In the NYC music history books, Richard Lloyd is punk rock royalty. In 1973, Lloyd joined forces with Tom Verlaine to form the band Television—a guitar godhead tandem that put CBGB’s on the map with the release of 1977’s Marquee Moon, a classic art-punk shredder whose influence is stuff of legend, and a great source of classic NYC songs. Since departing from the band, Lloyd’s has proven to be master storyteller in many mediums. One of last year’s best music memoirs, Lloyd’s Everything is Combustibleis a sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll-fueled romp, chock full of wildly entertaining vignettes culled from his five decade-long career. We spoke to the indie-rock legend about looking back and leaving NYC.
When did the idea manifest to write Everything Is Combustible? Why was now a good time to document your incredible journey?
A long time ago, actually. But I had to wait until I left Television. I couldn’t be honest while I was in the band about certain aspects of it.
In your book, you rattle off one amazing story after another. How did you manage to have such attention to detail after years of substance and alcohol abuse?
I got this voice recognition software that allowed me to tell my stories and then save ’em on the computer. The book was written without any typing. It was all written as oral stories. Whatever little stories I could remember, I put together. It was going to be like a little series of vignettes. I’ve told some of these stories pretty much all my life. I can’t help but tell stories. It’s my nature. I had a lot of fun in life. And I’m still having fun.
In Everything Is Combustible, you recount a rather sordid tale about ménage à troisthat you claim [Television bandmate] Richard Hell got wrong in his memoir, I Dreamed I Was A Very Clean Tramp.
I think Richard couldn’t stand the truth, because I remember him fleeing from that event. The story afterwards was that she [our partner] had done half of Television and one couldn’t get it up and the other couldn’t get it down.
You definitely have no qualms talking about sex in your book.
There’s only so far you want to go before it turns into soft porn. But those are real experiences, so they deserve to be in there. It’s part of my life, and, if anything, I’m guilty of being honest. Sex is like a drug. It’s an athletic activity (laughing). It doesn’t necessarily have to have love attached to it; if it does, though, that’s wonderful, too.
Considering your seemingly superhuman memory, were there any challenges you faced in writing the book?
I like to say: You don’t have to have a good memory if you always tell the truth, because there’s only one storyline. If you start lying then you gotta keep the lie supported by other baloney, and your memory ends up gettin’ shot because your imagination starts to interfere with your actual memory. I never wanted that to happen, so I kept it pretty straight.
Television, Patti Smith, the Ramones, Blondie and Talking Heads essentially built the stage at CBGB’s, putting punk rock on the map. Did you ever think of yourself as “punk,” or identify with the punk scene?
We had already been playing CBGB’s for two-and-a-half years when Punk magazine showed up. That gave the journalists a handle because there were a couple of bands that bought into the punk thing—Ramones and Dead Boys, principally. So they lumped everybody into the handle of punk music. But eventually that dilutes itself and the music defines the word, rather than the word defines the music.
In 2015, you moved from New York City to Tennessee after living here for decades. Why did you move?
Our landlord bought us out of our apartment, and to get a reasonable space would have been insane. The Music Building guy bought me out of the studio I had. It was that or have my rent doubled, so I lost my studio and I lost the apartment. It didn’t make any sense to stay in New York for no reason other than to struggle. I’m not a wealthy man by any means.
What do you miss about New York?
I miss the pace. But it’s too crowded, and you leave your house and you get knocked down by tourists. You know what I really miss? Walking. In New York, I walked everywhere.
Back in the early days, you made ends meet as a sex worker on 53rd St and Third Ave, like Dee Dee Ramone allegedly used to.
[Laughs] When I was starving, it turned out to be a last resort and, I mean, what the hell. It’s like: What are you afraid of? Go do it. If you’re walking around with a fear of something, that fear is gonna penetrate everywhere. I don’t really have much fear. You gotta do what you gotta do and I’m not embarrassed by it. I don’t think Dee Dee was either.
You’ve skirted and flirted with death so many times, as you tell in your book.
I’m like a gymnast in the circus! I think I’ve gotten more than nine (lives) already used up. I lived enough for ten people. It’s not over at all. I don’t believe in luck, so I believe that somewhere there’s some force that keeps me here, the life force that travels through me has more experience to undergo. Everybody suffers, so why not suffer to the utmost? You might get something good out of it.