Tom Verlaine, singer and guitarist for punk legends Television who made the band’s 1977 masterpiece Marquee Moondied at the age of 73.
Patti Smith’s daughter Jesse Paris Smith confirmed Verlaine’s death after a “brief illness”. Rolling stone on Saturday. “He died peacefully in New York City surrounded by close friends. His vision and imagination will be missed,” Smith wrote.
Born Thomas Miller, Verlaine (who took his surname from French poet Paul Verlaine) was high school classmates with fellow punk icon Richard Hell, with whom he would later form his first bands. Arriving in Manhattan’s Lower East Side at the dawn of punk, Verlaine and Hell first teamed up for the short-lived act Neon Boys before co-founding Television with guitarist Richard Lloyd in 1973.
Verlaine and Television honed their sound as one of the main acts at legendary punk clubs like CBGB – establishing one of the first residencies at that venue – and Max’s Kansas City. Patti Smith—who once compared Verlaine’s guitar sound to “a thousand screaming bluebirds”—was in the audience for one of Television’s early shows in 1974, and shared the bill with Television when the Patti Smith Group made their CBGB debut the following year.
Hell would soon leave television to join fellow punk act The Heartbreakers. With Verlaine and Lloyd at the helm, the duo developed a guitar sound that mixed punk riffs with jazz. After their recorded debut with the 1975 single “Little Johnny Jewel”, Television released what was their masterpiece – and one of the best albums of the punk era – Marquee Moon, the centerpiece of which was the album’s sinuous, mesmerizing title track. (The album was, if Rolling stone listed in the review, “the most interesting and daring” of a series of 1977 releases by CBGB bands such as Blondie and the Ramones, but “also the most disturbing”.)
“When the members of Television emerged in New York at the dawn of punk, they played an incongruous, floaty amalgam of genres: the noir howling of the Velvet Underground, smart art rock, the double-helix guitar sculpture of Quicksilver Messenger Service, ” Rolling stone wrote from Marquee MoonNumber 107 on our list of the 500 Greatest Albums of All Time.
“As thrilling in its lyrical ambitions as the Ramones’ debut in its brutal simplicity, Marquee Moon still amazed, ” Rolling stone wrote. “’Friction’, ‘Venus’ and the mighty title track are whimsical, desperate and beautiful at the same time. As for punk references, don’t forget the cryptic electricity and stifled existentialism of guitarist Tom Verlaine’s voice and songwriting.
The classic television line-up would release only one more album in the 1970s, 1978 Adventure, before Verlaine embarked on his solo career. As Patti Smith wrote, Verlaine displayed on his albums “his angular lyricism and pointed lyrical asides, a sly humor and ability to shake any string to its truest emotion.” (The classic television line-up of Verlaine, Lloyd, bassist Fred Smith and drummer Billy Ficca reunite for one final album – 1992’s Television.)
In 1979, Verlaine released his self-titled solo album, which featured the song “Kingdom Come,” recorded a year later by David Bowie for that icon’s 1980 LP. Scary monsters and super freaks. As a solo artist, Verlaine remained prolific over the following decades, moving seamlessly from post-punk explorations to all-instrumental EPs, and silent film scores to collaborations with Smith and other former CBGB residents.
“Tom Verlaine once lamented that he had never written about two of the strongest dreams of his life, ‘because it is difficult to communicate the language of dreams’. That may be so, but Verlaine still manages to bring that problem closer than just about anyone in his medium.” Rolling stone wrote about Verlaine’s 1982 solo LP, Words from the front. “As with all of his body of work, there’s something so inspired yet effortless about Verlaine’s songs that you have to wonder if he’s writing them…well, in his sleep.”
In a 1988 interview with Rolling stone, U2’s The Edge cited Verlaine as one of his major influences. “I think what I took from Verlaine wasn’t really his style, but the fact that he did something no one else had done,” he said. “And I liked that; I found that valuable.”