Television manager Terry Ork landed the band its first gig at the newly-renamed CBGB after suggesting that they play on the bar’s worst night—Sunday—which helped spark the emerging punk scene, and he later set up his own independent label, Ork Records.
Punk compatriots Richard Hell and Tom Verlaine followed a similar path from poetry to music. Born Richard Meyers and Tom Miller, they met in the mid-1960s at a boarding school in Delaware and were both drawn to New York. They settled into a life of letters and worked at several bookstores, including Cinemabilia, where future Television manager Terry Ork and An American Family’s Kristian Hoffman worked. Verlaine also hung around the Poetry Project at St. Mark’s Church, a block from his apartment, and Hell had already been publishing his own poetry magazine, Genesis : Grasp. Hell started the Dot Books imprint in 1971 with the intention of publishing a list of five books, including Patti Smith’s poetry, but he wound up printing only a collaboration between himself and Verlaine, as well as a book by Andrew Wylie—who became the infamous literary agent known as “the Jackal.” During this time, Hell and Verlaine began writing collaborative poems, sharing a typewriter much as Smith and Shepard did with Cowboy Mouth. As their writing experiments progressed, Hell thought it would be fun to conceive of it as a work of a separate third person. Verlaine liked the idea and suggested making the author a woman, Theresa Stern. “Feminism and androgyny and transvestitism were in the air,” Hell wrote. “We’d cash in! I started imagining her biography.” Theresa Stern became a Puerto Rican prostitute-poet who worked the streets of Hoboken, New Jersey. Her debut book, Wanna Go Out? was published in 1973 just as Hell and Verlaine were forming their first band, which evolved into Television. “I had a book of Patti’s that we had compiled with me as editor, and there was a book of mine, and a book of Tom’s,” Hell said. “But it was just Andrew’s book and Theresa’s book that were actually published. The other books were ready to go, but then I got into rock ’n’ roll and I just transferred all my energies to music. And so did Patti.”
From Chapter 25 of The Downtown Pop Underground — order online, or from a local independent bookstore
“Television had been percolating around for awhile, and then they started playing at CBGB on Sunday nights,” recalled Roberta Bayley. “I was living with Richard Hell at that time and their manager Terry Ork said, ‘Do you want to sit at the door and take the money?’ So that gave me something to do. Then later I started to do it full-time at CBGB.” Hell invited Patti Smith to one of their shows during the band’s CBGB residency in spring 1974, and Lloyd invited Lenny Kaye. Before heading downtown that night, Smith and Kaye attended a glittery, star-studded premiere of the Rolling Stones’ live concert film Ladies and Gentlemen: The Rolling Stones. (Hibiscus, his sisters, and other Angels of Light had been hired by the theater to add even more sparkle to the occasion, performing a short vignette before the film.) “The first time I went to CBGB was on Easter Sunday 1974,” Kaye said, “when we left—symbolically, amazingly—a Rolling Stones movie uptown at the Ziegfeld Theatre and took a cab down and went there for the first time.” Television’s raw, jagged music reminded Smith of the first time she heard Little Richard as a girl, or seeing the Rolling Stones when she was a teen. It was electric, and transformative. In the pages of Rock Scene magazine, she waxed poetic about Tom Verlaine’s guitar sound (like “a thousand bluebirds screaming”) and described the tall skinny musician as “a languid boy with the confused grace of a child in paradise. A guy worth losing your virginity to.”
From Chapter 30 of The Downtown Pop Underground — order online, or from a local independent bookstore