The guitarist reveals the truth about Tom Verlaine and Marquee Moon
We waited to sign. We auditioned for Atlantic. Atlantic President Ahmet Ertegun said, “This is not Earth music.” Meanwhile, everybody else from CBGB signed as soon as they could, for peanuts. We waited until Elektra made a reasonable offer, and signed in the summer of 1976.
It was time to record an album. Tom and Fred looked for a studio and finally picked this place on 48th Street, A&R, Phil Ramone’s personal studio. A small, rectangular room, with a control room that still had old tube boards, volume knobs that were curved, like the old Beatles consoles.
We didn’t want a producer. We’d already done “Little Johnny Jewel” as an independent single in 1975. We knew how we wanted to sound. All the songs on Marquee Moon were songs we had honed for years playing live. We were ready. Tom, especially, didn’t want a producer after the Eno experience. He didn’t want someone coming in with their ideas.
But Elektra would not allow us to produce ourselves. So, we decided to get in someone who was a great engineer – someone who knew his way around, and wanted to produce, but was just starting. We hit on Andy Johns. Andy had been engineer on a great number of great records: the Stones, Zeppelin. He was Glyn Johns’ brother. Anything that Glyn produced, Andy was engineer on.
The first day in the studio came in November 1976. We had a 2pm start. Andy was nowhere in sight. Finally, about 4.30pm, he came traipsing in. He said, “I came in yesterday, to see what the place was like, and… I can’t work here!” He started listing all the technical tools these old studios didn’t have. We tried to calm him down. Finally, grudgingly, Andy said, “Well, I did manage to set the drums up last night. Got a good sound. Wanna hear it?”
He put on this tape he’d made. And, by God, from the speakers came this humongous, pumped-up John Bonham drum sound. Tom started freaking out. “No! No, no, no, no, no! We don’t want that! You need to take that apart!”
Andy was outraged. “Well, why did you hire me? That’s what I’m famous for. Fuck this! I’m getting a flight back!”
For the next few days, Andy would mutter, “Oh, right, so, this is some kind of New York thing. You want to sound bad like The Velvet Underground. You want to sound crap like The Stooges. I see…”
But we were recording. I had always wanted to produce, and I was forever thinking, what can I do to prevent this from sounding like simply a live record?
I was thinking about the chiming parts on “Venus”, and said, “Let me double that.” Tom and Andy said “Huh?” I said, “Well, let me play the part again, so you can have a stereo pair.” One ability I’ve always had is, anything I play, I can do it again, exactly the same. And again and again. Tom isn’t like that. When Tom plays a solo, he never plays the same solo twice.
They said, “Uh… well, go ahead and try.” So I did it. Tom said, “Holy crap – that sounds great! Do that to everything!”
So, for example, “Elevation”: that solo is me playing twice, verbatim. We wanted to rent a rotating speaker to get the sound for that, but the rental people wanted too much. So Andy took a microphone and stood in front of me in the studio, swinging it around his head like a lasso. He nearly took my fucking nose off. I was backing up while I was playing.
Andy was hilarious. He’s a real child of rock’n’roll. Television weren’t like that. We were punctual. We were serious.
One day, Andy didn’t show up until 6pm. It seems he’d picked up two hookers the night before, who talked him into letting them handcuff him to his bed – then, of course, they took his wallet and blew kisses as they left. The hotel had to free him with a hacksaw. Another day, we came in and Andy was flat out in the producer’s chair in the control room, snoring, holding a three-quarters empty bottle of red wine, with empty bottles scattered around on the floor. We looked at him, then at the tape operator. We said, “Listen. All the mics are set up. Can we just keep the volume down in here and run a song around him?”
So we went in and did “Prove It”. Then we came back to listen back. It sounded pretty good. So we played it back again, a little louder. And we kept increasing the volume until, finally, Andy snorted himself awake.
He sat bolt upright, panicky, paranoid as hell. The music’s playing, and he’s looking between us all, demanding, “Did I record this?”
We said, “Well, sure Andy.” He breathed a sigh of relief. “God, I’m good.” That was Andy. And that’s the cut of “Prove It” that’s on the record.
We delivered the album in late 1976. Marquee Moon came out February 8, 1977. In 35 years, it has never been out of print. It’s become a permanent fixture in rock’n’roll.
A lot of people were disappointed with Television’s second album, Adventure. I’m one of them. Sonically, Adventure has a colour Marquee Moon doesn’t. But it was already a losing prospect when we didn’t rehearse for the album first. With Marquee Moon, we drew from a repertoire we had been playing live for years. And, actually, we had a whole other album’s worth of songs from that period – “Kingdom Come”, “Double Exposure”, “Breakin’ In My Heart”. But Tom, fickle as he is, didn’t want to record them. On Adventure, only “Foxhole” and “Careful” were in our live repertoire.
That was the demise. On Marquee Moon, everybody knew what they were going to do. On Adventure, nobody knew, including Tom. We got into the studio, and it was just Tom’s world. He would try out ideas and it would go on and on. We would talk about the other songs we could record. Tom would just say, “No.” That was the end of Television. Adventure came out in April 1978. Within three months, we had split up.