. . .
One of the things I realized while writing these posts was that Television’s album covers primarily consisted of three colors: black, red and white, a proto-White Stripes coloring scheme that was only broken by the yellow lettering on Adventure. It doesn’t really mean anything, I don’t think — and ironically, the cover for this single is blue — and I doubt that Jack White was influenced by Tom Verlaine in any way, but at the very least, it’s an interesting coincidence.
Anyways, the other song on Television’s 1992 reunion album that sated the old TV jones for me was the single, “Call Mr. Lee,” which basically gave us everything we wanted in a brand-new Television song.
Catchy corkscrew riff from Tom Verlaine? Check!
Weirdly opaque lyrics that almost made sense? Check!
We did good on an inside job
But now I’m down to wait
No I can’t get out
But you could get across with ease
Dial 45… 41… oh oh oh
Call Mr Lee
He’ll know the code is broken
Tell him the dog is turning red
Call Mr Lee
Fantastic rhythm section interplay from Fred Smith and Billy Ficca? Check!
Unexpected counterpoint guitar from Richard Lloyd? Check!
A guitar solo from Richard Lloyd that sounds a like a hornets nest is hovering around your room? Check!
It all added up to a song that was easily the most Televisiony song on their self-titled album, one of the few songs that didn’t sound like it coulda been on Verlaine’s next solo album — which wasn’t actually until 2006 — despite who played on it, and Verlaine’s guitar on the back half showed that he still had it. Which was kinda discouraging, because it also meant that he really didn’t wanna deploy it — to the point where Richard Lloyd claims in his autobiography that Verlaine yelled that he didn’t wanna make a pop or rock album — and so the back half of the self-titled album just kinda drifts away.
Television continued to occasionally tour with their original lineup until Richard Lloyd left for good in 2007, whereupon he was replaced by Jimmy Ripp (or Rip, I’ve seen it both ways), who played on all of Verlaine’s post-Dreamtime 1980s albums, and continued to perform occasionally until just before Tom Verlaine passed away earlier this year, his influence on the guitar both well-acknowledged and utterly incalculable.
One more postscript: apparently, in 2007, after Lloyd left and Ripp joined, Television went into the studio and tracked a bunch of new songs, some of which surfaced in their live shows, but were — as of 2013 — were still waiting for Verlaine to finish. I don’t know if he ever did in the decade prior to his death, but it’s possible that we’ll hear some more work from one of the greatest bands we ever saw.
“Call Mr. Lee”
“Call Mr. Lee” Music Video
“Call Mr. Lee” Live in Rio, 2005
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