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Musicians feel and feel the influence in many ways. And certainly Tom Verlaine’s guitar playing – his deconstructed melodies, sharp attack and ability to fly – inspired many to try to imitate him. But for many of us, Verlaine’s guitar and voice and the music he created on television and as a solo artist were much more than just another set of musical tricks for Nick. They symbolized liberation and freedom from musical restrictions, the rush, promise and excitement of bohemian urban life, the world of poets and the idea that foreign musical voices could find an audience and respect. After all, Verlaine’s game could not be duplicated. But the electricity of his expressions suggested enormous potential to those seeking a ray of light in strange times.

Tom Verlaine was born Thomas Miller in Danville, New Jersey in 1949 and raised in Wilmington, Delaware. (He later changed his last name to honor the French Symbolist poet Paul Verlaine.) As a teenager, he was captivated by Stan Getz, John Coltrane, and Richard Wagner. He took piano lessons, was attracted to the saxophone and, he says, found rock and roll relatively uninteresting, at least until he heard the Stones, the Yardbirds, the Kinks and the Byrds. In their compositions he found the same intensity he found appealing in jazz. The discovery led Verlaine to the guitar. And ultimately, the fusion of those influences—the energy of the British Invasion, the fire of free jazz, and the classic melodic instincts and concepts—would shape his approach to the instrument.

Verlaine drew a sense of tension and even mysticism from his fingers. His lines could sound raspy and harsh or hushed and tender. And in inhabiting both worlds, he often approached the lofty heights of his hero John Coltrane.

Verlaine moved to New York in 1968. In time, he reconnected with the pre-school criminal and poet Richard Hale, with whom he created Television in 1974. In 1975, Hell, whose bass chops and extroversion were better suited to the more violent side of punk, was fired and replaced by Blondie bassist Fred Smith. Together with drummer Billy Fikka, they formed a powerful rhythm section that was unusually suited to Verlaine’s musical vision.

In this performance at Riot Fest in Chicago in 2014, Tom Verlaine plays his Frankenstein S style with a super-strat body, Danelectro lipstick pickups, and a mid-’60s Jazzmaster neck.

Photo by Debbie Del Grande

Even with the benefit of hindsight, it’s still amazing that Verlaine and Television managed to pull off their masterpiece in 1977. Marquee Moon: Amidst the ossified environment of the record industry in the mid-70s. While television was instrumental in starting New York’s punk revolution (Verlaine talked CBGB owner Hilly Crystal into giving the band a chance, effectively launching punk’s most famous venue), television fit oddly into the scene of misfits. Between Blondie’s high-energy pop moves, the Ramones’ genius riff machine and Patti Smith’s live presence, the presence of a larger-than-life poet-goddess, TV’s bouncy, swirling garage rock threads and searching extended jams, there should be. sometimes they seemed foreign. If the “shorter, faster, louder” punk ethos had been more strongly codified back then, they might even have been kicked out for letting their jams go viral in the manner of the Grateful Dead or the Quicksilver Messenger service ( Verlaine’s tremulous string vibrato often bore more than a passing resemblance to that of Quicksilver lead guitarist John Cipollina).

TV’s modest first single, 1975’s “Little Johnny Jewel,” recorded for NYC act Terry Ork’s small label, offers a taste of just how weird they sounded in contrast to their peers and the super-mega-charters of the time. leaders. . In some ways, “Little Johnny Jewel” sounds impossibly small. A Verlaine guitar sent directly to the console sounds thin, fragile, even small. However, Verlaine’s “Little Johnny Jewel” solo is filled with deep longing and pain. The bass riff, built on several descending three-note figures, suggests the mystery and creeping menace of the back alley. It may sound small, odd and ill-formed next to the brutal linearity of the Ramones, but it perfectly captured the romance and sensuality of the city in which it was created, and the spirit of the art outcasts who inhabited its quieter, darker corners.

As television found their footing and formalized their roles, they went from tentative and sloppy to a group capable of the precision and power of a crooked clock. Meanwhile, Verlaine and Lloyd developed into one of the most exciting guitar duos ever. Lloyd leads were often noted for fluid precision. Verlaine, however, exuded a sense of tension and even mysticism from his fingers. His lines could sound raspy and harsh or hushed and tender. And in inhabiting both worlds, he often approached the lofty heights of his hero John Coltrane.

Little Johnny Jewell

The TV wave peaked and fell early. Marquee Moon: upon arrival it was a masterpiece. And its centerpiece, the song that shares the LP’s name, was anchored around an extended Verlaine solo that went from cold and spare to fierce and white-hot. Live, the song was often explosively ecstatic. (If you want to know what musical freedom sounds like, check out the versions of “Marquee Moon” and “Little Johnny Jewel” from the official live bootleg, The Blow Up.)But TV’s highly evolutionary approach to guitar music didn’t stack up easily alongside the more accessible fare of CBGB compatriots Blondie or the Ramones. Their second LP, Adventure, was less visionary than its predecessor, but it’s a showcase for some of Verlaine’s most melodic and lovely tunes, as well as some of his best solos (“Fire” for one). In theory, Adventure was more affordable work than Marquee Moon:however, it flopped commercially, effectively ending the band’s first chapter.

In the years that followed, Verlaine, who had little interest in the more grotesque aspects of the rock business, remained quietly busy and prolific. His early solos were rich with highlights and great songs, but were sometimes compromised by modern production or the short guitar-extended flaming waves that had become his trademark. However, 1992 marked a spring, transformative year for Verlaine. It saw him reunite with Television, release the band’s underrated third LP of the same name, and his instrumental LP. Warm and cold. The latter, in particular, a collage of beautiful, distracting and fractured mood pieces and themes from lost spy films, hinted at the directions Verlaine would often take in the future; drawing as well as a sense of humor. That streak was accomplished again in 2006 Aroundanother set of mesmerizing instrumentals that found Verlaine at ease and still capable of conveying palpable intensity and angst with a minor key shift and a few note jumbles.

Tom Verlaine performs with Television at the Bottom Line in New York on June 11, 1978.

Photo by Ebbett Roberts

If you followed Verlaine in the press, and it would be fair to call him a bit of a press hater, it would be easy to assume he was irritable and unapproachable. And when you felt his most violent musical moments pierce your heart and guts like arrows, it was not so difficult to imagine that the spirit of confrontation, even anger, was in them. However, when my colleague Meg and I turned on the television and met Verlaine, I found him kind, open, quiet, even shy. We drank wine, smoked cigarettes, talked about 60s soul, art, food, stupid rents in our respective cities, and getting away from it all. He asked Eric Satie to play before going on the television stage. And when he went to dinner, he left the guitar for me to play. He was a sweet boy full of humility. In those moments we shared, it was very easy to understand where the tender melancholy of his songs and melodies comes from. Verlaine had a blinding fire inside. But he was also incredibly cool and positively full of heart and soul.

TV – Foxhole (Live)

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