“Marquee Moon” by Television
Television’s heyday was short-lived, and this act appears to be akin to a one-hit wonder band. “Marquee Moon” never reached its full chart potential, as Television’s domestic popularity was by and large limited to the New York City music scene of their day. However, said scene was highly innovative and influential.
In the years that passed, “Marquee Moon”, both the song and album, have come to be regarded as classics in terms of encapsulating the NYC sound of its celebrated era.
TELEVISION, NOT THE DEVICE BUT THE ROCK BAND
Television, within the context of this article, is a rock group that was formed in 1973 and is still technically active to this day. It all started with Richard Hell and the late Tom Verlaine (1949-2023). Despite Hell and Verlaine originally being from Delaware, the band was actually put together while they were residing in NYC.
Concerning this act’s resiliency throughout the years, it should be noted that Television took the entire 1980s off as well as a good portion of the 1990s. But during its period of activity, Verlaine was unwaveringly involved.
He eventually passed away, at the age of 73, just a couple of days before the writing of this post. So as it currently stands the group is without a frontman. However, another co-founder, drummer Billy Ficca, remains down for the cause. So is bassist Fred Smith, who has been a member since 1975.
“MARQUEE MOON”, TELEVISION’S SIGNATURE SONG?
So the 1970s can also be considered this act’s heyday. For example “Marquee Moon” (the song), which was released on 1 April 1977, marks one of the few times Television made it onto the UK Singles Chart, where the song peaked at number 30.
Also to note, this is the title track to the group’s debut album, as issued through Elektra Records. And that particular LP, even though it didn’t fare particularly well in any single country, marks their best showing internationally. It charted in the UK, Australia and Sweden.
By the time this song, which the band had been putting together for years, was officially dropped, co-founder Hell had already left the group. He was subsequently replaced on bass by Fred Smith. So besides for Smith, the other members of Television at the time were as follows:
- Tom Verlaine
- Billy Ficca
- guitarist Richard Lloyd (who stuck around into the late aughts)
WHAT IS A “MARQUEE MOON”?
It has been concluded that the “marquee moon” is an abstraction, influenced by the themes of the album at large, which revolve around primarily city life but also that of the pastoral variety.
In that former regard, this song is considered to actually capture the feel of the emerging punk rock music/scene, which itself originated in 1970s New York.
That said, concerning the reverence surrounding “Marquee Moon”, first of all it should be noted that this song is nearly 11 minutes in length. And it is actually its instrumental and more specifically the guitaring of Lloyd and Verlaine that has come to be celebrated more so than the lyrics.
In fact Verlaine, who wrote the track and also co-produced it (with the other producer being the late Andy Johns), has himself alluded to the notion that the lyrics were not written to make any particular sense.
Our Opinion of “Marquee Moon”
Going out on a limb, perhaps we can speculate that this song is for the most part about living in New York City and the allure and challenges thereof. For instance in the chorus, Verlaine mentions “a kiss of death, the embrace of life”, as he “stand(s) underneath the Marquee Moon”.
In the second verse, we also find the vocalist interacting with a man “down at the tracks” – which will take as being a reference to NYC’s subway system – who is apparently down on his luck. And this individual goes about advising Tom not to be “so happy” but concurrently not to be “so sad” also.
So there’s definitely a dichotomy thing going on here, at least during some parts of the song. Again, it may be that Television is speaking to both the good and bad – the potential and the dangers – of residing in a city as opportunity-filled yet perilous as the Big Apple.
The third verse has been colorfully interpreted, at least by one prominent analyst, as perhaps alluding to the allure of hard drugs within the rock music scene. But it is arguably the most abstract passage of this highly-poetic, or may we say allegorical song. But once again according to Tom’s own explanation, what those allegories point to isn’t anything to be minutely interpreted per se. Or as he put it, “you don’t have to say what you mean to get across”.
All in all, it can be concluded that this is largely a song of despair but also one of hope. And taking for granted that the “marquee moon” is in fact a reference to New York, then the logical implication would point to the notion of that being how Television perceived the city itself.