TELEVISION at the Phoenix (410 Sherbourne), Friday (June 9), 7 pm. $39.50. 416-323-1251. Rating: NNNNN
The appearance of fifty-some thing avant-rock godfathers Television at NXNE might seem oddly incongruous for a music festival geared to indie artists, many looking for their first break, but they're actually a very appropriate choice to perform at the 12th annual music summit.
Not only did Television help open the doors of CBGB's to emerging guitar rock bands; they created the DIY blueprint for the whole indie rock thing way back in 1975 with their groundbreaking self-released Little Johnny Jewel single, which in turn set off the New York punk explosion.
Yet for the members of Television, recording and releasing their own 7-inch single wasn't a bold act of defiance by a group bent on revolutionizing the music industry. It was more a simple matter of necessity. They'd been angling for a major-label deal, but no one was biting.
"All kinds of label people were coming to see us, Clive Davis from Arista, Seymour Stein from Sire and many more, but they all thought we sounded too weird and we did," chuckles guitarist Richard Lloyd from his Manhattan pad.
"Jerry Wexler actually wanted to sign us to Atlantic, so he brought us over to their offices for a meeting with Ahmet Ertegun, who'd just come from a Sarah Vaughan session. He said, "Jerry, we can't release this stuff it's not Earth music!' Nobody would touch us, so we wound up recording and releasing Little Johnny Jewel ourselves, split into two parts over both sides of a 7-inch, just like James Brown you know, Little Johnny Hot Pants, part 1 and 2."
The amazing thing about Little Johnny Jewel, much like Television's monumental debut album, Marquee Moon, is that when you listen to that 30-year-old music today, it still sounds fresh, vital and relevant in ways that very few other recordings of the era do. So while Lloyd is no nostalgia buff, he has no qualms about reconnecting with his Television bandmates Billy Ficca, Fred Smith and Tom Verlaine to slash through some of the classic material for crowds of people who weren't born when Marquee Moon first appeared on the horizon.
"I definitely wouldn't be doing this if it were some kind of oldies show for nostalgia's sake. And if all we had to show for ourselves was Marquee Moon, I'd probably hang myself, but we've done so much more that we can draw upon.
"We probably play about 10 shows a year around the world right after Toronto we're doing a show in Iceland and every time I get together with these guys, the telepathic flow is still there. In fact, it's gotten stronger over the years."