Tom Verlaine, singer and guitarist for punk legends Television who crafted the band’s 1977 masterpiece Marquee Moon, has died at the age of 73.
Jesse Paris Smith, the daughter of Patti Smith, confirmed Verlaine’s death Saturday following a “brief illness” to Rolling Stone. “He died peacefully in New York City, surrounded by close friends. His vision and his imagination will be missed,” Smith wrote.
Born Thomas Miller in New Jersey, Verlaine (who adopted his last name from the French poet Tom Verlaine), was high school classmates with fellow punk icon Richard Hell, with whom he’d later form his earliest bans with. Arriving in 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 Television in 1973 alongside guitarist Richard Lloyd.
Verlaine and Television honed their sound as one of the premier acts at the legendary punk clubs like CBGB — establishing one of the earliest residencies at that venue — and Max’s Kansas City. Patti Smith was in the audience for one of Television’s early shows in 1974, and split the bill with Television when the Patti Smith Group made their CBGB the following year.
Hell would soon leave Television to join fellow punk act the Heartbreakers. With Verlaine and Lloyd at the reins, the duo formed developed a guitar sound that merged punk riffs with jazz interplay. After making their recorded debut with the 1975 single “Little Johnny Jewel,” Television released what was their masterpiece — and one of the greatest albums of the punk era — Marquee Moon, the centerpiece of which was the album’s twisty, mesmerizing title track.
“When the members of Television materialized in New York, at the dawn of punk, they played an incongruous, soaring amalgam of genres: the noirish howl of the Velvet Underground, brainy art rock, the double-helix guitar sculpture of Quicksilver Messenger Service,” Rolling Stone wrote of Marquee Moon, Number 107 on our list of the 500 Greatest Albums of All Time.
“As exhilarating in its lyrical ambitions as the Ramones’ debut was in its brutal simplicity, Marquee Moon still amazes. ‘Friction,’ ‘Venus,’ and the mighty title track are jagged, desperate, and beautiful all at once. As for punk credentials, don’t forget the cryptic electricity and strangled existentialism of guitarist Tom Verlaine’s voice and songwriting.”
Television’s classic lineup would only release one more album during the Seventies, 1978’s Adventure, before Verlaine embarked on his solo career, over the course of which he showcased “his angular lyricism and pointed lyrical asides, a sly wit, and an ability to shake each string to its truest emotion,” as Smith wrote. (The classic Television lineup of Verlaine, Lloyd, bassist Fred Smith and drummer Billy Ficca did reunite for one last album, 1992’s Television.)
This story is developing.