The San Juan Daily Star
Tom Verlaine, influential guitarist and songwriter, dies at 73
Tom Verlaine, center left, and Television perform at Rough Trade NYC, in New York, Nov. 29, 2013. Verlaine, whose band Television was one of the most influential to emerge from the New York punk rock scene, died in Manhattan on Jan. 28, 2023. He was 73.
By PETER KEEPNEWS
Tom Verlaine, whose band Television was one of the most influential to emerge from the New York punk rock scene centered on the nightclub CBGB — but whose exploratory guitar improvisations and poetic songwriting were never easily categorizable as punk, or for that matter as any other genre — died Saturday in Manhattan. He was 73.
His death was announced by Jesse Paris Smith, the daughter of Verlaine’s fellow musician Patti Smith. She did not specify a cause, saying that he died “after a brief illness.”
Although Television achieved only minor commercial success and broke up after recording two albums, Verlaine — who went on to record several solo albums and reunited with the band periodically — had a lasting influence, especially on his fellow guitarists.
“Tom Verlaine is the guitarist to mention these days if you’re a young rocker with some pretense to intelligence and originality,” Robert Palmer of The New York Times wrote in 1987.
Reviewing a performance by Verlaine’s band at the Bowery Ballroom in 2006, Times critic Jon Pareles wrote: “Mr. Verlaine’s guitar leads didn’t flaunt virtuosity by streaking above the beat. They tugged against it instead: lagging deliberately behind, clawing chords on offbeats, trickling around it or rising in craggy, determined lines.”
The layered, often ethereal sound that Verlaine and the other members of Television developed was a far cry from the stripped-down approach of the Ramones and other leading lights of the punk scene. But that scene — which also included bands as disparate as Blondie and Talking Heads — was never as one-dimensional as it was often portrayed.
Verlaine, who was also the band’s lead singer and did most of the songwriting, studied piano and saxophone as a child, and his music had roots in everything from the free jazz of John Coltrane to the Rolling Stones’ hard-driving “19th Nervous Breakdown.” His often impressionistic lyrics reflected the influence of poets like Paul Verlaine, from whom the man born Thomas Miller took his stage name.
Television had its roots in Verlaine’s friendship with Richard Meyers, later known as Richard Hell, when they were students at a boarding school in Delaware. After they moved to New York, they formed a band, the Neon Boys, which in 1973 evolved into Television, with Richard Lloyd on second guitar, Hell on bass and Billy Ficca on drums. Hell was replaced by Fred Smith in 1975 and later went on to form the punk band Richard Hell and the Voidoids.
After building a devoted following in New York, Television was signed by Elektra Records and in 1977 released the album “Marquee Moon.” Sales were disappointing, but critical acclaim was nearly unanimous, and “Marquee Moon” now regularly shows up on lists of the greatest rock albums.