Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Television - Little Johnny Jewel

                                      'Television's seismic year zeroin classic.' Luke Haines. 

'Live in person, where your eyes and your groin and your undercover Sigmund Freud connections to the realistics of rock'n'roll can all be engaged at once. Television put out the kind of energy and mania hat must have permeated Marquee Club on Who nights circa '66. Trying to describe TV in print has sent rock-print luminaries like James Wolcott & Lisa Robinson scurrying to their thesauruses for words like 'dissolute' and 'chiaroscuro'. Trying to play with each other has caused Tom Verlaine and his various partners (one of whom for a week was me) all kinds of hyper-tense fall down the stairs scenes but brother,  IT WILL STAND!

This is the best band in America right now. It's like a subway ride thru a pinball game, like coming and puking at the same time, and they don't sound like The Velvets and they don't sound like Stooges. THEY DON'T EVEN SOUND LIKE NEW YORK BANDS ARE MEANT TO SOUND... And problematically enough they don't sound AT ALL like this single. But you should buy it, the least of reasons being that someday you will have it to show to yourself and your friends and say, 'See...'. Peter Laughner, Creem Magazine (February 1976)

This extraordinary single was the starting off point for American Punk and New Wave along with Patti Smith's 'Piss Factory' and Pere Ubu's 'Final Solution'. It was released in early 1976 on manager Terry Ork's Ork label, brought into being for the sole purpose of doing just that.  Guitarist Richard Lloyd apparently left the band as a result wishing for a more commercial release and was replaced momentarily by former Pere Ubu and rock journalist Peter Laughner who was to die of an overdose shortly thereafter. Possibly partially due to his disappointment in failing to secure a permanent role in the band he revered more than any other.

Television were a deeply mysterious proposition to those who had never seen them play and relied on reports of their growing legend coming out in fits and starts from the New York and British music press. This was their first release and the first fruits of their labour after Richard Hell's forced exit and his replacement with Fred Smith. Less of a star but a proper musician who allowed Tom Verlaine, Richard Hell and Billy Ficca to play as they'd wished to.

The record was surely not intended as a shot at charts of any sort but to fan the flames of the legend. The band had been playing regularly at CBGB's, Max's Kansas City and other New York underground haunts. They eventually secured a major deal with Elektra. But debut album Marquee Moon which came a year later was quite a different proposition. Far more practiced and polished if no less out there.

Part 1

Little Johnny Jewel is a truly odd document. A message from the underground, speaking a completely different language to its times, when such a thing as an underground genuinely still existed. A seven minute song split over the two sides of a seven inch single. It must have sounded outlandishly weird to the curious on its arrival in the UK in mid-76. On the surface a tribute to James Jewel Osterberg (aka Iggy Pop). Its narrative is odd and other-worldly, a proclamation of difference. Of individuality.

"Johnny Jewel is how people were maybe two hundred years ago," says Verlaine. "Back then, when people got up in the morning, they knew what they had to do to get through the day—there were 100% less decisions. Nowadays, we have to decide what we want to buy in grocery stores, what job to take, what work to do. But not Johnnie. For him, it's all right there—it's a freer state, and that's what my music is looking for.
"To understand Johnny, you should think of William Blake. He was the same kinda guy."

Part 2
'I put on Television's 'Little Johnny Jewel' and couldn't believe that they had the nerve to record it.. It made the New York Dolls sound like Yes - the bass had no bass, the guitars had no power at all and the singing was awful. In fact the whole record was awful. And epic. And completely brilliant and we never stopped playing it.' Julian Cope, Head On
'Now Little Johnny Jewel,
Oh, he's so cool,
He has no decision,
He's just trying to tell a vision.
Some thought that this was sad,
And others thought it mad,
They just scratching the surface,
JJ can do the floor kiss.
Was he on display?
No, no, not today.
All that guy ever said,
He said, "I want my little wing-head".
He half-asleep at night
Over his head, sensation of flight.
And he wake up dreaming,
And he run down to the airport,
The rush, the roar,
And he crouched down behind a fence,
With a chest full of lights,
He loses his senses...
Oh Little Johnny Jewel,
He's so cool,
But if you see him looking lost
You ain't gotta come on so boss!
And you know that he's paid,
You know that he's paid the price,
All you gotta do for that guy
Is wink your eye.'
Verlaine 1976

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