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Monday 30 January 2023

Monday's Long Song: Tom Verlaine

Tom Verlaine died at the weekend aged seventy three. We are into an age of loss, where the people we grew up listening to and who have been part of our musical lives for the last three or four decades, are passing on. Tom Verlaine made many fine albums as a solo artist and Television's second album, Adventure (released in 1978), has lots to commend it, the songs are frequently magnificent but when all's said and done, Tom Verlaine's legend comes down to Marquee Moon. 

I can understand that for some artists/ writers/ film makers, the creation of a song/ album/ book/ film that shifts the entire pop culture, that defines the zeitgeist, that is an absolute solid gold ten out of ten piece of art, and that inspires countless others to follow in your footsteps, can be a millstone. It becomes a thing you cannot live up to and are forever judged against. But, looking back, a couple of days after Tom has died...  Tom Verlaine wrote Marquee Moon. And Tom Verlaine (and Fred Smith, Billy Ficca and Richard Lloyd) made Marquee Moon.

Marquee Moon was recorded in 1976 and came out in 1977. I didn't hear it then- I was only six and six year olds don't tend to have much interest in twin guitar art rock, garage punk from New York. I first heard it in the late 80s. I was a huge fan of Talking Heads who came from the CBGBs scene that Television invented and at some point an NME article or interview or book would have nudged me in Marquee Moon's direction. I bought it on cassette, it was cheap, one of those £4.49 Nice Price albums in Our Price or HMV. It blew me away. The first side alone is worth the entry fee, the clanging chords and rush of See No Evil, the street poetry of Venus and the line, 'I fell right into the arms of Venus de Milo', the rush and layered guitar lines of Friction and then the ten minute trip of the title track. 

Marquee Moon

Marquee Moon opens with those jagged guitar slashes countered with the little trebly riff and the warm bubbling bassline. Then Tom starts singing, 'I remember how the darkness doubled/ I recall how lightning struck itself'. The song unfolds, the guitars themselves lyrical, guitar lines that rise and fall and sing. Meanwhile Tom continues with his acid story- 'I spoke to man down at the tracks/ He said look here junior don't you be too happy/ And for heaven's sake don't you be too sad' and then later there are Cadillacs pulling out of graveyards, the kiss of death and the embrace of life, and other mysterious, poetic lines coupled with New York cool- 'I ain't waiting, uh uh'. Tom's guitar flies off for several minutes half way through, somewhere between rock 'n' roll and avant jazz (and nowhere near what punk sounded like during the rest of 1977) and the lines rise and rise, ever higher, drums crashing behind them, reaching a clanging crescendo before collapsing into some piano notes... and then the breakdown. Billy Ficca's drums come back in and the guitar slashes return and Tom is wailing again, 'I remember how the darkness doubled... I was listening to the rain'. When it finally fades out at ten minutes you're left thinking they'll pick it up again and it will carry on, the guitars and drums looping forever. 

This alternate version was added to a CD re- issue in 2003. By this point I'd replaced my cassette copy with a vinyl one and then bought the CD too. It's very similar to the one that they chose for the album, some slightly different parts to the solos and slightly longer. The way Tom and Richard play together on Marquee Moon, their guitars wrapping around each other, Tom's Fender doing this while Richard's does that, woven together, countering each other and playing off and with each other, is a magical, a form of alchemy. 'I remember how the darkness doubled/ I recall how lightning struck itself'. R.I.P Tom Verlaine. 

Marquee Moon (Alternate Version)


JC said...

"Tom Verlaine's legend comes down to Marquee Moon."

Indeed.....but if you're ever going to be associated by most with just one song, then you have to ensure it is something this memorable, different and game-changing.

I didn't hear Marquee Moon until 1983 when it was regularly aired at Student Union alt discos. I didn't own a copy until the late 90s when I bought the album as it was going cheap on CD.

Wonderfully penned tribute, Adam

Rol said...

A fine tribute. Well done, SA.

C said...

Superb post, SA. And I love your personal memory of buying the album too.

Swiss Adam said...

It's funny C, the things that stick. I clearly remember going to Widnes to see the House Of Love, in my housemate Al's car. A girl from my course, Tracy the hippy (as she was known), came with us. WE played my tape of Marquee Moon on the way there and back.

Nick L said...

Great post. My entry point to Television was hearing the early (ish) REM's mid 80's blistering live cover of See No Evil. (Terry Hall also covered it on a later solo b-side.) What an entry point, what an album. RIP Tom.

Echorich said...
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Echorich said...

Great tribute Adam!

It's tough when your icon's pass on. It was hard when Bowie passe. It was hard, again, when Terry Hall passed. Tom Verlaine passing took be directly back to a time and place in my very impressionable youth that I have filtered down, in my later years, to a really wonderful nostalgia. Tom Verlaine/Television was the first artist to make me relate to music beyond just liking it. He/They helped me to understand what it was I liked about Rock + Roll, what I was drawn to.

I said my peace on Sunday in my own reflections, but, taking a cue from your own tribute, I imagine Tom fell right into Venus' arms when he arrived at his afterlife.