Tom Verlaine, Television Frontman, Dies Aged 73
Guitarist Tom Verlaine, who rose to fame in the 1970s New York punk scene as the frontman of rock band Television, has died at the age of 73.
In their heyday, Television scored three UK Top 40 hit singles and were acclaimed for their Elektra Records albums Marquee Moon and Adventure. But they had more success in Britain than their native US and split in 1978.
Verlaine’s death was announced by Jesse Paris Smith, the daughter of long-time associate and collaborator Patti Smith. She did not specify a cause, saying that he died “after a brief illness”.
Tom Verlaine was considered one of the more skilled musical practitioners to emerge from the now-defunct CBGBs club in New York’s Bowery, where their contemporaries included Blondie, Ramones and Talking Heads.
Although they came to prominence because of the punk movement, their music was more complex than that of their rivals, with Verlaine and fellow guitarist Richard Lloyd trading lengthy solos and intricate jazz-influenced riffs.
Verlaine, who was born Thomas Miller in Denville, New Jersey, began studying piano at an early age but switched to the saxophone after hearing a record by Stan Getz.
It was during his adolescence that he was inspired to take up the guitar after hearing the Rolling Stones’ 1966 hit 19th Nervous Breakdown. He adopted his stage name in a reference to the French symbolist poet Paul Verlaine.
He and his school friend, Richard Hell, who shared a passion for music and poetry, moved to New York City separately and in 1972 they formed the group Neon Boys, which comprised Verlaine on guitar and vocals, Hell on bass and vocals, and Billy Ficca on drums.
The group lasted a short while then in March 1973 they reformed, calling themselves Television, and recruited Richard Lloyd as a second guitarist. Their first gig was in March 1974. In 1975, Hell left the band and they released their first single with Fred Smith replacing Hell.
Verlaine, who was the band’s lead singer and did most of the songwriting, once dated poet and musician Patti Smith when they were part of the emerging New York punk scene, and they would collaborate many times over the years.
Television released two albums, Marquee Moon and Adventure, to great critical acclaim but only modest sales. Marquee Moon is considered one of the defining releases of the punk era.
After Television split, Tom Verlaaine released a string of solo albums, with his song Kingdom Come inspiring a rare cover version by David Bowie on his Scary Monsters album.
Television reformed in 1992, releasing a self-titled third album, and were sporadically active in later years, hailed as a prime influence on the alternative rock of the 1980s and 1990s.
Among those paying tribute to Verlaine was Mike Scott of The Waterboys, who tweeted: “Tom Verlaine has passed over to the beyond that his guitar playing always hinted at.
“He was the best rock and roll guitarist of all time, and like Hendrix could dance from the spheres of the cosmos to garage rock. That takes a special greatness.”
Stuart Braithwaite of the band Mogwai tweeted: “Devastated by this news. Tom Verlaine was a true great. His role in our culture and straight up awesomeness on the electric guitar was completely legendary. Name 10 minutes of music as good as Marquee Moon. You can’t. It’s perfect. Rest in peace Tom.”
Will Sergeant, guitarist of Echo & The Bunnymen, said: “Tom Verlaine’s playing meant the world to me. If I ever played anything that sounded like him I was happy. He set me on my path as a guitarist, thank you Tom.”