Tom Verlaine: The Eternal Purveyor of “Crystal-clear crisp sweet guitar suites”

Sean Beardmore pays tribute to the Television mastermind.

Welcome to 2023, only one month old and it’s already stolen some of the most important figures in the history of modern music.

However, this one cuts us deep. Tom Verlaine will forever be recognised for his part in the CBGB movement and the 1977 seminal post-punk rock statement that his band Television delivered with Marquee Moon. An album which spawned the angular style of guitar playing he’d perfect and the smooth and exciting guitar exchanges and interplay he would experiment in with fellow Television guitarist Richard Lloyd, stemming from an immense appreciation from his youth where he played the saxophone and jammed out to the likes of John Coltrane and Albert Ayler whilst learning all the cool riffs and licks in which surf rock has on offer.

It would go on to permeate its wonders into the signature sound that would be Television.

A sound that would not only go on to influence his peers at the time, but become the backbone of future rock bands and most recently the revival of rock we saw in the early 2000s in the very same place of New York City, twenty three or so years later.

Born Thomas Miller, Verlaine would adopt the much fancier ‘Verlaine’ after French poet Paul-Marie. Television released two records, the mostly prominent Marquee Moon, and the super underappreciated Adventure, which was released only a year later. After irreconcilable differences, the band called it a day and just shy of a fifteen years later would release a third and final victory lap self-titled effort in 1992.

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However in the meantime Verlaine would go on to release just shy of ten solo albums most notably 1979’s self-titled, which features some astounding tracks such as Kingdom Come in which a year later David Bowie would cover and release on his 1980 record Scary Monsters, and 1981’s Dreamtime

Verlaine’s low key approach to how he’d write and compose resulted in big time rewards, with a career that seemed to live in the shadows compared to his contemporaries – a fact that is a shame but one that doesn’t change the face that he was a true innovator and someone who moved the needle forward in every way possible.

To steal a line from the beautiful and heart-breaking eulogy penned for the New Yorker by Patti Smith, a long-time friend, “There was no one like Tom. He possessed the child’s gift of transforming a drop of water into a poem that somehow begat music”.  

For me Verlaine will forever be that artist that changed the way I approached music, allowing me – the listener – to experience a whole new way of understanding that his playing that was so alien to what we had known and unveiled a discovery that was formative not only to me looking for a kind eloquent guitar focused music that I never thought could be possible and simply just that good.

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