[I met Richard Lloyd in the seventh circle of Hell, also known as Times Square, the week it was one degree in New York City’s Winter 2015. He’s thirty minutes late and when he finally comes up, he’s tugging a rolling suitcase full of paintings behind him. We end up going to this tiny Italian restaurant a few blocks away, because it’s empty and quiet and seems like a good place to conduct an interview. The actual interview consisted of him basically telling me all these crazy stories about Television and being a musician, so it was really tough to compose into interview format. That’s why it’s taken me so long to publish it. I’m going to post the transcript of the conversation in installments, and this is the first one, which mostly focuses on Television’s beginning and end.]
When I was young, I didn’t make any wishes, because I thought wishes would come true. So I saved them all up, and about when I was in my mid teens, I made a wish. It had two aims: one, that I’d be a world famous guitarist of top rank. There’s room at the top if you’re good. It’s not like there’s a best guitarist ever. So the other was to somehow impact the history of rock n roll, irrevocably and without question. If you look at what happened, they both came true. I had a guy call me up who knew me from then. People used to ask me, “What are you going to be when you grow up?” and I’d say “I already am who I’m going to be when I grow up. They’d say, “What?” and I mean, I was making records and I would go around and play music. I’d make an irrevocable impact on the history of music. And I had no idea how it was going to happen.
And then I saw Tom [Verlaine], almost by accident play three songs on his own. [During] the second song, I turned to my friend Terry Ork, who wanted to manage a band, and I said, “If you put Tom and me together, you’ll have history.”
Tom has “it,” the famous “it.” You can’t teach “it,” you have to have some “it.” I’ve tried to teach “it” to people who don’t have “it” but it can’t be done. Anyway, I knew he had “it” but he was missing something, and I knew I had “it,” scads of it, but I was missing something. I saw that we could link, like gears in a clock. and that’s exactly what we ended up doing. So he and Richard Hell, who was his best friend, who was not playing bass at the time…they came down and we traded my guitar back and forth. Richard Myers and Tom Miller [Hell and Verlaine, respectively, at the time] whispered back and forth, and they came over and said, “Alright let’s try it.” So we talked Hell into playing bass. But he didn’t want to, he wanted to be a writer or a poet. But we talked him into playing bass again. Tom said he had a perfect drummer in Boston. The third day of rehearsal, Tom said, “Can I talk to you? I want to apologize because he used to be a great drummer, now he’s a jazz drummer. He’s playing this crap and it’s driving me crazy.” I said, “Tom, think about classic rock, all the best guitarists had nutty drummers. The Who – Keith Moon. The bass player was the stable one.” When we got Fred Smith, he was the stable one, eventually.
In the beginning, I stood in the middle. Richard and Tom sang most of the songs and I sang a couple. Then Tom wanted to be in the middle. Then Tom decides to write a song, and we help him for like a year and a half to mess around with this song, and we get nowhere. I told him over two songs, “If you don’t give me equal songwriting, you can write your own thing and I’ll play anything you want me to play, but you can’t have that riff [for the song].” So he had to cave. The same thing [happened later] with “Days,” I was playing a really playing a bastardized version of The Birds “Mr. Tambourine Main,” and he came in to the studio and he asked me to play it backwards. So I just played it and stopped in the middle of itand went backwards. But I told him he couldn’t have it, that was me, and it’s still me. So I got credit for two of the most beautiful songs on those records.
By the time we got to adventure, we had lots of songs, but he wanted to write songs in the studio. For me, that was the beginning of the end. I quit finally after 35 years because he wouldn’t tour if he had money, but if he was running low on money he’d do a tour. I don’t want someone else deciding how much money I make. I’d rather make less money than be dependent upon this guy like a bad girlfriend, who doesn’t call you, but then she does and you’re supposed to hop over. I was loyal to the band, he wasn’t. It took me awhile to find that out.
There were two of us…at first there were three, but Richard Hell treated everyone around him like an insect. Tom didn’t treat me like that because he needed me. I quit basically because Tom kept talking about making a record and I have a damn studio, and he goes “I can’t get a good drum sound in here.” and I’m like, “Have you listened to my records that I’ve made in here?” and he goes “No.” Every year that went by the same way, for 14 years til finally I said “That’s it.” I did miss that last show but I’d already decided to quit. That was going to be my swan song but thank god I didn’t have to do it. The first time we broke up, we knew but the audience didn’t. No one knew when we played our last three nights that we were gonna go to Chinatown to have a meal and say goodbye. but jazz quartets could do it all the time, why not rock n roll?