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"It's very nice to see new faces in the crowd," says Television guitarist Richard Lloyd. "Of course, I don't wear my glasses onstage and I can't see anything, so basically I just made that up," he admits. "How about that?"
Separating fact from fiction can be difficult when you're dealing with Television. But this much is true: The New York City proto-punk quartet is on their third full-fledged tour of duty (following their initial disbandment in 1978 and a short-lived 1992 reunion); they're hammering out new material that may eventually result in their fourth studio album; and they're as wary as ever of music scribes.
"'The... situation... with... Tom'--that's a good one," says Lloyd, the band's reluctant mouthpiece, slowly tossing my delicately worded inquiry about singer/guitarist Tom Verlaine back at me with a mildly exasperated chuckle. "I'll have to tell him that one. He'll be delighted."
The "situation" I've alluded to is the esoteric frontman's notorious hatred of the music media (Verlaine once told Musician magazine, "The press doesn't deserve anything but lies"), not to mention his curious reputation as an obstinate recluse and alienating control freak.
"Look, he's a very funny guy, and we're having a great time together," Lloyd sighs. "He just really doesn't wanna be bothered talking to journalists and answering the same old stale questions again and again and again. He doesn't wanna talk about the past. But he's no Howard Hughes."
In this era of extreme and unbridled self-promotion, Verlaine's steadfast refusal to extol his band's accomplishments seems almost freakishly absurd. But nearly 30 years into their existence, the quartet still believes in communicating via sonic rapture in place of thinly veiled marketing strategies.
"We're a very odd thing," allows Lloyd. "Here's a band that does not have a record contract and isn't actively pursuing a gigantic, desperate career track the way everybody else in the entertainment industry constantly is. And in a way it's almost a point of pride not to be caught up in that sort of 'love me, love me' approval-seeking and fame-and-fortune hunting that everybody commonly falls into."
If the usual trappings of music-industry success have evaded Television thus far, the band's integrity and commitment to its lofty vision have allowed it to remain a vibrant music-making entity, instead of becoming another faded act on the '70s punk/new wave nostalgia circuit.
Of course, lumping Television into that scene in the first place is probably a mistake--sure, they helped usher in the mythical CBGB's heyday, but they always stood in marked contrast to the cartoonish wallop of the Ramones, the campy pop of Blondie, and the quirky grooves of Talking Heads. Television explored cerebral themes and intricate arrangements without jettisoning the visceral thrust of garage rock. Marquee Moon, the group's definitive 1977 album, is a timeless gem that merges the famously intertwined, epic guitar coils of Verlaine and Lloyd--jagged riffs, slashing solos, and celestial crescendos--with the driving rhythms of precision bassist Fred Smith and jazz-informed drummer Billy Ficca.
But such quixotic ideals won them a spot in the cult bin rather than a place in the hearts of the masses, and the ensuing, well-documented hostilities between Verlaine and Lloyd resulted in a premature split. A much-heralded reunion stalled 13 years later amid resurfacing acrimony, but Lloyd insists the dynamic among the band's personalities has improved drastically in recent years.
"I think it's mellowed now to the point where there's a kind of ease that might not have been around at the very beginning," he says. "There's basically a comfort level there now, and that's what keeps us playing together. You look around and you see these three other people and you feel that thrill going through you when things are working right. And of course when things are going wrong it's a big train wreck, but overall it's pretty much the same vibration that it always was."
Rather than fixating on the "what ifs" of Television's career trajectory, the guitarist says he's happy with where the group is these days.
"I think in the past year or so, with things having 25-year anniversaries and friends of ours getting voted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, that's generated a new interest in us," says Lloyd, "and there's nothing wrong with that." Maybe he can see those new faces after all.