Patti Smith’s daughter, Jessie Paris Smith, confirmed Verlaine’s death from a “brief illness.” Rolling Stone on Saturday. “He died peacefully in New York City surrounded by close friends. His vision and his imagination will be missed,” Smith wrote.
Born Thomas Miller, Verlaine (who adopted his last name from the French poet Paul Verlaine), was high school classmates with fellow punk icon Richard Hell, with whom he formed his early 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 in 1973 before founding Television with guitarist Richard Lloyd.
Verlaine and Television honed their sound as one of the premier acts at legendary punk clubs like CBGB’s – establishing one of the venue’s earliest residences – and Max’s Kansas City. Patti Smith — once compared Verlaine’s guitar soundA thousand bluebirds scream” — was in the audience for one of television’s earliest shows in 1974, and Bill broke with television the following year when the Buddy Smith Group made their CBGB debut.
Hell would soon leave television to join fellow punk act the Heartbreakers. Once Verlaine and Lloyd took the reigns, the duo developed a guitar sound that combined punk riffs with jazz interplay. After making their recording debut with the 1975 single “Little Johnny Jewel,” Television released their masterpiece — and one of the best albums of the punk era. Marquee Moon, the centerpiece of which is the album’s twisty, mesmerizing title track. (Album, as it were Rolling Stone (The review noted that the 1977 series from CBGB bands such as Blondie and the Ramones was “more interesting and bolder,” but “more unsettling.”)
“When the members of Television appeared in New York, at the dawn of punk, they played an incongruous, soaring mix of genres: the noiseless screams of the Velvet Underground, the cerebral art rock, the double-helix guitar sculpting of Quicksilver Messenger Service,” Rolling Stone wrote about Marquee Moon, 107 on our 500 Greatest Albums list.
“The Ramones’ debut was as raw in its brutal simplicity as it was lyrical, exhilarating in its aspirations. Marquee Moon Still amazing” Rolling Stone wrote “Friction,’ ‘Venus,’ and the mighty title track are jagged, desperate and beautiful all at once. As for the punk credentials, don’t forget the secretive 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. adventure, before Verlaine began his solo career. As Patti Smith wrote, Verlaine displayed “his angular lyrics and pointed lyrics, a sly intelligence and an ability to stir every string to its truest emotion” on his albums. (The classic TV lineup of Verlaine, Lloyd, bassist Fred Smith, and drummer Billy Fica reunited for one last album—1992’s Television.)
In 1979, Verlaine released his self-titled solo album, which included the song “Kingdom Come,” which David Bowie recorded a year later for the icon’s 1980 LP. Scary Monsters & Super Freaks. As a solo artist, Verlaine flourished over the next few decades, moving seamlessly from post-punk explorations to purely instrumental EPs and silent film scores working with Smith and other former CBGB denizens.
“Tom Verlaine once complained that he never wrote about two strong dreams in his career because the language of dreams is difficult to overcome. That may be so, but Verlaine manages to come closer to solving that problem than anyone else in his medium. Rolling Stone Of Verlaine’s 1982 solo LP, he wrote, Words from the front. “Throughout his work, there’s something very inspired about Verlaine’s songs, but you have to wonder if he’s writing them … well, in his sleep.”
In 1988 interview Rolling Stone, U2’s The Edge cited Verlaine as one of his major influences. “What I took from Verlaine wasn’t really his style, but the fact that he did something no one else did,” he said. “I loved it; I thought it was valuable.