Tom Verlaine: 1949-2023

tom verlaine monktone
Verlaine was an alchemist of guitar and song

There was another sad loss yesterday with the news that the great Tom Verlaine had died. I was late to the game with Verlaine. He was a reputation it took me a few years to finally hear. I knew Television only by reputation in print. Their music never reached my ears. Part of this was down to them being over and done with by the time that video was my top vector of exposure in the early 80s. I certainly never heard them on the radio. The first Verlaine song I managed to hear was David Bowie’s cover of “Kingdom Come” on his 1980 “Scary Monsters [And Super Creeps]” album. It was a great Bowie cover but to this day, I still have not heard the original.

It was 1986 when I finally heard Television when I saw the “Marquee Moon” CD in the bins at Crunchy Armadillo Records and Tapes and made the move. I figured that this was the perfect time and place to finally hear this crucial recording. It featured a unique blend of Verlaine and Richard Lloyd’s guitars weaving their spells on some very potent songwriting. The level of musicianship the band proffered was on a different plane from the vast majority of Punk and Post-Punk acts.

ticket - church-murphy-verlaine

I first saw Verlaine playing two years later when he was on the bill with the amazing value for money of the US tour featuring The Church; riding high on their “Starfish” breakthrough album. The tour had Verlaine and Peter Murphy [“Love Hysteria” tour] on the bill and was quite a memorable night. As I recall, Murphy co-headlined with The Church with them each having full sets. But Tom Verlaine was solo on acoustic guitar; almost like having him perform with one hand behind his back. I enjoyed Verlaine but he really wasn’t shown to his best advantage without amps and a second guitarist to play off of.

When I met my wife and we folded in our record collections, I was happy to see that among the several points of overlap we had were copies of “Marquee Moon.” We were seeing John Cale and Pere Ubu at the Hopscotch Festival in Raleigh, NC in September of 2013 and after checking into HQ for our wristbands and the program guide, my loved one saw an ad in the guide for Television live, in Athens Georgia, a month later and said “we should go.” I immediately got on the iPad and bought tickets.

ticket television

In October of that month, we were seeing Simple Minds in Washington D.C. as I was shopping for music with Echorich and Chasinvictoria I happened across a scarce CD of the second Television album, “Adventure.” Echorich admonished me to buy it and I did. A week or so later we was seeing Television in Athens, Georgia in a stunning concert at the newly rebuilt Georgia Theatre. Following that seismic event, I grabbed copies of the third, eponymous album and the live ROIR “The Blow Up” CD. Giving me the full Television experience in the Record Cell.

The level of playing at that 2013 concert forever changed my view of Verlaine. He wasn’t just a major player and influence. He was one of a handful of guitarists who were mapping out territory far in advance of their peers. It’s to my detriment that I’ve not heard a single one of his more numerous solo albums. Not that I can ever recall seeing any but the first four in the bins. I can’t say I’ve ever seen a CD of his solo titles.

Tom Verlaine’s footprint in my Record Cell was modest in contrast to his outsized talent. Just four Television CDs and his appearance on several Patti Smith albums, but after that 2013 concert he occupied a high musical status in my world. To read the thoughts of someone who was there when it happened, I strongly suggest you click that button and read Echorich’s thoughts on Verlaine’s passing. Our condolences to his family and comrades in this time of loss.

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12 Responses to Tom Verlaine: 1949-2023

  1. secretrivals says:

    I was very late to the Television party. Long ago when I was listening to punk heavily. I always heard Television referred to as a punk band. After some quick listens, and certainly not proper listens, I dismissed them as not being “punk,” not sounding “punk.” Eventually (too many years later) I gave them the time they deserved, and like many, was blown away. I was in a new mode of listening to music for what was there, not what I thought it should be. I’ve been enjoying them ever since. A great loss. Nice post Monk.


    • postpunkmonk says:

      secretrivals – I guess Television would have roundly failed the “punk orthodoxy” test! Sort of like Patti Smith Group. They were each nothing like what Punk codified into. Careful listening brings its own rewards, as usual. I hated that Pet Shop Boys “Release” CD the first listen but was finding merit by the tenth.


  2. schwenko says:

    with respect to T.V.’s solo releases, this one is el supremo-

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Echorich says:

    Secretrivals has actually caught on to something very important about NYC Punk. The description of “Punk” was used as an admonishment by the more muso rock fans of the day when describing the sound of bands coming out of the CBGB’s/Max’s Kansas City scene of the mid/late 70s. Many of these bands/artists took on the put down as a badge of honor and NYC Punk was born. This is the main reason why a band like Television, or PSG, Talking Heads or Blondie, or Tuff Darts, fell under the umbrella of Punk. I remember writing a paper for my music criticism course in college on musical subcultures and my professor pointed out in his mark up, that this was something he could tell I felt strongly about and he had actually found instructive. I had my peacock feathers out for a good few weeks after that…lol.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I’m here to pay my respects, but I also have to admit that the first time I ever heard the complete album Adventure was … today. Naturally I’ve heard the “hits” of Television (in particular “Marquee Moon” and “Ain’t That Nothin'” courtesy of prolonged exposure to college radio), but the band never really connected with me, since they emerged into prominence via CBGB and the “punk” movement and were studiously not punk.

    Adventure is a record that really tells their tale: point-counterpoint and highly-proficient guitar work, with plenty of jazz and 60’s influence underscoring basic grooves and gritty, poetic lyrics that always makes me think of Lou Reed — if Reed had been a better singer: the Velvet Underground spawns yet another child.

    I confess I’m still learning to appreciate Verlaine’s vocals and solo efforts, but his songwriting I now find to be strong. As others here have said, you have to give Television and Verlaine their own space and ignore the influences, because the only thing they have in common with most bands are that class of artists that really don’t sound anything like anyone else (yet are enormously influential on up-and-comers).

    I’m off to get the bonus-track version of Adventure on CD, and also to listen to the 1992 reunion album. I’m sorry it took his departure to prompt me to dig into his work more deeply.


  5. PS. I swear I was at that Church/Murphy/Verlaine show in ’88 but I probably skipped the opening act [Verlaine] to go chat up the beautiful goth people or suchlike!


  6. Michael Toland says:

    My introduction to Verlaine was his late 80s solo album Flash Light, which I still adore. I worked backward to Marquee Moon and Television, and MM is an album I hold in very high esteem, as it’s one of those that reveals new things to me every time I hear it. I’ve never gotten into the other TV albums as deeply, but that’s fine – they, too, feel fresh and new every time I spin them, and I’ve no doubt I’ll come to love them just as much as MM. (When I saw them play at Fun Fun Fest ten-odd years ago, they were supposedly nearly finished with a new album, but I never heard anything else about it.)

    The solo albums vary in quality, but I’ve never heard one that wasn’t worth listening to. My faves are Flash Light (obviously) and his self-titled first one. Collector’s Choice re-released all of his major label albums at one point, and while the reissues are now out of print, with some of them being kind of expensive, the debut and FL are the ones I’ve seen pop up the most. His later, Thrill Jockey-released albums are also worth checking out.

    The dude was a genius, a guitarist and songwriter who channeled all of his varied influences into a singular creative worldview. His loss is a major one for music.


    • postpunkmonk says:

      Michael Toland – Word had it from Verlaine around 2011 [two years prior to our respective concerts] that the fourth album was “almost ready.” With the integrity that Verlaine brought to the music, I can’t imagine that anything should be posthumously released without his imprimatur. And I don’t think that we should be desiring that, either. Because of he thought it was in a state to reach our ears, it would have done so by now, yes?

      I liked the Television albums, but that concert was very next level. It expanded my understanding of just how far ahead he really was. I need to get conversant with his solo material, which I am completely in the dark over. And you’re right. That Television material retains a freshness due to the rigorous standards which he applied to the making of that music. Rock music is largely to do with power, but in the case of Television I would cite strength as opposed to power. There’s a difference.


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