One of the best things about having a blog is being able to indulge yourself in a bit of back history and catch up with things you should have learned years ago. So when Richard Lloyd’s label publicist at Parasol Records contacted me to let me know he was doing interviews to promote a Boston date, I jumped in with both feet. Which, incidentally, is the only way you can really approach Lloyd’s history and music.
Lloyd, of course, co-founded the legendary punk band Television, a staple of the early CBGB’s rock scene. That’s where most people begin with Lloyd, but I start with his vibrant guitar work on Matthew Sweet’s albums. Because of this story, I found his solo work, as well, in the reissued Field of Fire and his latest, Radiant Monkey, with which he is now touring. That’s a lot of ground to cover, and fortunately, Lloyd covers a lot of ground naturally in conversation.
In our phone conversation, Lloyd shoots first, asking me about the neighborhood where the Boston gig is – Church, which is near Fenway Park. Apparently, he used to live in a nearby boarding house, where he said he used to “sit at the window drinking red wine, daydreaming.” We talked for an hour and a half, so this interview will be posted in two or three parts over the next week, as I have time to transcribe it piece by piece. This installment focuses mostly on Television. Still to come, thoughts on the philosophy of the Radiant Monkey, politics, the Television reunion, and Lloyd’s solo work.
This interview is mostly learning for me, because honestly I know you mostly from Matthew Sweet and I’m trying to learn more. I hope that’s not insulting to say.
Not at all. Well, I founded the band Television, along with, you know… Tom didn’t find me, Tom Verlaine, I found Tom. So anyway we formed Television, we needed a place to play, we turned CBGB’s from what its initials stand for – Country, Blues, and Bluegrass… Country, Bru.. Bluegrass – my mouth isn’t working right today. Country, Bluegrass, and Blues. CBGB’s. And we made it into a rock club.
You were playing split bills with the Ramones at that time?
We never actually played with the Ramones on the same bill. But there’s a poster, it’s quite famous, there’s one at Christie’s supposed to go for a thousand bucks, with us and the Ramones opening. But something happened and Johnny had to go down to Florida for his parents’ something or other, either somebody got sick or there was a holiday or something, so they canceled and we had the Talking Heads play instead. So we never actually played on the same bill with them. I saw them the first time they ever played in Manhattan which was at a place called the Performance Studio. There was about twenty people there. Somebody came to me at CB’s where I was just sitting around drinking and doing what I do, or doing what I did, and said, oh, there’s a great new band you ought to come see at the Performance Space so I want up and saw them and I mean, man, I thought, there’s another great band, you know? I knew they were going to be, like, a hot potato.
It’s got to be a pretty great thing that the Ramones cancel and, oh, we’ll just get the Talking Heads.
Those were the days, yeah. Then people made records and… It’s like a nest, you know? You have chicklings in the nest and then the record company comes along and takes all the nestlings out, they get turned into chickens, they drop eggs, which are called records, and they fly away. Then they can’t play CB’s, it’s too small, you know?
Did you realize when you were making and writing Marquee Moon how different it sounded and how much of an influence it would have?
Of course we did. One of my proudest moments was when we auditioned for Atlantic Records and Ahmet Ertegun, who was the head, turned to Jerry Wexler, who really wanted to sign us and who was second in charge and he said, in his Turkish voice he said, “Jerry, I can’t sign this band! This is not Earth music.” And I was going to the bathroom so I overheard it. I thought it was just perfect. It was more important that he said that than sign us, as far as I was concerned that was like the highest compliment. I mean, after all, wasn’t Jimi Hendrix from outer space? If he claimed we weren’t Earth music, that was the highest compliment you could give somebody.
There’s also that tradition of having to leave you own country to come back, Jimi Hendrix going to England and the Beatles going to Germany.
We did well in England. Much better than America. America is so big. I mean, it really is. Unless you have a gigantic machine underneath you, or you tour endlessly for no money, you’re not going to make it in America. And things on radio, they’re not on there because they’re good. You know the great rule of radio programming?
The first ten seconds of a track, is that what you’re referring to? [Note: The rule that a track has to “grab” a listener in the first ten seconds to be considered for play.]
Oh, no. That’s not the real rule. The real rule is a closely guarded secret and I’m about to let you in on it. You play only things that you are certain will not cause your listeners to turn the dial. That’s the real rule. It’s not you play good music, it’s you don’t play anything that has the slightest chance of having somebody reach over and turn the dial. That’s the real rule. Because if they turn the dial to another station you’ve lost them and your advertisers know about it.
Do you feel that’s gotten any better with the Internet and all the ways you can distribute your music yourself?
No! Internet now you’re talking. Hold on one second please. [Walks away from the phone momentarily].
Hi. Thank you. What was the question?
I was saying do you think gotten any better with the Internet and all the ways you can release and distribute things on your own without having to go through some of the same sort of corporate machinery.
It’s good and bad. It’s good because you can do deals where if you sell ten thousand copies you make a fortune. And on a major if you sell ten thousand copies people are jumping out the fucking windows and suicide. You know. So that part’s good. But the bad part is, three-fourths of the nation’s youth are in a band. And they all think they’re good. And they’ve all got this MySpace, MyFace, My Ass, you know? And they’re out there, and it’s like a giant ponzi game.
Going back to Television, when you guys first got together, was there an argument over who was the lead guitar player [between Lloyd and Tom Verlaine]?
No. Basically, Terry Ork was going to form a band. He wanted to sponsor a band, because he worked for Andy Warhol, making silk screen prints and shit in the Factory, and he sort of felt like he wanted to find a band like the Velvet Underground only younger and start a new, like, Utopian scene. And he was going to put a band together around me. But he learned from Richard Hell, because Richard Hell worked at the place he worked at during the daytime, Cinemabilia, that there was this guy named Tom who always came and met Richard and they went to lunch and he was an electric guitarist, too, who didn’t have a band.
So Terry said, hey, he’s playing at this nightclub on audition night, do you want to go see him. I said, ah, I don’t know. He says, he does what you do. And I said, how dare you tell me what I do? What do I do? How do you know what I do? [Laughs] Terry says, well he plays the electric guitar without a band on your own and so does he. And I said, why would I want to see another fucking guy do what I do? I’m busy practicing. And the night came and honest to god, I wasn’t going to go, and I broke a string, didn’t have another, so I said, ah, what the hell, let’s go.
And it was this Off-Broadway nightclub where Liza Minnelli and Peter Allen and Peter Lemongello used to go. Bette Midler. That kind of thing. Gay Off-Broadway singers. And Tom came in and he played three songs, just him, and electric guitar, and an amplifier. And during the second song which I think, it happened to be “Marquee Moon,” I mean not “Marquee Moon,” we hadn’t written that yet, but “Venus DeMilo,” I leaned over to Terry and I said, “Terry, forget about putting a band together with me. Because I’m missing something. And this guy’s got something. But he’s missing something. And what he’s missing I’ve got and what I’m missing, he’s got.” You see, I was not in a position, due to my substance abuse and my own, let’s say immaturity, I was not capable of being a business leader. I was not capable of managing a band, that is, not managing, but leading a band, properly. And Tom could. So Tom was always the leader. And originally the leader was Tom and Richard.
We talked Richard into playing bass. He said, “No, no, not again. Playing with Tom is like going to the dentist, I’d kill myself first.” But I talked him into it. I said, “Richard, you got to be the bass player. Man, you got a look. You look like a cross between, god, I don’t know what, Elvis and like Robert Mitchum.” And he said, “Well, all right.” And I said, “You don’t have to play well. Let’s just rehearse. And you’ll get better.” And then Tom said, “Well, I know a drummer.” So Billy [Ficca] came down from Boston and we started rehearsing. And it was outrageous. It was so much fun. It was like we had run off and joined the circus. We used to fall on the floor, knock the mics over and then sing while lying on the floor, writhing like little worms. Gales of laughter. It was unbelievable. The public never saw that, because as soon as we did a public performance, people stiffen up a little. They couldn’t help it. We sounded more like the Sex Pistols than the Sex Pistols in the beginning.
And we had these great songs because Tom wrote great lyrics that had triple entendres to them. Like “Hard On Love.” I mean, come on. “You’re so hard on love” is the real words, but, you know, but let’s face it, that’s a double if not a triple entendre. Friction. The word. It was like heaven. The music was great, and the two guitarists, we used to fight it out. We would take turns playing the solos in songs and whoever played better in that key would get the solo. And it slipped back and forth and back and forth. And the goal was to have an equal amount but Tom being the leader, he ended up with, it was like 60/40, the lion’s share. But I was never a rhythm guitar player to Tom’s lead guitar player. Because what happened was, while he’s singing, he can’t play lead! So I played all the melody parts and lead parts while he’s singing and then during the solo I’d switch to rhythm or not. So it was this big jigsaw puzzle. You couldn’t tell who was who. And it was very much like the very early Stones, where you can’t tell whether it’s Brian or Keith. Brian, of course, fell apart. But the jigsaw puzzle of the very early Stones I’m talking, you can’t tell who’s playing what. And Television was like that, plus we were like the Beatles – four guys with three front men. I was in the middle, Tom was on the one side, Richard was on the other side. Those two sang about forty percent of the songs each and I sang twenty percent in a set. So it was based on kind of the Beatles.