by Paulett Auscencia
I got to Santiago at 7 am on April 24th, 2013. Between the stiff bus seats and my frayed nerves, it had been a sleepless all-night trip.It seemed impossible—Television in Chile? No way. I couldn’t believe my luck.
The essay question had been pretty simple—“Why do you want to go to the concert?”— yet it turned out to be pretty tough to answer. I talked about the history of the band and how important they were. But the band itself wasn’t my only reason: I wanted to see Television because I was pretty sure I’d never again get the chance to see a player as great as Tom Verlaine. When I saw the results of the contest though, I realized I’d done something right. It was crazy to think I’d really won. I was really going to see them.
Now, just a few days later, there I was in Santiago to pick up my free tickets with my friend Natalia. We reached the spot, thirty minutes away—a dull old white house with that looked like nothing special. I rung the doorbell, they let me in. Someone asked me for my name—not even my real name, my Facebook name—and handed me two tickets with the words TELEVISION printed in them. I nearly wept. Natalia and I sat down and had a couple of smokes, trying in vain to rationalize the situation.
I met up with my friend Valita, and we walked to the concert venue at around 4pm. We talked to the only security guard, and found out that there was no hidden entrance for the band—they had to come in by a side door that anyone could stand outside of. He let us into the venue early, and we stayed there for two hours like statues watching as roadies set up the stage, until the producer, a girl with a huge ass, told us to leave. So then we stood right outside the door, hidden behind a parked car. Everyone that was working there laughed at us, apparently the only fans. The producer came by again.
“Girls, go home. They’re not coming.”
But of course, we didn’t listen. Finally, at 6pm, Billy Ficca and Jimmy Rip themselves came off a van and went in for a soundcheck.
Valita and I found a pub with tables that had a perfect view of the parking lot—and of course, the artists’ entrance. So we had a couple of beers and waited there, listening to vintage Bowie and fantasizing about Tom. We saw Jimmy Rip and Billy Ficca going for a walk, but they were too far away for us to catch them.
The venue was getting more and more crowded, but we wouldn’t leave the artists entrance until we met Tom Verlaine. We met two other fans (there were mostly rich kids who were there because it was stylish, or because Television seemed to be an important band or whatever, but they didn’t know shit). One of them had an original pressing copy of Marquee Moon for him to sign.
The opening act was supposed to go on at 9pm,but Television dismissed them because they wanted to play on their own. And so, we waited.
At 10.30 pm, Television’s van returned and out came Billy Ficca, Fred Smith, Jimmy Rip, and finally Tom Verlaine himself. He was huge, skinny as hell, very pale, now white-haired. He waved and smiled at us and nobody even dared getting close to him even though he was walking, slow and catlike. As they entered the venue, we followed.
Valita and I ran, and I dragged her to the front row, our hands touching the stage right in front of Tom. Everything was settled and the band didn’t take long to come out.
Tom seemed like a giant with his dusty black suit and white hair. He spent 10 minutes tuning a guitar that was virtually perfect. When he was satisfied, the group started off with “Prove It.” I found myself staring at Jimmy Rip’s soloing with my mouth wide open. Television didn’t sound like boring virtuosos—they were talking with those guitars, singing with them, making them howl. Tom would move with some strange musical force, he’d bounce his guitar, hit the strings and then mute them all of a sudden, leaving you breathless. You didn’t have to sing along. Singing could keep you from listening.
But for some reason, Tom was angry. Even Jimmy was sick of his constant mania, and as he spoke a little Spanish he was cheering the crowd up, saying Tom was totally nuts (as Tom, not understanding, kept quietly tuning his in-tune guitar). After that, he set in on the lighting.
“This lighting is very bad. We can’t see the guitars. Can we have some white light on?” After the lights came up, Tom then complained that it was too much. Then it was “no more cameras.” I could swear he was talking to me.
He got on his knees and grabbed me by my dog collar, he passed two cold fingers between the collar and my neck. His huge fingers pressed against me took the collar up and down.
“Stop that,” he said. ”It’s really distracting.” I was frozen, it was Tom Verlaine himself on his knees in front of me. I grabbed his hand instinctively to protect myself.
“What are you talking about? I have nothing on me.” I told him, in an automatic English as if I had spoken it forever, ‘
“I don’t give a shit,” he said, and went back to his tuning. Everyone around me was frozen. My friend Valita was so scared that she stopped taking photos because she thought he would hit her.
So I thought for a while. Who does this fucker think he is? I’ve waited for this forever and he suddenly decides he’s angry at me for no reason? I don’t even own a camera. I had a lame ass cell phone. It obviously has no flash, how on earth would he even see it? I decided that when the show was over, Tom was going to finish what he started.
The show went by too quickly. I got out in awe, mute, impressed and terrified. I wanted to see Tom and find out if he was gonna seriously kick the hell outta me. He might have done so—his eyes were red in fury when he threatened me.
After the show, I sat down right outside Television’s van. I had a cigarette and waited with my friends. The rest of the rich kids didn’t give a shit and they just left. It was nearly half past midnight when Television finally came out.
I was terrified. I didn’t wanna go near them, but my friends goaded me on. We moved by the other side of the van. My friend Catherina asked Tom for an autograph, but I hung back. I saw Jimmy Rip standing all alone, and I handed him the drawing I had done for Tom.
Jimmy stared at it for a while and he seemed quite impressed. He handed it to Tom right away, so I look to my right and there’s Tom Verlaine himself, with my drawing on his hands, staring at me so I took a deep breath and faced him.
“What the hell did I do?” I asked him. He looked at me and answered right away:
“You were bothering me with that annoying camera all the time’.
“Tom, when you said no more cameras I turned my cellphone off’
“Yes, I did.”
“You took photos THREE MORE TIMES, I saw you.”
“Tom, I don’t even own a camera.”
Tom is the most stubborn person I have ever met, and I am pretty stubborn myself. It ended up a pretty stupid discussion. In the end, he got what he wanted.
“Okay, okay, I’m sorry. But you can’t be like this to me, I even got you a present.” I pointed the drawing he had on his hands and hadn’t even looked at. As he looked at it, his attitude changed right away. “Can I hold your hand at least?’
He grabbed my hand.
“I’m sorry, I can’t see anything, I’m blind.” He moved his other hand towards my face. I don’t know what he meant. Was that a metaphor or something?
He put both his hands on mine, and kept them there for a while, I told him he was mean, but that he played a great show.
“I’ll be back,” Tom said, smiling.
“If you come back soon enough,” I said, “I won’t take any photos, I promise.” everyone in the band laughed, and even Tom cracked a smile.
“Okay,” he said, and then I left him. They closed the van and Valita and I walked a little forward to see him through the window as they left.
When the van started moving we walked by its side. Tom opened the window, took his head out and put both his hands by the side of his mouth the way you do when you’re gonna shout, his eyes were wide open staring at us, and he started singing as the van drove into the darkness.
And that was the last time I saw Tom Verlaine. I was smiling. He was absolutely nuts. One minute he wanted me dead and the next, he held my hand. Valita came by with a big smile on her face and gave me a hug, silently letting me know she was happy for me. I just shook my head and followed her into a taxi.
“I can’t believe this,” I said out loud, “He’s totally out of his mind. This is the most important concert of my entire life.” The taxi driver smiled and fixed the mirror.
‘Where do I take you?” he said.
© Paulett Auscencia / pleasekillme.com