Everything is Combustible

Everything is Combustible: Television, CBGB’s and Five Decades of Rock and Roll
By Richard Lloyd
[Beech Hill Publishing]

The rock band is a multi-celled organism that usually has more than one nucleus. Yeah, every band has a certain someone who stands in the middle and reaps the bulk of the adoration and filthy lucre. But it’s rarely that simple. For every Mick, there is a Keith; for every Joe, there is a Mick; for every Patti, there is a Lenny; for every Johnny, there is a Sid; and for every Fred Durst, there is a James “Munky” Shaffer. (Well, at this point my little dialogic pairings spiel that started so brilliantly is breaking down because Durst was in Limp Bizkit and Munky was in Korn. But those godawful bands are kinda/sorta the same terrible, terrible thing, right? I digress.)

Anyway, what I was trying to get at is that most bands have a brain trust (as it were) of at least two people. Collaboration is almost always better than a singular vision. I mean, even Saint Bowie himself had Ronno along for the ride at the peak of his career.

So I’ll dispense with the preface and get on with it.

Television was never really that commercially successful – but, by golly, they really were influential. And in Television’s hierarchy, Tom Verlaine was the stand-in-the-middle guy. Verlaine had his own Keith, though, in the form of Richard Lloyd. Sure, Verlaine claims credit for writing all of Television’s oeuvre. And with his delicate features, high cheekbones and perfect hair, Verlaine was the prettiest too. But Lloyd played the bulk of the solos. And Television, by god, is a guitar band. Hence, Lloyd was a crucial resource for the band and should be known as such. (Also Lloyd was pretty damned cute himself, really. In terms of classical proportion, Lloyd actually had a prettier face than Verlaine. And, arguably, he had better hair. But Verlaine had an emaciated, proto-emo, Egon Schiele look that was so darkly alluring. I’m just sayin’.)

So finally, almost 45 years since Television’s inception, Richard Lloyd has seen fit to edify the masses with an autobiography that sets the record straight once and for all. Although Everything is Combustible: Television, CBGB’s and Five Decades of Rock and Roll (Beech Hill Publishing) might’ve been more aptly titled Tom Verlaine is a Rotten Bastard (Bitch Hill Publishing), the book is nonetheless a worthwhile read, a pithy reconstruction of what might indeed have happened back in the day, wrought by a grizzled veteran who is cognizant enough to pithily reconstruct the “true story” of Television. Fair enough.

As an auteur, Lloyd kind of functions as the Nutty Uncle here – a wizened but not necessarily wise spinner of tale who’ll rant on and on about any old thing, given the chance. By saying this, I am by no means trying to diminish Lloyd’s importance in Television or as a solo artiste. And in his writing, Lloyd is by no means trying to diminish his importance in Television or as a solo artiste, either. Lloyd writes:

I don’t go in for hero worship and I am guru proof, but this meant that some of my recorded solos such as on Marquee Moon like “Elevation” and “See No Evil” are melodically perfect, and cannot be faulted by Jimmy Page, Jimi Hendrix, Jeff Beck or anyone else for that matter. Those solos were constructed under the direct imaginary criticism of those personages [Page, Hendrix, Beck or anyone else for that matter?] and for all my self-deprecation, low self-esteem and perfectionism, those solos meet the criteria. That’s why I often played them live exactly as they were recorded because they had been honed to the point that they could not be improved upon.

Has this guy got some balls on him or what? Cleary, Lloyd is not the least bit humble. And considering the magnitude and impact of his work, well, he’s actually right. Lloyd’s solos on Marquee Moon really are melodically perfect. Lloyd is among the best guitarists, like, ever. Somebody’s gotta say it, so why not the man himself? And furthermore, there’s something endearing about this kind of audacity.

Granted, there are two sides to the audacity coin. Those who boast the loudest are quite often plagued with nagging doubts, as Lloyd himself concedes.

This guy, Lloyd, he was his own worst enemy. His entire life was more or less an act of self-sabotage. With the exception of his studious guitar practice, he was lazy. He was a louche slut. He was an alcoholic and a drug pig. “I was not going to let work interfere with my partying,” writes Lloyd. “I just have a different way of thinking than most people. I’m not ashamed of it.”

So, Everything is Combustible delivers just about everything you’d expect from a CBGB-era punk memoir. There’s nonstop drinking (“I used to tell friends that if I stopped drinking the liquor industry would collapse and stocks would fall.”), whoring (“The girls at CBGB’s wrote on the wall of the bathroom that I was like Mr. Machine, that I screwed like a machine, and by God, that’s what I did.”), and that NYC favorite, heroin (“Instead of nodding out, it [heroin] increased my energy and I could drink all night and fuck all night and play guitar all night, all at the same time.”), resulting in the kind of magical synchronicity that cometh before a fall.

Everything is Combustible is bedeviled by a certain mania and a sense that the author is trying a little bit too hard to present himself as an intellectual and a mystic or psychic seer. Lloyd would have probably been better off keeping his ideas about tantra, black magic and the teachings of quack/philosopher George Gurdjeff to himself.

Despite all this, Lloyd’s personality and force of will shines through, and he comes off as a lovable rogue in the book. For some reason, the author’s manic intensity actually works in his favor. What might seem hokey to downright nuts instead reads as an assured beatnik charm. “I always say that I play the electricity while the guitar plays me and the three of us dance while the music comes out.”