“Venus de Milo” by Television
Television had their moment in the sun, even if only briefly, circa the late 1970s. Whereas their sophomore album, “Adventure”, did not do as well as their debut LP, “Marquee Moon” (both being products of Elektra Records), their short-lived popularity wasn’t a result to the band falling off per se. Instead, as fate would have it, they only ended up putting out those two full-lengths before disbanding.
Later down the line, upon reforming, Television would drop a self-titled studio album in 1992. But by then, it can be said that what had been lost could not be reclaimed.
That said, the reason we are compelled to write about the band now is because recently its frontman and co-founder, Tom Verlaine (1949-2023), passed away. We’ve already taken a look at “Marquee Moon” (the song) which, all things considered, can be counted as their signature hit.
The song “Venus de Milo”, which also came out as part of their debut album on 8 February 1977, is the second most-popular song in Television’s catalog. However, this does not have a chart history to speak of, except as the B-side to another of the band’s songs, “Prove It”, which made it onto the top 30 of the UK Singles Chart.
WHO OR WHAT IS “VENUS DE MILO”?
Venus de Milo, who is referenced in the chorus (and title) of this song, is a famous Greek sculpture dating back to the late BC era. It is an image of a semi-nude woman whom some have come to believe would be a depiction of the Greek goddess Aphrodite, who is also known as Venus. And the “de Milo” preposition is apparently an acknowledgement of the fact that the statue was discovered on a Greek island called Milos.
The interesting thing about how Tom initially references this work of art in the chorus, as he “(falling) right into the arm of Venus de Milo”, is that the statue, seemingly as discovered (though not as originally sculpted), is actually devoid of arms. But that metaphor is one we will attempt to tackle a bit later.
From what we do know about Television, their artistry relies heavily on abstract symbolism. And so it is with this song, which isn’t really the easiest to understand. But most concisely put, what it appears Verlaine is speaking to is the excitement of the vocalist being in New York City, as exacerbated by the intake of LSD, which was basically the drug of choice amongst musicians back in those days.
Neither the vocalist, Tom Verlaine nor the other original member of Television, Richard Hell – who is seemingly referenced in the third verse – were natives of NYC. They instead came from an obscure part of Delaware. However, it was in NYC where Television was embraced, and the band went on to prove instrumental during the early days of the city’s punk movement.
SONG INSPIRED BY EXPERIENCES
Their experiences in New York are also recognized as one of the major themes behind “Marquee Moon”. And it is also pretty obvious that certain parts of this song speak to such and more specifically, as has been ascertained, their view of the East Village (i.e. their mention of Broadway in the second verse).
Also in the second verse, Verlaine seems to liken being in said locality with being high on “some new kind of drug” that has his senses sharpened. And even for those of us who may have been raised on the outskirts of a major metropolitan area, we would likely agree that being in the big city for the first or even second or third time, if you will, can be quite a captivating experience.
That noted, it would seem that said captivation, within the context of this song, isn’t only the result of the bright lights of the big city. Instead, whereas Verlaine wasn’t a junkie or anything like that, it is known that he experimented with psychedelics around the time Marquee Moon was being put together. Those related experiences also made their way onto certain songs contained therein, such as “Venus”. And it is the first verse especially, which by far can be considered the most-obscure, of which it has been gleaned that he is referring to a LSD high.
INSPIRATION BEHIND VERSE 3
Concerning the third verse, Richard Hell has more or less verified that it was inspired by an episode in which he was trying to convince Tom that they should ‘dress up like New York City cops’. Remember that this song was dropped back in the days of The Village People and what have you. But reportedly Verlaine was not cool with that idea – a position that also made its way into the lyrics.
It’s safe to presume, all things considered, that both were probably on something when Richard made that suggestion.
“VENUS DE MILO”, A SEMI-AUTOBIOGRAPHICAL PIECE
So in conclusion, perhaps the best way of describing “Venus” is as it being semi-autobiographical in nature as far as Television is concerned. In other words, it speaks to the band’s early experiences in New York. This is the city that made them and which, through tracks such as this, they came to be most associated with.
Furthermore, if the lyrics are in fact speaking to the vocalist’s city-based experiences with LSD, then it can be taken that the first two choruses, in which he “fell into the arms of Venus de Milo”, does point to Tom at the time being concerningly high. However, the third and final one, which concludes the song, infers that he was able to walk away from the drug.
WHO WROTE “VENUS DE MILO”?
This was written and co-produced by Tom Verlaine. The other producer was non-band member Andy Johns.