"Richard Lloyd has amazing stories," Lloyd's press person promised me (not that he had to twist my arm for the chance to interview the legendary former Television guitarist, but anyway).
And reading Lloyd’s new tell-all bio, Everything Is Combustible: Television, CBGB's and Five Decades of Rock and Roll, it’s clear that this is true. The memoir is filled with tales almost too amazing to believe—like sneaking backstage to meet John Lee Hooker or ending up in the hospital after a sex-fueled trampoline romp gone wrong… the list goes on.
The book brings you back to the days when clubs were dirty, drugs were cheap, and punk rock was raw. The remarkable journey of Television’s rise from CBGB’s house band to blossoming into the full, arpeggiated glory that is Marquee Moon is documented with both personality and insight.
I got to hear some of these stories first hand, and also find out some surprising details—like how he loves jury duty—and some unsurprising details—like how much CBGB smelled like pee. Read on.
Can you hear me?
Richard Lloyd: Yes. Can you hear me?
I think so.
You think so. Or you know so?
I think so. Let me move around a little bit here.
I have you on the speakerphone, because when I use the phone like a regular phone, my cheekbones tend to hang up on people and stuff.
OK. I think that's probably fine.
And my ear sweats.
That sounds uncomfortable.
I love your book! Did you write it just to refute Richard Hell’s? Just kidding!
Yeah, no kidding. No. You know, I've been telling stories for a long time, and people have been wanting me to write a book for a long time.
And what was it like to go back into all these memories? What was your process for digging them out and getting him into the book?
Well, first were ones that came quickly to my memory. Usually the younger you are, the more potent the memories are. You know, like impressions. So, it was easy for me to go back to my childhood stories.
And there's something else about memory. If you tend to tell the truth, there's only one memory, so you don't have to remember a bunch of things, because it's all one storyline. But once you start lying, then you have all these story lines you've got to tie up, usually with more lies.
But those stories are all embedded in my brain and they won't go away no matter what I've tried to do. I'd tried to efface some of the memories, and none of them seem to budge.
Right. I mean some of those stories seem too incredible to believe.
Well, they're my memories, so it's all true to me!
I mean that whole scene where you’re trading barbs with Keith Moon about your outfits....
Yeah. It was very crowded and I bumped into somebody. I turn around, and they turn around, and lo and behold—it was Keith Moon.
And then we backed up another foot from each other, and it was like ‘Excuse me.’ ‘Oh no, excuse me.” And you know, “Don't touch my clothing, you're shabby.”
And what do you mean my clothing, I told him. I'm dressed to the nines, and you look like a penguin! And then at that point, it was like a food fight, you know. And at one point, his facade dropped away, and literally I saw him turn from happy-go-lucky, trading barbs, to, like, ‘Homicidal Keith’!
And at that point I decided that it would be in my best interests to apologize. So, I did. And Happy Keith came back! It was really startling to see those changes in him. Like, instantaneous changes.
I get the impression that life for you is about collecting as many of these adventures as you can.
Oh, absolutely. To me it's like going to the moon or climbing Mt. Everest. Going on a great adventure that not everybody can do. It's an exclusive club—especially if you can recover. You know, that's the key issue. You can go crazy but you have recover from it, and still be a productive member of society. I try to do that.
Although, once I was trying to get on a jury. I like doing jury duty in New York. And the D.A. said to me: 'Mr. Lloyd, I hear you're quite a counterculture figure." And I said to him, what culture am I counter to? What do you mean? And he said: ‘Dismissed, we don't need this guy on the jury.’
That's funny! Why do you like doing jury duty?
Well, it's my civic duty, you know! And I've only been on one case. It was a sad case. A guy got caught selling $10 worth of cocaine. And I admitted that I have used a lot of cocaine, and I still got on the jury. And he was still found guilty, because the evidence was clearly there and he was guilty. And there was no real way to get around it, just flat out—he got caught.
You know, when I was doing those kinds of things, I always knew it was a game. If I got caught I'd have to pay the price, pay the piper. Luckily, I never get caught at that.
Yeah, but I don't believe in luck.
I love in the book when you talk about how the band didn't get as much shit while you guys were touring England, because you were seen more like a new wave band and not like a punk band. But I feel like so much of the band's beginnings, from Richard Hell to CBGB, involves punk!
Well, they didn't call it punk in the beginning. They didn't know what to call it. I mean Richard Hell, certainly. And you can see videos of us in rehearsal that were pretty berserk! And our first gigs, you know, we were all over the place! But it was a lot of fun. It was like being in a circus! CBGB was like throwing a three-year-long New Year's Eve party, because every night was more exciting than the last. And it just kept building and building.
I finally went to CBGB when I was 18, and I was so excited about it, because my heroes had played there, but when I walked in, I just remember thinking: This place smells like pee-pee.
Right! You go in and there is dog crap on the floor, and you know, like you say, pee-pee. Pee-pee dripping down from the ceiling.
I remember once, because upstairs was a flophouse, and somebody had obviously, you know, wet themselves, and knocked over a bottle of cheap wine, and it was dripping through the ceiling onto my microphone.
And then a fly decided to land on my nose. And every time I wasn't singing I was wiping my nose. And this fly was so obstinate. It was just like, 'That's where I'm going to land, and screw you! This is my world.’
That's very punk rock of the fly!
That's right! I remember not wanting to share a microphone with Richard Hell because the microphones had such a stench to them.
It was very yuck. I didn't want to write about that. I mean, I loved Richard Hell for what he was. And you know, he didn't love me back. But that's OK.
Aw, that’s sad.
It is what it is.
Speaking of love, I think my favorite part of the book was that when you talk about the night that you met Tom. And that made me think about the idea of having a soulmate. I mean, it almost sounds like that!
Well, maybe we were. You know, we're very different people, although we have a lot in common, a tremendous amount in common. A similar spiritual bent.
The way you two played guitar together was unequaled. Do you think that that winning formula could ever have come about in another way, with another person?
I believe it had to be those two people in particular. I don't think we would have gotten it from anybody else. And I also think that alone, we wouldn't have had the success that we had, either of us, as solo artists.
It's like the Beatles. If there was just John Lennon band, you couldn't do what the Beatles did. If there was just a Paul McCartney band, or a George Harrison band, or a Ringo band. Separately, they just didn't add up. It was only the camaraderie and the togetherness and the way they bonded musically, that made the whole thing explode like that.
Right. And that was the same for you and Tom?
Something like that, yeah. I mean I knew that I had the ineffable it, but was missing something. But Tom was missing something as well. And I saw very clearly how the two could go together.
I didn't know when it was going to happen, and I didn't know how it was going to happen. But I was certain that it was going to happen. It's what I call future-think. It's like it was already predestined, and I was just waiting around for it to pop into place.