Television – “Call Mr. Lee”

Television – “Call Mr. Lee”
Television - Call Mr. Lee

When Tom Verlaine reformed Television in 1992, fourteen years after splitting up, he famously didn’t want to even call the outfit Television, preferring to consider their new work in a fresh context, rather than an extension of the two landmark records he, Richard Lloyd, Billy Fica, and Fred Smith crafted in the late ’70s. And he’s not entirely wrong.

At first listen, the self-titled record – guess he decided if they were going to be Television, they were going to be allll Television – doesn’t bear a lot of resemblance to either Marquee Moon or Adventure, at least not if you’re looking for the sort of incendiary punk energy they channeled on those records. Instead, it’s clean, mid-tempo, and sophisticated – “jazzy” is not an inappropriate adjective in parts. If you followed Verlaine’s solo career through the ’80s, it makes a lot more sense than if you jumped right in from Adventure – he’s just teamed up with a killer band and second guitarist to play off of. It’s less immediate than the rest of the band’s catalog, but is still brilliant in its own way.

It also has the distinction of producing Television’s first and only official promo video, for “Call Mr. Lee”. I don’t think it burned up the airwaves, but any clip that has the good sense to focus on Verlaine and Lloyd’s hands on their guitar necks as they play is good with me.

Given that the record came out before the internet really existed, you’d expect that any press around the record would only exist on library microfiches (if even), but thankfully fansite The Wonder has done God’s work in transcribing a lot of interviews with Verlaine and the band, including a lot of the Television press. They’re all there to read, but I’ll call out a few particularly good ones.

NME talked to the band around their 1992 appearance at Glastonbury, months before the record was released:

24 Inch Party People @ NME

Bomb Magazine has a terrific chat with the whole band on making the record from October, 1992:

Television @ Bomb Magazine

A Guitar Player feature from 1993 gets into the techniques and tones of Verlaine and Lloyd:

On The Air: The Return of Television @ Guitar Player via The Wonder

Similarly, the feature from the September 1992 issue of Musician – I miss that magazine – also got into the nuts and bolts of how the band came back together and crafted the their last record.

Television: The Great Lost Band Finds Itself @ Musician

And finally, if you’re not for reading, there’s a great half-hour interview with Verlaine by San Francisco DJ Frank Andrick in 1992.

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