Tom Verlaine, the influential guitarist, songwriter, and frontman of ’70s art-rock greats Television, has died. The news was confirmed by Jesse Paris Smith, the daughter of Patti Smith, who said he died “after a brief illness.” Verlaine was 73.
Born Thomas Miller in Denville, New Jersey in 1949, Verlaine grew up in Delaware and began playing music at an early age, starting with piano and switching to saxophone after taking an interest in the music of Stan Getz. He took up guitar after getting into the Rolling Stones, and in high school he was close with future punk-rock figurehead Richard Hell.
Hell and Verlaine moved to New York City, where Verlaine changed his last name in reference to the French symbolist poet Paul Verlaine. With Hell, Verlaine formed the short-lived proto-punk band Neon Boys, who broke up and reformed as Television.
Television brought on guitarist Richard Lloyd and started gigging around the city at CBGB and Max’s Kansas City. In 1975, Hell left the band and Fred Smith replaced him. Verlaine also dated Patti Smith (no relation) around this time.
The band released two albums — their 1977 debut Marquee Moon and 1978’s Adventure — before breaking up in 1978, then reunited to record a self-titled album in 1992. They have performed together sporadically ever since.
In addition to his work with Television, Verlaine launched a prolific solo career. He released ten studio albums, including his 1979 self-titled debut and 2006’s Around. Over the last four decades, Verlaine collaborated with numerous artists, including playing guitar on Luna’s Penthouse (1995). He also frequently reconnected with ex-paramour Patti Smith, playing guitar on her Grammy-nominated “Glitter In Their Eyes” from her 2000 album Gung Ho; “Fireflies” from her 1996 album Gone Again; on her debut single “Hey Joe,” and “Break It Up” from her debut album Horses. Verlaine also played on Smith’s 11th and most recent album Banga (2012), appearing on “April Fool” and “Nine.”
Likewise, sessions Verlaine famously produced for Jeff Buckley prior to his 1997 death were excerpted on the 1998 posthumous album Sketches For My Sweetheart The Drunk.
Verlaine was also part of the supergroup Million Dollar Bashers, which featured Sonic Youth’s Lee Ranaldo and Steve Shelley, Wilco’s Nels Cline, Bob Dylan bassist Tony Garnier, guitarist Smokey Hormel, and John Medeski. In 2012, Verlaine teamed up with Smashing Pumpkins guitarist James Iha on his second solo album, Look To The Sky.
A famously reluctant rock star, Verlaine told the Irish Times in 2013 that Marquee Moon was “basically a live record with the mistakes patched up and with some editing here and there. I never think of it in any context in particular. It seems to get rediscovered by a new generation every 10 years or so, which is kinda cool.
“The people that have mentioned it to me in the past 20 years or so have been young enough to be my children, which is interesting, but I don’t want to really talk about that record any more. I don’t know why people have such an interest in it. I just don’t get it. So much has been mentioned about that album there’s probably not much more that can be said.”