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“There were very few dull days”
Guitarist Richard Lloyd of the band Television visits the Brass Rail on May 26
By Michael Summers
Fort Wayne Reader
When guitarist Richard Lloyd was a little kid, he believed everyone had “wish money” to draw from, sort of like a trust fund of wishes set up by the generations of family that had come before you, or guardian angels, or whatever.
There was a finite amount of wish money in that fund, and the bigger the wish you made, the more “wish money” it cost you. “On my third birthday, my mother brought out the cake, and said ‘honey, make a wish and blow out the candles,’ and I said ‘no’,” Lloyd says. “No way I’m spending my wishes!”
But when he turned 16, Lloyd spent a lot of wish money, and made three wishes. “It was a big expenditure, but it was how I wanted the shape of the next 40 years of my life too look.”
First of all, he says, he did not want to grow up to be a man. “Because I thought they stunk, and I still do,” he says. “Look at their common interests — sports, politics, talking about things over which they have no control whatsoever, that are outside their purview… It’s nauseating.”
And his other two wishes…“That I would be a world-renowned lead electric guitar player, in the pantheon,” Lloyd says. “And that I, somehow, with others or whatever, was going to impact upon the history of rock n’ roll. And by God, that’s exactly what happened.”
It’s true… though it took a little while for the rest of the world to realize it.
Lloyd was one of the guitarists in Television, the hugely influential rock band that came out of New York’s fervid music scene in the 70s. The band’s debut album, Marquee Moon, didn’t sell a lot of copies when it was released in 1977, but these days, it’s considered the definitive guitar album of its time and genre, with Lloyd and Tom Verlaine, the band’s other guitarist, given a “place in the guitar hero pantheon.” Rolling Stone ranked Marquee Moon #128 on it’s 500 greatest albums of all time, and Pitchfork named it the 3rd best album of the 70s.
Television’s two studio albums they made in the late 70s sound about a generation ahead of their time, and critics have suggested that one of the distinctive things about the band was that the guitar interplay between Verlaine and Lloyd is a little more sophisticated and intricate than, say, the Velvet Underground, or contemporaries like The Ramones.
But as Lloyd tells it, Television’s outlook and attitude fit right in with what was happening in New York in the 70s. “I was very fortunate to have been in a time and a place where I knew these things were going to happen,” he says, adding that he recalls the time when he saw future bandmate Tom Verlaine perform for the first time, and told manager Terry Ork to get the two of them together. “I told Terry, ‘this guy has got something. He’s got the inimitable, sublime, and elusive it, but he’s missing something, and what he’s missing, I have in abundance.”
“I knew what it was, and I knew I had a lot of it, but I was missing something, and I recognized it in Tom. I said to Terry ‘put Tom and I together, and you’ll have the band you’re looking for’.”
He adds: “I now call it, in hindsight, the ‘glamour of poverty’, and that was us. We were four aliens, hobo teenagers with guitars, like Lil Abner, playing this whacked out music and having a blast doing it.”
Television played a huge role in establishing CBGB’s as the venue for the city’s new music scene. In fact, Television was the first rock band to play there, with manager Ork promising CBGB’s owner that they would pack the bar on the new venue’s worst night (Sunday) if he would let Television play there. It worked, and Lloyd even became part of the booking process. “I was there almost every night, mostly because the bar was completely open to me, plus the girls were there and the other musicians,” Lloyd says. “To me it was like hosting a three-and-a-half year long New Year’s Eve party. There were very few dull days.”
But Marquee Moon and the follow-up, Adventure, didn’t sell many copies, and Television broke up. Lloyd released several solo records, including Alchemy for Elektra in 1979, and di some session work for other musicians, notably Matthew Sweet — that’s Lloyd’s lead guitar you hear on Sweet’s album Girlfriend and the single of the same name.
Television got back together and recorded another album in 1992, and have performed intermittently ever since. Lloyd officially left the group in 2007. The current tour, he says, covers his entire career, from his days in Television to his most recent solo work, an album called Lodestone.
Though Lloyd doesn’t seem to mind talking about New York in the 70s and the heydays CBGB’s — he launches into a generous retelling of several stories from that time, with no prompting from Your Humble — he hardly seems “stuck” there. Mainly, Lloyd is a talker, and the list of questions I have scribbled down don’t get asked as his conversation veers from philosophy to Einstein to his perfect recall memory. Maybe about 40% of the interview is about music. So I don’t get to ask him if he considered looking for an attorney when he first heard The Strokes, or if he thought it was strange to be considered a guitar hero coming from an era that was supposed to be against that kind of worship. You get the feeling, though, he’d be sort of impatient with those questions. “No one knew what to call what we were doing back then,” he says. “Those journalists coming to see us… they didn’t know.”
After about an hour, when I finally have to get off the phone, Lloyd laughs. “I go off on these tangents,” he says. “When I come to Fort Wayne, I promise I’ll do more singing and playing than talking.”
Richard Lloyd plays the Brass Rail on Saturday, May 26. Big Money and the Spare Change will be opening the show.