It’s safe to say that New York’s fabled downtown rock scene wouldn’t have been what it was without Richard Lloyd and Television, the band that put CBGB on the map in the Seventies. But after living in the city for some six decades — give or take a few years in Boston and Los Angeles during his pre-Television days — Lloyd is packing up and leaving town.
“We’re moving to Tennessee,” says Lloyd, calling from his apartment in Inwood, “to a 54-acre farm that is no longer used as a farm — there’s no farm animals, that is. There’s a barn in which I can build a studio and a place for me to paint, and I’m very much looking forward to it, although I will miss New York.”
Though the cost of living as a musician in Manhattan comes into play in this scenario, Lloyd doesn’t count himself a victim of exorbitant rent or the ravages of city life. He did have to dismantle his studio in midtown: “It was a commercial building, so they can do what they want with the rent — and it went up so much. I had to move my studio stuff into my apartment. I am surrounded by musical gear. Then there are my paintings; I have hundreds of canvases. And I have a penchant for books. I have a huge library.” He adds that all that equipment includes a drum kit — his instrument of choice before making the switch over to guitar. “I can’t play drums in an apartment. Even though my downstairs neighbor is a musician and might be understanding, I can’t do it because of the lack of space,” he says.
Lloyd isn’t quite sure of his moving date yet but thinks he’ll be relocating in early 2016. His lease already ran out; he’s currently staying in the city on a month-by-month basis. “I was never smart enough to buy a place,” he says with endearing self-deprecation and a chuckle that comes with a New Yorker’s accent: dry, short, hard-won.
Born in Pittsburgh, Lloyd moved with his family to Greenwich Village when he was six. “I remember the English Invasion,” he says. “It affected everybody. The English Invasion had the energy of a war without being a war. I was already into all kinds of music. I was listening to AM radio, and there were only two stations in New York: WABC and WMCA. But so much of what they played was schmaltzy — Pat Boone and stuff like that. I kept listening and listening and thought, ‘When is something going to appeal to me?’ I was waiting for something intelligent.”
It’s hard to imagine now: that, as a young musician, Lloyd would feel compelled to leave Manhattan in search of a scene. It’s quite the opposite of what happened in the decades following, when he became one of those responsible for drawing hopefuls here. But, as Lloyd tells it today, “There was nothing happening in New York; there were no places to play. I went to Boston for two years, and then L.A. for a couple of years. Then I heard about the Mercer Arts Center in New York and thought, ‘There’s a scene I can fit into there.’ I hitched a ride with a guy with a fancy sports car — and while we were in New Orleans, the Mercer Arts Center fell down. I thought, ‘There was a scene; now it’s gone before I even got there.’ ”
He continued on to New York and eventually found out about the New York Dolls and a place on the Lower East Side called the Diplomat Hotel, where the Dolls booked some shows in the ballroom. “That had a great deal to do with it,” Lloyd says of the changing climate for rock bands in the city in the early Seventies. “There had been the Velvet Underground, but that was kind of seedy and underground” and exclusive to a certain clique. “For the New York Dolls, the audience was dressed to the nines. It seemed that it was an excuse for the audience to get dressed up and have a party.”
But it was when he and his Television cohort Tom Verlaine were walking through Chinatown to their rehearsal space one day that he saw an awning going up over what promised to be a new club. They went in and chatted with the owner, Hilly Kristal, and the rest is the stuff of downtown rock (and punk and new wave) legend. Lloyd had found a home. Soon Television would be signed to Elektra Records and go on to create what is inarguably one of rock’s greatest albums: 1977’s Marquee Moon.
Many stories tumble forth during a conversation with Lloyd, and you know there are loads more; his is a wonderful rock ‘n’ roll narrative cultivated over what he considers a successful musical career, though it is also one that’s far from over. Once he gets to Tennessee and sets up his studio, Lloyd hopes to start recording the songs he’s been working on. He’ll invite his New York friends down to play.
“It’s very emotional, of course, but I’m happy about it. I love New York and I’m already homesick for it; it’s always been so satisfying to live here. So many of my friends who were so much a part of New York moved away, though. Now I’ll be one of them.”