Monday, February 20, 2012

Two and a Half Men Watching Television

“You and Mike were close.”
Friend Geri in 2007. She hadn’t seen either of us for nearly thirty years, but she still remembered that.

“Have you ever heard of a band called Television?”
My son, last week.

Mike I:

Mike and I grew up in the same neighborhood, and attended the same Catholic school. He was a year older than me, and friend of my big brother. They went to the same high school for a while.

When I was of drinking age, the corner bar became the local cultural center, and I'd run into Mike there. The patrons were by turns brilliant and more than a little crazy. They made Cheers seem tame. Mike and I were more reserved, and so gravitated to each other to talk about books and films.

After one of many periodic blowouts with my parents, I found myself in sudden need of an apartment, and a roommate to help swing the rent. Mike was the first one I thought of and, after some hesitation, he agreed to share a place with me.

All of this more or less coincided with the sharp left turn I was making in the type of music I listened to. So, in addition to my own annoying personal quirks, Mike would be dealing with whatever weird records I'd bring home. But by then Mike had already made several left turns of his own, and ended up turning me on to things like Rhapsody in Blue and Threepenny Opera, which now rank amongst my favorite music.

But while still on the musical fence, I'd bring home Hot Tuna and Ramones albums. Mike was always game, though, and we liked this first Ramones record more than that fifth Hot Tuna record.

Then in late 1979, I brought home Little Feat's Down on the Farm, probably more out of loyalty to Lowell George (who'd died earlier that year) than for any lingering interest in Little Feat . I played it a few times and lost interest.

The other record I got that day was Television's Marquee Moon. The first time we played it was, well, shattering.  Talk about out with the old and in with the new.

Marquee Moon was one of those records that hit us in several places at once. There were the guitars, of course. We both loved the Allman Brothers and Grateful Dead, so we could immediately appreciate the searing lead guitar playing of Tom Verlaine and Richard Lloyd. The music was passionate but not bombastic. The vocals strange, but urgent, and the words dark and cinematic. And it was all held in balance without compromising any of the intensity.

And it was all so freaking CLEAR, too.  None of the overproduction of commercial music, and none of the under production of punk. It was both alien (Verlaine kind of looked like one on the cover) and accessible at the same time.

The highlights for us were "See No Evil", where Richard Lloyd plays one of the greatest guitar solos ever, and, of course, the title song.  Everything else had something to offer and then some.

Mike tried playing it for some party guests but they were Lynyrd Skynyrd fans who preferred that more polished production. For some reason, we didn't care about that, and, unlike most people in the neighborhood, Mike and I took another left.

About a year later, I picked up their second album Adventure, which was relatively mild, but in a good way.  It was clearly not the classic Marquee Moon was, but so what?  It was peaceful, and in some spots, beautiful. 

And it has what may be my favorite song by them - "Days".  Mostly because of the memories it evokes.

We'd play music like Marquee Moon to launch us out for a night of drinking. When we came home we'd stay up talking or playing chess. And of course, we'd put on music. We tried to be considerate of our neighbors and put on "late night" music like Tonight's the Night or Another Green World by Eno.

And Adventure. I remember that one the best.

But Mike was more restless than me, and after a couple of years, he decided to move to Europe. I remember the Sunday when he left. It was an evening flight, so he had most of the day to get ready. I didn't have much to do other than wait around and play records to soothe the combination of excitement and dread I was feeling.

The last record I put on before we left for the airport was side one of Marquee Moon.  It was a pretty safe choice, but I'd underestimated how much it would intensify what I was already feeling.

There's an extended guitar solo in the middle of the title song, that just builds and builds and builds until you think you're going to burst. When it's over, you're left stunned.  And that day I was sure that I'd never heard anything quite so intense in my life.  But it made perfect sense.  The climax of the solo echoed what was the climax to a special period of my life.

Mike flew out to Brussels that night. He traveled Europe for a few weeks before settling down in Germany and getting a job. He stayed for over ten years, visiting Africa and Asia, and living a life I truly envied. What can I say except that Mike had guts.

I could never have lived on my own back then.  Mike was the one who got me through it until I could.  And I wonder how much musical exploration I would have done had Mike been a less enthusiastic roommate.

He'd visit occasionally, but never move back. He eventually met someone, got married and moved to Boston.

I got married, too - to the woman I was seeing right before Mike left for Europe.  I was glad that they made a connection before he left. 

We would visit each other, and he got to meet our kids - Daughter Theresa and son (surprise!) Michael.  Mike II to you.

We both went through our own versions of Life Sucking, and more or less came out the other side a little older and possibly wiser.

We call each other every few months, and spoke just a few weeks ago. I suggested that he come visit, but he said that travel was getting old.  Either travel or us, I thought.

Mrs. Jaybee reminded me that we're the ones with the van, so it wouldn't kill us to drive up to Boston. Seems like a good idea.

Mike II:

My son Mike plays a mean guitar, and I try to expose him to my guitar heroes whenever he shows an interest. When he mentioned Television I was all over it.

We found that iTunes not only had Marquee Moon and Adventure, but also Live at the Old Waldorf. And for a somewhat hefty (to me) $24.99, all three together - along with unreleased tracks and alternate versions - in one package called The Complete Elektra Recordings.

I had to mull it over. It was a lot of money for  music I mostly had already, which went against one of my core music-buying principles. But this was a special situation. I guess I could have just told Son Mike to put on the vinyl in the basement to hear Television, but he's still not finding vinyl very sexy yet. So I got it.

It's unlikely that he'll hear it in quite the same way me and "uncle" Mike did. After all, he's got his own music, friends and, eventually, children to experience.

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