Punk Legends Television singer and guitarist Tom Verlaine dead at

Punk Legends Television singer and guitarist Tom Verlaine dead at 73

Tom Verlaine, singer and guitarist for punk legends Television, who created the band’s 1977 masterpiece Marquee Moon, has died at the age of 73.

Jesse Paris Smith, daughter of Patti Smith, confirmed to Rolling Stone on Saturday that Verlaine had died after a “brief illness”. “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 last name from French poet Paul Verlaine) was a high school classmate of fellow punk icon Richard Hell, with whom he later formed their first bands. Arriving on 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 1973 with guitarist Richard Lloyd Television.

Verlaine and Television honed their sound as a leading act at legendary punk clubs like CBGB – and established one of the earliest residencies at that venue – and Max’s Kansas City. Patti Smith – who once likened Verlaine’s guitar sound to “A Thousand Bluebirds Screaming” – was in the audience for one of Television’s early shows in 1974, and shared the score with Television when the Patti Smith Group made their CBGB debut the following year.

Hell would soon leave television to join the punk band Heartbreakers. With Verlaine and Lloyd at the helm, the duo developed a guitar sound that fused punk riffs with jazz interactions. Following their recording debut with the 1975 single “Little Johnny Jewel,” Television released their masterpiece—and one of the greatest albums of the punk era—Marquee Moon, centered on the album’s curvy, intriguing title track. (The album was, as Rolling Stone noted in the review, “the most interesting and daring” of a string of 1977 releases by CBGB bands like 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, ascendant amalgam of genres: the noir howling of the Velvet Underground, the sly art rock, the double-helix guitar sculpture of Quicksilver Messenger Service,” Rolling Stone wrote about Marquee Moon, number 107 on our list of the 500 Greatest Albums of All Time.

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“As intoxicating in its lyrical ambition as the Ramones’ debut in its brutal simplicity, Marquee Moon still amazes,” wrote Rolling Stone. “’Friction’, ‘Venus’ and the mighty title track are rugged, desperate and beautiful at the same time. As for the punk references, don’t forget the cryptic electricity and stifled existentialism of guitarist Tom Verlaine’s voice and songwriting.”

The classic line-up of television released just one other album, 1978’s Adventure, in the 1970s before Verlaine began his solo career. As Patti Smith wrote, Verlaine on his albums displayed “his edgy lyricism and trenchant lyrical asides, a sly wit and an ability to strum every chord to its truest emotion”. (The classic TV line-up of Verlaine, Lloyd, bassist Fred Smith and drummer Billy Ficca reunited for one final album – 1992’s Television.)

In 1979, Verlaine released his self-titled solo album, which included the song “Kingdom Come,” which was recorded a year later by David Bowie for that icon’s 1980 LP Scary Monsters & Super Freaks. As a solo artist, Verlaine remained prolific over the next few decades, seamlessly moving from post-punk explorations to purely instrumental EPs and silent film scores to collaborations with Smith and other former CBGB residents.

“Tom Verlaine once complained that he never wrote about two of the strongest dreams of his life ‘because the language of dreams is difficult to convey.’ That may be so, but Verlaine still comes closer to solving that problem than anyone in his medium,” Rolling Stone wrote of Verlaine’s 1982 solo LP Words From The Front. “Like all of his work, there’s something like that about Verlaine’s songs Inspired yet effortless, 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, it was the fact that he did something that nobody has done before,” he said. “And I liked that; I found that valuable.”