Only a band in pre-internet ennui would have the cojones to name itself Television. These days, someone on band payroll—a media consultant or a street-team cheerleader, etc.—would've talked you out of it. You could just hear their sense-making comments like "it scans bad" or "they'll never find you on the first try." Or the good intentions of someone with real power saying, "Aw, go back to being The Neon Boys, will ya?" Maybe even get all Newton N. Minow on 'em and suggest a name switch like, say, A Vast Wasteland. Now that's a more search-engine-friendly name the whole family can agree on!
But the Television moniker continues to work against the band. I Googled keywords "Television," "live" and "Tucson" to find out where they were playing, and instead of finding the venue for these art punk pioneers who redefined guitar for a blank generation, I had my pick of our finest action news anchors and weathermen. Back to you, Yolanda!
Not that bandleader Tom Verlaine would even care about name recognition in a flyover state like Arizona. Television weren't careerists like their CBGB contemporaries. Television's first two singles were their longest-ever songs, "Little Johnny Jewel" and "Marquee Moon," dissected into Parts 1 and 2 on 45s, like Don McLean's "American Pie" or James Brown's "Let A Man Come In and Do The Popcorn." You'd never catch Blondie or Talking Heads putting out singles that acted like they'd rather be album cuts. And you never heard Television bellyache "We Want the Airwaves" like The Ramones once they realized they'd never hear Casey Kasem speak their name. Television always drew a hardline between art and commerce that few but the true believers would ever see.
Despite long periods of dormancy, (they haven't released a studio album since '92's daringly titled Television, itself their first album in 14 years), they still have the ability to soar–just listen to any YouTube clip of "1880 or So" which begins to take off where the studio version starts fading out. And if you close your eyes, it's still plausible to tear down the future, even if the one you love is a band from the distant past (they're performing at least two or three new songs during their Tucson show so let's hope there's another album added to their catalog before the next 24 years pass).
Blue lighting was super popular back in 1992 so you wouldn't notice the aging process on faces and bodies. Who knows what Vaseline-on-the-lens age-obscuring techniques may be employed now. My guess is that having bridged the gap between forty and sixty, they've passed the point of giving a shit. Or maybe they'll just embrace a Mike Love fondness for hats.
In the time Television the band had first been off the air between 1978 and 1992, television the medium suffered challenges for viewership from public access, home video, satellite, dish and cable. Now TV's up against internet streaming from a million sources. Even a phone–a device Get Smart never even thought of.
So it's easy to take either Television or television for granted. When Television's October 18 Tucson date arrives, you'll have to decide between spending your entertainment dollar to see an overlooked band from years ago or sit on the couch for free and watch network TV, which you haven't watched in an equally long spell. To help, we've pitted some of Television's greatest songs and lyrics with some the four major networks' greatest shows! How can your heart stand the crackling "Friction" that'll ensue when Television goes up against network programming in 2016 and has to send for syndication reinforcements?
"Prove It" vs. NCSI: New Orleans
This Tuesday, you could hear Television bandleader Tom Verlaine impersonate a gumshoe who's one part Jack Webb ("Just the facts, the confidential") and two parts Jewish mom: ("This case ... this case that I've been working on for so long," insert your own "oi"). The case he's trying to crack? Verlaine is in the process of figuring out the smell of water and what colorless clothes look like. Fans of less abstract forms of mystery might be better served watching Scott Bakula as a former Naval Criminal Investigative Service Special Agent trying to solve crimes in The Big Easy without uncovering the real existential puzzler: Would this be the exact same show as NCSI: Los Angeles if there weren't trumpet players on every street corner and folks eating shrimp for breakfast.
"Marquee Moon" vs. Dancing With the Stars
ABC, the network who gave us Battle of the Network Stars in the '70s, has now given us Dancing with the Stars, taking the same cross-training that once made Olympiads out of Gabe Kaplan and MacKenzie Phillips and moved it out onto the mambo floor. If only cranky Robert Conrad was summoned to chew out these schtick-lovin' judges.
Ironically, this DWTS season has two stars that could've been competitors on Battle of the Network Stars four decades ago, Marilu Henner of Taxi and Maureen McCormick of The Brady Bunch. The pair has already danced to their own undanceable TV-show themes and already shed more tears than they were ever called upon to do on their respective shows. You just wish Verlaine was there to tell 'em, "Look here junior, don't you be so happy and for heaven's sake, don't you be so sad." Marcia, Marcia, Marcia! I mean, is meeting Babyface really a reason to get verklempt? You can expect beautiful musicality and guitar gymnastics when Television executes their signature song but the terpsichorean muse ends there. I mean, this is a band where Verlaine told Richard Hell "stop jumping around" onstage because it was too distracting from the guitar and songwriting genius!
"See No Evil" vs Dateline with Lester Holt
"Don't say unconscious/No don't say doom/If you got to say it let me leave this room"
Can't you picture a lead suspect saying this in a police interrogation room? Or on a very special To Catch a Predator? The above couplet from Marquee Moon's opening song could've been ripped from the pages of today's headlines! Television say they understand those destructive urges but they sound deliriously oblivious about its properties. Serious students of evil are instructed to tune in to Dateline, the long-running news program that makes five-year murder investigations seem longer with commercials and "Coming Up" prompts that repeat the whole following segment without giving the murderer away. For pure evil, how about emotion-free host Lester Holt who retained his impartial, see-no-evil moderating to the first Presidential debate, not even shushing Donald Trump once!
"The Fire" vs The Voice
Ok, so Television aren't even unpacking this Adventure chestnut for this tour but it›s prescient lyrics seems to predict the longest running singing competition show remaining, which started out as a super-sized Star Search and is now in its eleventh season:
"You caught the voice I listen close/All I heard was the echoes/Praise emptiness"
Ouch, I think he just made Carson Daly cry just then. If you have your fill of emptiness and Top 40 retreads, still have time to check out Television's set for any possible cover versions but be forewarned that their song selection skews older than Idina Menzel. In the past, they've been known to cover "Psychotic Reaction" and "Satisfaction." This tour, they've been opening with something that sounds like tuning up but people have said it's actually Debussy's "Claire de Luna."
"Little Johnny Jewel" vs. Seinfeld reruns
Who more to be the living embodiment of Little Johnny Jewel than Jerry Seinfeld? "Oh, he's so cool/He has no decision/He's just trying to tell a vision."Like Johnny Jewel, it's no stretch to see Jerry looking lost, like that time he couldn't find his parked car in the mall and had to urinate on a wall. But you ain't gotta come on so boss! "You know that he's paid the price." That last episode illustrates it all too well; everyone from the Soup Nazi to the bubble boy wants a piece of Jerry. But when the talk turns to "I want my little wing-head" and "Crouch down behind the fence with a chest full of lights," it's hard to think of anyone but Kramer.
"Venus" vs. The Andy Griffith Show
We could pit Alexandros of Antioch's arm-free creation against New Girl Zooey Deschanel, but the real matchup between Television the band and television the medium is The Andy Griffith Show. With all the undercover police procedurals on TV now, this TV Land mainstay is about the only show where you can see lawmen in uniform. On that tight toy night when Richie said "Hey man, let's dress up like cops, think of what we could do," I'm sure Verlaine and Hell weren't planning on babysitting Otis the town drunk and seeing who stole one of Aunt Bee's pies off the window sill.