In Memoriam: Tom Verlaine

In Memoriam: Tom Verlaine

Tom Verlaine, co-founder of the influential garage/new-wave band Television, died January 28. He was 73 and passed after a battle with prostate cancer that had metastasized.

Born Thomas Miller in Denville, New Jersey, he studied piano as a child, followed by saxophone in middle school, then guitar after hearing the Rolling Stones. While attending prep school in Delaware, he met Richard Meyers and the two bonded over their passion for music and poetry. Eventually, they moved to New York City, where they wrote and published poetry under the assumed surnames of Hell and Verlaine. In 1972, they tried to form a punk band, but failed to find a second guitarist. The following year, they met Richard Lloyd and formed Television, quickly becoming part of the city’s music scene. As musicians, Hell and Verlaine proved incompatible, and Verlaine kicked Hell out of the band in ’75.

In ’77, Television released its first album, Marquee Moon, followed by Adventure in ’78. The music was marked by tightly structured chord-based riffs (played by Lloyd on a Strat, Verlaine usually on a Jazzmaster), countermelodies, and lead work put to use in songs that were more-fluid and lyrically nuanced than those of its NYC peers (and fellow CBGBs regulars) in Blondie, the Ramones, B-52s, and the Patti Smith Group.

After Television disbanded in mid ’78, Verlaine continued to create music that was highly improvisational, keying on the sounds of a Jazzmaster or Jaguar running through Fender and Vox amps. By 1992’s Warm and Cool, his repertoire also included a hollowbody Kustom, a Strat, a solidbody Framus with flatwound strings, a Vox solidbody, and a Danelectro.

From ’79 through 2006, he released nine albums and one anthology, none of it with the intent of achieving fame or stardom. He also wrote film scores and occassionally performed with Smith. Television reunited in ’92 and recorded a self-titled album, disbanded, then did occassional shows in the 2000s. –

This article originally appeared in VG’s June 2023 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.

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