In Memoriam: Tom Verlaine
Television guitarist and co-founder Tom Verlaine, whose distinctive style fused psychedelia, janglerock and in later years ambient music, died suddenly on January 28. He was 73.
Born Tom Miller, Verlaine took the name of one of the French poets whose work he discovered while in his teens. Alongside fellow guitarist Richard Lloyd, bassist Richard Hell and drummer Billy Ficca, Verlaine founded Television in New York in 1975. Although they were not a punk band, they were one of the first groups to have a regular residency at CBGB.
Television’s first two albums, 1977’s Marquee Moon, and Adventure, from a year later, achieved marginal commercial success but were enormously influential on subsequent, jangly guitar bands, from the Soft Boys, to the Larch. Marquee Moon is commonly cited as one of the greatest albums of all time.
In Television, Verlaine’s sinuous, melodic climbs and cascades contrasted with Lloyd’s harder-edged attack, often echoing the Grateful Dead’s two-guitar dichotomy. Where Lloyd would punch in with riffs and chords, Verlaine opted for melodic variations and rarely employed distortion, preferring a clean, ringing Fender guitar sound that drew on surf rock as much as Jerry Garcia and Lou Reed. Many of Television’s songs feature the two guitars exchanging roles and conversational ideas, a common jazz trope that was rare in rock bands of the era.
After the band’s breakup, Verlaine pursued a solo career and focused more on briefer, more pop-oriented songcraft. Verlaine also produced albums for two of the most important, twangy rock bands of the 80s, True West and the Room, as well as two Jeff Buckley cd’s.
Verlaine regrouped Television in 1992, primarily as an instrumental unit, with limited and highly sought-after live performances in the years that followed until he left the band for good in 2007.