Bryan Waterman

Bryan Waterman teaches English at New York University. His books include (with Cyrus Patell) The Cambridge Companion to the Literature of New York (2010) and Television’s Marquee Moon (Continuum, 33 1/3, 2011). He is at work on another book about CBGB’s early years.



"'It's Too 'Too Too' to Put a Finger On': Tom Verlaine's Lost Lisp and the Secret History of the New York Underground"

Prior to releasing any of his songs on record, Television frontman Tom Verlaine had elicited frequent comparisons to Lou Reed, with one critic even speculating that Verlaine had been “severely traumatized” by Reed at a young age. Reed in his turn had, with the Velvet Underground and his first few solo records, honed a vocal style that combined the flat affect of Dylan’s semi-spoken word with the campy sneer of Andy Warhol’s drag queen entourage. That drag queen sneer, which also manifested itself in the vocals of David Bowie and Iggy Pop, had been an integral part of the experimental theater and film scene’s aural landscape. For a time it served as the default style of the New York music underground, too, cropping up in live recordings by the New York Dolls, Patti Smith, Mumps, and Wayne County, among others.

Verlaine’s genealogical descent from Reed, though less apparent on Television’s albums, made a certain amount of sense as a new scene at CBGB and other downtown venues, some of them doubling as drag revues, struggled to define itself amid glitter’s slow demise. By the time Television came to record its debut album, Verlaine had softened the sneer, in what I argue was both a deliberate decision to distance his band from a crowd he considered too camp and also as part of a broader, though not always conscious, cultural project to disentangle punk from its own queer – and Warholian – contexts.

My Speakers Sessions

Saturday, March 24

2:15pm EDT