years, educated myself enough about the CBGB 'scene' in New York to be able to fake it. I allowed myself to truly believe that a band like Blondie were in any way 'punk' (because CBGB was a proto-punk scene, right?)

I heard and loved the Talking Heads. I heard and liked Blondie and the Ramones. I heard and tried to like Patti Smith. I got the "New York 1970s" badge sewn onto my hipster-cred blanket. I knew, man.

Yet somehow Television eluded me. I mean, I'd read the magazines, so I knew who they were, but I'd never heard a song by them. Not until just a year or two ago, when finally I had the chance to hear this song.

By that point in my life, I was feeling rather bored with a lot of music. I found that, among current music, very little outside of the most mainstream pop moved me at all, and I found that I had pretty much no patience whatsoever for two-guitars-bass-and-drums - whatever the genre, if that was the instrumentation, it bored me.

Long wanking guitar solos bored me. Adenoidal male singers bored me.

Frankly, I wouldn't have expected to do anything but hate Television, even though the knee-jerk impulse to respect them because they were 'formative' or 'seminal' or whatever still remained. I won't say anything as banal as "they showed me the light" or whatever. After all, it was still just a song. Yet somehow, "Marquee Moon", two guitars, bass, drums, bad male singer, eleven minutes long, guitar solo more than four minutes long... somehow, unlikely as it is, moved me. Thirty years old, yet it still felt new. Seemed to suggest to me that you can do different things with two guitars, a bass and drums.

I'm not sure what it is actually. I'm not sure what seems so new or fresh. Perhaps it's the lack of pretense: the guitar solo goes on for minutes, but you never sense that the guitar player is arching his back and scrunching up his face like guitarists who are just so into the moment do. Perhaps it's the song's dynamics: the way it builds up and breaks down in a way that makes the minutes seem way, way less agonising than 10 minutes 40 seconds of, say, Phish would be. It could very well be that bass, flying all over the place unexpectedly (I love creative bass lines). Whatever it is, it hooked me. And it had been a long time since anything, especially guitar-based 'rock', had done that.

Although I still can't even begin to comprehend what on earth this possibly has to do with 'punk'.

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